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Obama poised to give presidential seal of approval to gross labor rights violations in Colombia

Dan Kovalik, a human rights attorney for the United Steelworkers and Gimena Sanchez-Garzoli and Anthony Dest of the Washington Office on Latin America write in a Colombia Reports op-ed: "Obama poised to give presidential seal of approval to gross labor rights violations in Colombia".

"U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to announce that Colombia is complying with the labor rights conditions that were set for a free trade agreement between Bogota to take effect. This approval will only perpetuate the ongoing labor rights violations.

On November 9, 2011, the family of Juan Carlos Galvis – a prominent union leader with Sinaltrainal and personal friend of ours – was subjected to a violent home invasion by two presumed paramilitaries. The intruders entered the Galvis home while Juan Carlos and his son were away and assaulted his wife, Mary, and his two daughters, Jackeline and Mayra. They grabbed Mayra, a child with Downs Syndrome, and put a gun to her head, threatening to kill her if Mary did not tell them the whereabouts of Juan Carlos and his son. They then bound and gagged Mary and Jackeline, again asking them to say where Juan Carlos and his son were. The assailants then proceeded to spray paint Mary and Juan’s faces on a wedding photo the family had posted on the wall. Before leaving the home, they stole two laptops, some USB memory drives, documents, and trashed the house. The traumatic attack left Mayra in shock for days and unable to speak.

The family was forced to flee to another town where they are now hiding. Their fears are well founded. Two of Juan Carlos’ Sinaltrainal colleagues, John Fredy Carmona Bermudez and Luis Medardo Prens Vallejo, were killed in recent months.

All in all, 30 unionists were killed in Colombia last year. The National Labor School (ENS) reports that four have already been killed this year, and other trade union movements have reported additional murders (e.g., Justice for Colombia has reported six). Such killings have made Colombia, where around 3,000 unionists have been killed since 1986, the most dangerous country in the world to be a trade unionist, and if the assassination rate this year continues as it has thus far, Colombia will most certainly retain this notorious distinction.

Meanwhile, the Colombian government has done nothing effective to prosecute those responsible for such anti-union violence, with the UN recently reporting that Colombia’s rate of impunity for such crimes remains at 95% – meaning that only 5% of the union killings have ever been successfully prosecuted.

It was these two factors – the unprecedented rate of union killings and the high rate of impunity for these killings – that led Barack Obama in 2008 to declare in his third debate with John McCain that he opposed the Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA)."

Read the rest of the op-ed here.



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Don Juan of Austria

U.S.-based multinationals are probably salivating to get into Colombia. The ability to send private thug armies into labor organizers' homes and attack their famiies really shows Colombia's commitment to investor protections. The U.S. could probably learn something from that.

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