After 6 weeks in the hands of the paramilitaries, GILBERTO TORRES a regional leader of the Colombian oil workers union USO [Unión Sindical Obrera] was freed on Sunday 7th April.
GILBERTO was kidnapped as he left his work on the OCENSA pipeline in Casanare on Friday 22nd February. The OCENSA pipeline transports BP’s oil from wells in the eastern Andes to the Caribbean port of Coveñas.
The paramilitary group AUC [United Self-Defence of Colombia] kept GILBERTO shackled a hole in the ground covered with barbed wire. They finally handed him over at midday last Sunday to a special commission comprising the International Red Cross, the Presidential Peace Commissioner and the People’s Defender.
GILBERTO’s disappearance had triggered a national strike by USO that originally lasted several days, and was restarted on 20th March after another USO leader RAFAEL JAIMES was assassinated in Barrancabermeja. USO’s stoppage only ended last Saturday when the union heard of GILBERTO’s impending release. Union leaders spent last week in negotiations with the top executives of state oil corporation ECOPETROL demanding that management do more to protect the oil workers. Union President Hernando Hernández pledged USO to fight on to defend the human rights of its members.
The Colombia Solidarity Campaign mounted two pickets of the Colombian Embassy in London demanding GILBERTO’s release. The TUC, UNISON and many other unions and individuals have sent messages of protest.
To our knowledge this is the first time that the paramilitaries have released an abducted trade unionist. It is a great victory, primarily for the solidarity of the Colombian oil workers who took immediate and united militant action, as well as those of you in the international community who responded to the call to take urgent action.
We celebrate this victory with USO, and with them we fight on.