Statement of the Trade Union and Human Rights Delegation to Cali Colombia
We, a nine member delegation representing UNISON, the Colombia Solidarity Campaign, War on Want, the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers and local branches of the RMT and TGWU unions visited Cali in Colombia from 6th to 12th October 2001. The delegation is endorsed by the TUC and a large number of other trade unions and NGOs, reflecting the widespread concern for the human rights situation in Colombia.
Cali is a city of over 2million people, the capital of Valle de Cauca department and the biggest city in Colombia’s south west. We express our warm and public thanks to our co-hosts SINTRAEMCALI, the municipal workers union in Cali, and the “National and International Human Rights Campaign Against Corruption, Privatisation and the Criminalisation of Social Protest”. Both of these organisations work under constant threat.
This statement is an immediate summary of our main findings stated against the delegation’s objectives, together with our observations and conclusions.
Objective: to demonstrate solidarity with SINTRAEMCALI and its members who have suffered human rights violations.
The delegation worked closely with SINTRA-EMCALI. We heard accounts of some of the events surrounding intimidation, state derecognition and violence against trade unionists. The union has had 6 of its members assassinated in the last 5 years. Its leaders work under constant armed guard.
We have seen that SINTRAEMCALI is at the heart of the trade union movement regionally and nationally. A regional trade union leader spoke of genocide against trade unions and social movements. We heard reports of numerous assassinations of trade unionists in the small towns of the Valle de Cauca. Teachers have been particularly targeted. One public sector union that had protested against the loss of trade union rights had 6 members of its local executive assassinated.
Nationally, the CUT reports that 110 trade unionists had been assassinated up to 6th October this year, and that 3,000 trade unionists have been assassinated since 1987. The food processing workers union SINALTRAINAL is bringing a case in the USA against the drinks multinational Coca Cola for the murder of its negotiators. But only a few of these murders receive attention in the Colombian media. The latest victim occurred during our visit. He was Gustavo Soler Mora, president of the mineworkers union at the US multinational Drummond. His murder and the subsequent protest strike only reached page 17 of El Tiempo the main national newspaper.
We offer our full support and active solidarity with the membership of SINTRAEMCALI and trade unionists in Colombia. We call on the trade union movement in Britain and internationally to engage in active accompaniment of our Colombian brothers and sisters.
Objective: to understand the current position of the campaign against privatisation of EMCALI EICE, by investigating how the corporation provides public utility services and plans to continue doing so.
We met with the union’s advisers, its executive committee as well being fully briefed by the principal directors of the EMCALI corporation. We also visited two major water plants and interviewed some of the workforce. There was a striking degree of agreement between the union leadership, membership and EMCALI’s current directors that the corporation should stay in the public sector.
Despite providing the best water services in Latin America, as well as efficient electricity and telecommunications services, EMCALI’s accumulated significant debts from 1995 to 2000, and the corporation is now under a special intervention regime. The sources of these debts include: an unfavourable contract to buy electricity at above market prices with a US multinational Intergen; national government’s failure to finance the PTAR sewerage treatment plant; the failure of state entities to pay their bills; the refusal of national government to assume its share of pension payments. In fact the national government is a net debtor to SINTRAEMCALI.
The current directors and the union are united in their condemnation of the corrupt practices of previous administrations. Working together from May this year they are determined to run a clean operation. The workforce and management have agreed on a joint programme PARE (STOP) to save the corporation from privatisation. But the situation is very tense. During our visit national government declared that it will replace the current Director with an appointee from the Spanish multinational FENOSA. There was a mass union meeting the same day, and immediate plans are being made to block this take-over. In any case the fate of EMCALI is likely to be settled within the next few months.
The united struggle to keep EMCALI and its services in the public sector for the common good is coming to a head, the defence of this corporation and the lessons it can provide are of international significance.
Objective: to evaluate the union’s joint work with community organisations, including specific co-operative projects, in the context of preserving and extending essential services to poor communities.
The workforce holds a ‘Minga’ once a month, which means that labour teams and other volunteers go out and work for a weekend in one of Cali’s many poor communities, fixing services and providing specialist skills. Due to flight delays not all of our delegation observed the Minga. We subsequently met with community representatives from Comuna 20. There is strong support for SINTRAEMCALI and the direction that it is trying to take EMCALI corporation.
None of the community representatives agreed with privatisation, which they see as a threat to low cost services and coverage into the poor areas. As it is the lowest strata if newly arrived displace people have no resources at all, unemployment runs at 80-90%, and the union is pushing for state support so that it can provide services to these areas.
We concluded that there is scope and strong willingness for joint project work between the union and community to provide public services in Comuna 20.
Objective: to establish contact with other trade unions and social sectors in the region, including urban community organisations, displaced people, peasantry, indigenous and black (Afro-Colombian) social organisations, in order to record their experiences of human rights violations as well as their views on public service provision.
The experience of listening at first hand to the personal narratives and testimonies from social organisations has been very moving. The scale of the violence against the civilian population, in the main part by the paramilitary AUC, is shocking. (On 10th October a massacre of 30 or more civilians took place near Buga, one hour’s drive from Cali.) It is important to note that our delegation did not have the resources or the time to investigate the testimonies we heard. But at the human level we felt we had heard an authentic expression from many people at high personal risk. (During our visit Human Rights Watch published a major report on paramilitary violence and its links with the Colombian military).
In Buenaventura, a port city on the Pacific coast, we met with “Palenque el Congal” a local group affiliated to the Process of Black Communities, trade unionists, social movements and the church. The Afro-Colombian community insists that it is not part of the armed conflict. In spite of this, it has suffered a great number of massacres by the paramilitaries. The pattern is that the armed forces enter into a zone to confront the guerrilla movement, and after these battles the paramilitaries enter and conduct massacres against the civilian population. The riverside communities along the Pacific coast have been depopulated. 452 families have been displaced from along one river alone. The common people in Buenaventura as well as the recently arrived displaced live in acute poverty alongside a port that generates enormous income.
We call on the Colombian government to provide a protection regime for the Afro- Colombian communities living on the rivers around Buenaventura.
In Popayán we met with the governor of Cauca, Floro Alberto Tunuvala Paja, the regional indigenous council CRIC and also several trade unions and social movements. Plan Colombia and the damage caused by fumigations was a central theme. According to the testimonies we heard there is no systematic mechanism to ensure that legal crops are not destroyed together with elicit drug crops. The governor recommended manual methods to eradicate drug cultivation.
The governor and other leaders made a public call for the main guerrilla movement the FARC to respect the autonomy of indigenous areas.
Despite the human rights violations there are many active movements in the area. The workers of the San Jose University Hospital are on strike to save their jobs and health services to departments. We heard testimonies from movements of homeless people, from families of disappeared people who described repression of their own members. CRIC told us that if it had not organised and raised consciousness among the indigenous population, they would be extinct today. As it is they have lost 400 lives to political violence in the last 30 years. It is estimated that there are about 40 paramilitary assassinations in Cauca each month, but this figure is unconfirmed.
The majority of Colombian citizens, according to the testimonies which we heard, are suffering the consequences of the policies of their own government in the terms of privatisation and cutting of resources for health and education. And there are grass roots struggles to stop this.
The scale of the violence against trade unions and social movements is programmatic. That is to say it is not simply a pocket of violence here and there but a large number of people have been logistically organised to execute systematic violence against the civilian population. The authors of this violence enjoy impunity from prosecution.
Up to now there is no process of collecting and recording all the data of human rights violations. Neither the Colombian state which is deeply distrusted by the victim organisations, nor any other entity, is compiling the information.
The violence causes displacement and is consistent with economic interests that want to take advantage and seize the land of the displaced.
The human right to life is part of an integral concept of the human right to live in dignity, that is including economic, social and cultural as well as civil and political rights.
Plan Colombia has accelerated displacement because of the damage from fumigation and because of the expansion of the activity of the paramilitary forces which is apparently linked to the Plan.
Part of the delegation visited the University of the Valle de Cauca, while another group visited the Villahermosa prison in Cali. Both of the experiences will be included as sections in our full report, which will be produced as soon as possible after our return to the UK.
We also met lawyers representing victims of environmental damage from the BP ODC and OCENSA pipelines through Antioquia, their testimony will be included in our full report.
PRELIMINARY GENERAL CONCLUSIONS
The social movements in Cali and the south west of Colombia are resisting a sustained onslaught on their very existence.
The theme of ‘Never Forget’ is a challenge for the international trade union movement and in these days of globalisation for all citizens of the world. There are many people in the UK waiting for the report of this delegation.
We must not forget our Colombian brothers and sisters struggling for a dignified life for all.
We urge an international mobilisation in defence of the human rights of SINTRAEMCALI and all Colombian trade unionists and social movement activists.
We call for co-ordinated protests across Britain on 10 December, International Human Rights Day and an ongoing campaign.
Trade Union and Human Rights Delegation
Cali Colombia 12th October 2001
Statements of members of the delegation
"I was very impressed with the quality and direction of the trade union work done by SINTRAEMCALI and the other unions we met. I find it difficult to imagine how well we would measure up in circumstances where election to a position of leadership or even just being a member of a trades union identifies you as a target for assassination." Alison Shepherd, UNISON
“We heard vivid accounts of the terrible results of the encroachment of the paramilitaries, who are creating a stranglehold on the area, with the complicity of the state and the army. The main request from the people we met was for political support, in terms of awareness raising, monitoring, lobbying, mobilising and denouncing Plan Colombia. I believe there is great potential for a mass campaign in the UK to support our comrades in Colombia, and to inspire others, as I have been, with their struggle.” Patricia Gilbert, Colombia Solidarity and TGWU (ACTS) delegate
“I was struck by the willingness of people we met in social organisations and the trade unions to fight on despite threats, assassinations and disappearances. The quiet heroism of many is extraordinary.” Dave Parkes, RMT and Colombia Solidarity