Ten unionists killed this year already

President Álvaro Uribe Vélez Keeps Distorting Figures

Prepared and translated by :
José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective
Colectivo de Abogados “José Alvear Restrepo”
Bogotá, Colombia
May 9, 2007

“When this presidential administration began, there were years in Colombia in which 126, 168, or even 200 members of workers organizations were murdered in a year. We have yet to reach zero, as we would like to say to the world, however this year one worker belonging to INPEC [National Penitentiary and Prison Institute] was murdered. By all accounts, his murder was not related to his union activity.”
This was repeatedly stated by President Álvaro Uribe Vélez over the last few months in each one of the speeches and pronouncements he made before the national and international media and as a part of his public activities, which were basically done to respond to the oppositions’ accusations against his administration as well as to achieve the passage of the Free Trade Agreement in the U.S. Congress (which seems to be on thin ice due to the scandal concerning the ties between politicians and paramilitary organizations, among other issues).
Nevertheless, reality is distinct. According to figures from the database at the National Labor School (Escuela Nacional Sindical – ENS), nine unionists have been murdered from January to April 2007. Additionally, Luís Miguel Gómez Porto, member of the Small and Medium Farmers Union from the Department of Sucre (Sindicato de Pequeños y Medianos Agricultores del Departamento de Sucre – SINDAGRICULTORES), was murdered last May 3 in the region of the Montes de María, apparently by the Colombian marines, who later presented his body as being killed in combat.
The question, then, is why President Uribe reveals other statistics. Evidently, he is interested in demonstrating progress in his “democratic security” policy through manipulating the real figures. According to José Luciano Sanín Vásquez, general director of ENS, in order to do this president Uribe presents teachers and peasants organized in unions as a category of victims distinct to that of the union sector, thus disregarding that teachers alone make up 30% of the unionized workers in Colombia.
But there is more: at a press conference on April 19, 2007, Uribe Vélez asserted that only 25 unionists had been murdered the previous year, and in so doing ignored the other 55 unionists murdered in 2006.
Consequently, president Uribe denied the anti-union violence that year after year murders, tortures, forcibly disappears, internally displaces, threatens, and exiles many leaders and members of unions, which weakens the union movement and keeps persons from joining unions due to the absence of guarantees to exercise these activities as well as the fear of reprisals against them and their families.
According to the ENS, more unionists were murdered last year than in 2005. Specifically, from January 1, 2006, to November 20, 2006, 72 unionists were murdered in Colombia, which implies a 6% increase in the murder of unionists (compared to the 67 murdered unionists the year before).
It should be stressed that most of these homicides are registered as common crimes and often presented as a consequence of personal or romantic disputes. In this way, investigative agencies try to distort the true reasons for which these crimes occur as well as contribute to the government’s attempt at manipulating and denying the systematic violence committed against the unionized sector.
In this regard, it is also useful to remember the lack of operativeness of the judicial system in terms of the murders committed by paramilitary groups of such union leaders as professor Alfredo Correa de Andreis. Additionally, attention should be drawn to the obvious smokescreens used against the statements made by Rafael García that relate to the responsibility of Jorge Noguera, former director of the Administrative Department of Security (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad – DAS), in turning over a list to the paramilitaries –and specifically to Jorge 40- with the names of different unionists and left-wing leaders in order to have them murdered.
Paradoxically, up to now Uribe Vélez has not admitted to his responsibility in appointing Noguera to the DAS. He has also not assumed any responsibility for Noguera’s actions with or ties to paramilitarism. To the contrary, Uribe has publicly defended Noguera on several occasions. At the same time, the president continues to present irrelevant data concerning figures on demobilized paramilitaries, when it is well known that these groups continue to commit crimes.
Specifically, according to ENS, supposedly demobilized paramilitary groups murdered nine unionists from January 1, 2006, to November 20, 2006. Furthermore, human rights organizations have repeatedly spoken out against the ongoing paramilitary persecution and threats, which now include new persons –many of them unionists- that are declared military objectives.
In this respect, on June 16, 2006, union leaders from the National Association of Hospital Workers (Asociación Nacional de Trabajadores Hospitalarios – ANTHOC) received a death threat signed by “armed wing of the former AUC [United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia].” In the threat, they also indicated their intent to support president Uribe and asserted that a genuine demobilization would not occur until all unionists and communists had been killed.
As can be seen, this is only one example that Uribe Vélez forgot to mention, when he spoke publicly on the progress of the “democratic security” policy and his responsibility in terms of the State protection of hundreds of union leaders and human rights defenders.
Likewise, another factor contributing to the grave human rights situation of unionists is the framework of impunity for most of the cases where the victims are union leaders and members. In general, the investigations have been either suspended or closed due to lack of evidence. Only 5% of the cases go to trial and have the authors convicted. In cases concerning death threats, most of the unionists do not inform the police on their situation out of fear of reprisals. In the cases that are denounced, the investigations undertaken produce no results and are closed.
Insofar as the criminal processes concerning human rights violations against unionists undertaken by the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective as the civil party, 46. 51% of the cases are still in the evidentiary phase and 11.62% have requested for information on the state of the process and have yet to receive a response. Additionally, in 11.62% of the cases the investigations is still in the preliminary phase, 9.3% have been discontinued, 7% have been dismissed by the Office of the Attorney General, and 4.65% of the processes have charges lodged and an equal percentage a conviction. Only 2.32% of the cases have reached a public hearing and an equal amount a preparatory hearing. Lastly, the charged persons have only been detained in 9.3% of the cases.
In the case of the National Food and Beverage Workers Union (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Industria de Alimentos – SINALTRAINAL), as far as the Office of the Attorney General, 62% of the investigations concerning the murder of the union leaders and members have been suspended; 12.5% have not initiated committal proceedings; 12.5% have no criminal investigation; and the same percentage have gone to trial and reached a conviction.
These figures demonstrate that, as far as cases concerning human rights violations against unionists, a genuine and effective justice has yet to be applied that responds to the open and apparent violation of their rights by the Colombian State. In this regard, a grave case of impunity has been created in which the different State institutions –that handle cases concerning the murders, massacres, forced disappearances, death threats, harassment, and persecution against unions and unionists- have not undertaken any serious or effective investigative work that contributes to overcoming the grave human rights situation faced by unionism in Colombia. Additionally, it has been shown that the favorable results presented by President Uribe before the country and the international community are nothing more than a distortion of the genuine figures and mean to justify the security policy as well as improve the president’s image internationally. Meanwhile, union members continue to be subjected to undue persecution and human rights violations and the investigative processes remain in total impunity.

Colombia Support Network
P.O. Box 1505
Madison, WI  53701-1505
phone:  (608) 257-8753
fax:  (608) 255-6621
e-mail:  csn@igc.org

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