( Translated by Steve Cagan, a CSN volunteer translator)

NOTE FROM CSN : For their protection CSN has withheld their names and identification numbers

Departments of Valle del Cauca and Cauca, Colombia
October 20, 2008
Open Letter
To the negotiating commission and the coordinating committee of the 14th of June Movement of Sugar Cane Industry Workers
To the accompanying social and union organizations
To the human rights organizations and the workers’ organizations in Colombia and in the world
To the men and women workers and their families who serve the sugar industry in the departments of Valle del Cauca and Cauca

It was in a true stupor that we are witnessing the irresponsible, anti-juridical and reckless way that the national government, through President of the republic Dr. Álvaro Uribe Vélez, the Minister of Social Protection. Dr. Diego Palacios B., and the Director General of the National Police. Brigadier general Oscar Naranjo are trying to criminalize the just and legitimate social mobilization of the works of the sugar cane industry in the departments of Valle del Cauca and Cauca, by means of express accusations intended to bring judicial cases against the leaders of the June 14th Movement, and against anyone who has accompanied this process looking for mediation formulas for this serious labor conflict, treating them as presumed infiltrators, connected with illegal groups.
These false accusations, made repeatedly from the mouths of the President of the Republic, his most direct functionaries and cabinet ministers not only reflect an absolute lack of understanding of what is happening in the region and in the southwest of the country, in terms of the serious social and labor crisis being experienced by the population that serves the sugar industry, but also makes evident the most noxious intention to repress, through stigmatizing and the most shameless and fallacious political persecution, the permanent assembly of the cane cutters who are on strike.
It is not true that the peaceful and legitimate activity of the people mentioned is a result of the promotion, instigation and infiltration of agents from outside the reality of the workers and their families, and much less that they in turn are linked to “the guerillas of the FARC.” Just as it is also untrue that presence in solidarity of international people accompanying them, human rights defenders, journalists and visitors to our country, are part of a conspiracy against regional security. Through these accusations, the national government, in association with the big businessmen of the sugar industry and their partners, are trying to force, in a fraudulent way against the most elemental guarantees of due process, a criminal investigation of the leaders of the 14th of June workers’ movement, among whom are their official spokesperson, the workers and cane cutter José Oney Valencia, two more members of the Coordinating Committee of the movement who like the former are workers, cane cutters, who are natural leaders among their coworkers, and their advisors: Alberto Bejarano S. and Juan Pablo Ochoa, members of the legislative technical unit of Senator Alexander López Maya. All of them are signers of this open letter.
The serious crisis of the workers in the sugar industry and their families who have supported the declaration of the Permanent Assembly of a strike this past September 15, 2008, corresponds to the calamitous labor and social situation to which the labor model of the sugar industry, supported by the “Associated Work Cooperatives,” has led. It’s a contract regimen that has meant nothing else than ruin and super-exploitation of the workers, their families and their communities in the geographic valley of the Cauca River, under an unjust and irrational model that loads onto the hourly workers all the obligations of work and benefits, concentrates and exploits resources, devastates the land and reduces life to misery in the  midst of the most outrageous accumulation of wealth.
The inability of officialdom to understand this elemental reality (they who knew about these facts in advance, facts that jump out at those who know nothing about it) and the limitless arrogance of the owners of the sugar industry, who have systematically refused a negotiated settlement of the demands presented to ASOCAÑA [the sugar growers’ association—SC] by the workers this past July 14, 2008 have led to the most serious social and labor crisis that the Colombian southwest has seen in recent decades. And to this is now added the absurd and incendiary attempt by the President of Colombia to lead this conflict into judicial structures. This once again confirms in an urgent way the impotence of the State to take up negotiated resolutions to social conflicts, and how in an intolerant way, [the State] opts for the denial of the rights to association, meeting, mobilizing and protest of Colombian citizens.
In the same way, we claim the right of the workers and their families to be accompanied in their struggle for their rights by sister labor, and human rights, by the Senate of the Republic, and by whatever area of our society that—within the institutional framework and according to the very guarantees of the social state of law, consecrated in the preamble to the Political Constitution—are in solidarity with the cause of the most humble and vulnerable of society. It is not possible that for the political regime and the sugar oligarchy these basic acts of shared citizenry and solidarity be converted into grounds for trial and acts that are stigmatized and persecuted by the authorities, precisely those who are responsible to maintain social cohesion and the rule of the fundamental rights of citizens. In the sugar industry in Colombia over years systematic processes of denial of the guarantees for workers and communities have been incubated which have generated a disgraceful state of affairs in which abuse by the dominant is converted into the normal course of daily life. True social and labor order, which can only begin to return through the democratic actions of the State and institutions, and the proactive exercise of constitutional rights and citizen action. This is exactly what has happened, in the case of those who have been permanently accompanying the workers and their families in the last period of time, as well as public servants in the exercise of precise functions and powers that are legal and constitutional that assist the Senate of the Republic en the matter of political control of the executive and the natural speaking out of the Congress in society. We add to this our programmatic calling as activists in the Polo Democrático Alternativo [Alternative Democratic Pole—SC] political party, which unhesitatingly accompanies the struggles of the sugar cane workers, in the search for a negotiated settlement based in law to the demands of the communities. Receiving instead from the national government the most exaggerated disqualifications and answers of the clearest authoritarian style, which fall upon the workers and their cause, accusing and persecuting without basis through the illegitimate actions of the Uribist government, which intimidates them without recognizing the essence of their claims.
We are making a public appeal to the Governor of Valle, Dr. Juan Carlos Abadía; to the Public Ministry headed by the Inspector General of the Nation; to the human rights organizations in Colombia and the world; to the workers’ movement in Colombia and in all the democratic nations in our hemisphere and Europe; to mobilize and prevent the intentions of the national government and the sugar bosses to repress and make illegal the just and peaceful appeal of the Permanent Assembly of the sugar industry workers in the departments of Valle and Cauca through defamation and judicial fraud from being realized.
We equally publicize our intention to make a statement on our own to the Attorney General of the Nation, to respond to any questions of the competent authorities about what we and our workers have done. Convinced as we are of our innocence and our procedures, in accord with the very lines of the exercise of rights and guarantees given by the Political Constitution. We call attention to the fact that at this moment there are no guarantees for the exercise of due process and the right of defense in a judicial investigation deeply tainted by the incorrect and illegal interference by the national government, headed by the President of the Republic and his most direct agents. Therefore, we make an emergency call on the international system of human rights protection accredited in Colombia to intervene urgently and in accord with their capacity to guarantee an impartial trial, following the law and the international commitments that the state has undertaken in this area.
To the workers and their families in the Permanent Assembly, we call on you to try every peaceful and civil means to gain a negotiated outcome to this labor conflict, just as you have done up to this point. Overcoming persecution by officials, the intransigence and arrogance of the sugar association, and motivated not because of the action of supposed and unfounded influences, but by the unwavering conviction in the justice of your cause and the overwhelming necessity to win the objectives put forward in the set of demands presented last July 14, 2008 to the sugar association and the Agriculture and Spical Protection Ministries.
We maintain our un breakable faith in the motives that have sustained the workers’ movement in the geographic valley of the Cauca River to defend their right to work and their right to a future, for the good of their families and their communities.
Our committed citizens’ greeting, our greatest consideration and solidarity,

Colombia Support Network
P.O. Box 1505
Madison, WI  53701-1505
phone:  (608) 257-8753
fax:  (608) 255-6621

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