International solidarity is urgently needed to help protect the life of Columbian agricultural leader Alfamir Castillo.
The president of the Women Sugar Cane Cutters Committee has fought tirelessly to bring to justice the military killers of her 23-year-old son Darvey and his friend Alex on 8 February 2008. Lured into a trap, they were shot dead from behind by killers who were motivated by cash bonus incentives and extra holidays. 3,000 citizens died in this way in Colombia between 2002 and 2008, when the scandal finally surfaced.
The pair’s killings only came to light because Darvey’s cousin happened to be in the army unit that committed the executions and as a result of Alfamir’s campaigning his evidence helped secure the convictions of seven soldiers last year.
Alfamir’s success has though come at great personal cost as she has been subject to an attempted kidnap, constant surveillance of her home by unidentified men and numerous death threats. All of have intensified in recent months as the trial of two army generals, the highest-ranking officials to date, draws nearer.
Concerned for her safety, 3,000 War on Want supporters wrote in April to the Colombian ambassador to press for precautionary measures to protect Alfamir after she and her family were forced to move home following the failure of the National Protection Unit to offer 24 hour protection. This is a familiar tale for trade unionists facing assassination threats in a country where over 2,500 have been murdered in the last 20 years.
Alfamir was one of the leader’s of a historic strike by sugar cane cutters’ unions in 2008 when 15,000 sugar cane cutters, the majority of which had ancestors who were taken to Colombia as slaves, defied the police, paramilitaries and the sugar cane companies to demand an end to working conditions little better than slavery. This self-organisation marked the start of the Women Sugar Cane Cutters Committee, which today has around 150 committed members in an ongoing struggle that is currently focused on protecting workers losing their jobs because of mechanisation.
War on Want would like union members to back their campaign to protect Alfamir Castillo by emailing the Colombian ambassador at www.waronwant.org/overseas-work/conflict-zones/17837
Union branches can also offer longer-term support for Colombian trade unionists by affiliating to Justice for Colombia at www.justiceforcolombia.org