Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Support Columbian trade unionists facing repression and assassination

A Columbian agricultural workers’ union activist has finally been released from prison after enduring over two years detention without trial.

Rosalba Gaviria Toro is a human rights worker for FENSUAGRO, the largest peasant and farm workers’ union federation in Columbia.  Formed in 1976 its members have paid a heavy price for standing up for workers’ rights. Thousands have been assassinated. Many more have been detained for long periods without trial or have simply ‘disappeared’ with no knowledge of their whereabouts. The South American country remains the most dangerous in the world for trade unionists.

Rosalba had been accused of ‘rebellion,’ a catch-all charge used to silence government opponents, and imprisoned on March 9th 2009. Five months later the same charge was used to jail her husband, Alirio Garcia, a FENSUAGRO executive committee member. He was released when all charge were dropped in March 2010.

Now, after the charge against Rosalba were also dropped, Alirio’s delighted to have welcomed his wife home after she left prison on June 3rd. Joining him in the local celebrations were more than 80 neighbours, relatives, union and NGO representatives. Meanwhile in Britain Unite, and other trade unions and MP’s who, with the support of the Justice for Columbia campaign, had campaigned for her release were also delighted by the news.

At the same time there was also good news in the cases of Aracely Canaveral Velez, an organiser in the informal workers union ASOTRACOMERCIANT, and Dr Miguel Angel Beltran a human rights critic. Charges of rebellion were dropped and they were both released with Beltran saying; “it was victory for international solidarity.”

Any hopes however that the three’s release might herald in a new era of respect for trade unionists and human rights were quickly shattered when on June 22nd four members of FENSUAGRO were arrested, accused of rebellion. Alexis Antonio Arroyo, Eulogio Tapiero Galindo, Manuel Antonio Angure and Telmo Cuevo Tegue are still detained and you can help play a part in trying to ensure they’re released by sending a protest letter via the website where you’ll also find Unite general secretary Len McCluskey condemning what’s happening to trade unionists in Columbia. 

Joining with him is Labour European spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, Richard Hewitt MEP who sets out why, in the absence of evidence that human rights abuses and endemic violence against trade unionists is coming to an end, the European Union should not ratify its proposed Free Trade Agreement with Columbia. This moved a step closer when in April this year the European Commission chose to initial a draft agreement between the EU and Columbia.

The TUC is now ‘calling on members of the European Parliament to exercise their right to block the ratification of the treaty when it comes before them later this year. They must uphold the values of the European Union and demonstrate that they will not allow basic human rights to be sidelined in the pursuit of increased profit.’ Don’t however hold your breath.

Meanwhile across the Atlantic it looks like President Obama will win approval from Congress to establish the USA’s own free trade agreement with Columbia.

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