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COLOMBIA REFLECTION: What it means to be a union member in Colombia and Chicago

26 July 2013
COLOMBIA REFLECTION: What it means to be a union member in Colombia and Chicago

by Ruth Fast

[Note: Fast was a member of the most recent Christian Peacemaker Team delegation to Colombia in May.]

 William Mendoza speaks to CPT Colombia
delegation while CPT Colombia team member

Eleven years ago, company thugs attempted to kidnap William Mendoza‚Äôs four-year-old daughter. They were unable to take her because his wife simply refused to release her grip on the child.  This incident caused William‚Äôs marriage to break up because of his wife‚Äôs fear of further violence. His story is one of thousands that, when combined, have for decades put Colombia at the top of the list of most dangerous nations to be a member of a trade union.

Mendoza is President of the local Coca Cola ILWU (International Longshore and Warehouse Union) in Barrancabermeja, Colombia.  Because he was working for fair wages and decent working conditions for Coca Cola workers, paramilitary groups hired by the company to intimidate and threaten leaders of the union had targeted him.  This U.S. company operating in Colombia is keeping wages and benefits low so they can extract more profits for the company and we can drink soft drinks at lower prices.  

COLOMBIA ANALYSIS: Other nations deserve to live strong and free as well

 On 1 July Canadians celebrate the 1967 creation of an independent nation.   Their national anthem refers to, ‚ÄúThe True North strong and free.‚ÄĚ  The United Nations often names Canada is as one of the best countries in the world to live in because of its public healthcare, public education, good infrastructure, friendly and welcoming people‚ÄĒeverything a healthy society needs to develop and flourish.  If only Colombians could enjoy the same thing.

San Pedro Frio

From 27-29 June 2013 San Pedro Frio, a mining town in the hilly southern region of the province of Bolivar hosted approximately three hundred people from local communities and fifty people from the provinces of Nari√Īo, Cauca, Choc√≥, Huila and Antioquia for the second preparatory hearing of the ‚ÄúEthical and Political Trial against Dispossession.‚ÄĚ They gathered to share and document their stories about how multinational mining company AngloGold Ashanti has committed or supported grave human rights violations to acquire mining rights in these different territories. The community of Bolivar talked about the Exodo Campesino (Farmers Exodus) of 1998 where a mass mobilization of farming and mining communities from the south of Bolivar rose up, demanding their rights of access to healthcare, education, potable water, roads and the right to work the land or mines without the threat from right wing paramilitary groups. This mobilization led to agreements signed with then President Andres Pastrana.  Unfortunately instead of fulfilling the agreements, the army and paramilitary groups began a harsh campaign of repression against the communities and the now identified leaders who had negotiated the agreements.

COLOMBIA: New acts of terrorism against the community of Las Pavas


Following the recent attacks on the community of Las Pavas, ASOCAB, the farmers‚Äô association released the following denunciation: 

THE FARMERS ASSOCIATION OF BUENOS AIRES "ASOCAB" denounces, before the national and international community, the acts of terrorism to which we are victims, which we add to our previous complaints of assaults by the private security department of the palm company APORTES SAN ISIDRO S.A.S.

On Thursday 27 June 2013, in the presence of members of the international organization CPT (Christian Peacemaker Teams), at around 11:10 a.m., a fireball was thrown, made out of socks tied with wire and soaked in diesel fuel, at the settlement of our community located in Las Pavas…

A week later, on Thursday, 4 July 2013 at 12:15 a.m., when all the families living in the settlement were asleep, three fireballs were launched‚ÄĒusing the same material [as was used on 27 June]‚ÄĒat the community housing and the two communal ranches‚Ķ

Prayers for Peacemakers, 3 July 2013

Prayers for Peacemakers, 3 July 2013

 Epixel* for 3 July 2013

 I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up, and did not let my foes rejoice over me.

-Psalm 30:1


Ask that God grant protection to the people of Las Pavas, who were once again the targets of violent harassment when a fireball was launched from amidst the the palm tree crops of the Aportes San Isidro Corporation on 27 June 2013 at the community's ranch house.  Give thanks no one was hurt, but pray that the hearts of the corporation executives, the henchmen they are paying to attack the Las Pavas community, and the police officers they have paid to look the other way will be transformed and that the impunity for their actions will end

Related story: COLOMBIA: Aportes San Isidro increases violent harassment of Las Pavas community, including attempted arson

COLOMBIA: Aportes San Isidro increases violent harassment of Las Pavas community, including attempted arson

On Monday 24 June 2013, as two CPTers arrived in Las Pavas, four armed security guards on horses appeared and prevented them from traveling by motorcycle the rest of the way to the settlement of campesinos.  The guards claimed that the land they were traveling on was private property of the palm company Aportes San Isidro despite government rulings that the land of Las Pavas is state land to be titled to the small farmers who have been working the land for decades.  After engaging in conversation about the illegality of this restriction of movement, the CPTers dismounted the motorcycles and walked the remaining fifty meters to the settlement.

Community members carry
supplies along the road the
company's security guards
are patrolling.

The next morning, 25 June, three Las Pavas community members were arriving to the farm with their farming tools when five armed guards stopped them on the main road and would not allow them to continue.  Two CPTers arrived with other community members. The guards were adamant that the men could not pass with farm implements regardless of international presence.  They insulted the CPTers and accused them of being guerillas who had brainwashed the community.  The three men had to return home and lost a day‚Äôs work in their fields.

A couple of hours later, community members asked CPTers to accompany their people arriving from town, carrying supplies for their homes.  CPTers carried baskets along the road under the watchful eye of the security guards who looked inside to see what they were carrying but let them pass.  While passing through, Mario Marmol the head security guard, unsuccessfully tried to steal a CPTer‚Äôs personal camera from the hands of a campesino.