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Union organizing can be deadly in Colombia

  • Posted on: 7 March 2007
  • By: pirate

By SERGIO DE LEON, Associated Press Writer Wed Mar 7, 2007

BOGOTA, Colombia - More than 800 trade unionists have been killed in Colombia over the past six years, by government count, yet the number of those murders solved can be counted on one hand.

Union organizing can be a deadly activity anywhere but is particularly dangerous in Colombia, where decades of political violence and lawlessness compel some unscrupulous employers to hire assassins.

"There's almost total impunity," claims Flavio Arias, vice president of the CUT labor umbrella organization, which represents Colombia's 530,000 unionized workers.

Now Colombia's reputation as the deadliest place in the world to be a labor organizer threatens to sink one of President Alvaro Uribe's proudest achievements: a free trade agreement with U.S. President George W. Bush, who is expected to use his visit to Colombia on March 11 to press for congressional approval.

The union-friendly Democrats who now control the U.S. Congress are so concerned about the unsolved labor murders that they are threatening to derail the trade pact entirely unless Uribe makes clear progress.

In a speech last May Day — the international day of the worker — Uribe boasted of "working with complete devotion so that one day we can stand before the world and say not a single trade unionist has been killed in Colombia."

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