WASHINGTON -- On Wednesday, the leaders of the largest coalition of American labor unions sent a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to maintain pressure on the Colombian government to end the rampant violence against union workers in the South American nation.
Saturday marks the one-year anniversary of the signing of a Labor Action Plan between the two nations, an accord which helped Obama garner votes from congressional Democrats and that enabled the passage of a free-trade agreement with Colombia last fall. The AFL-CIO has long been critical of the trade pact, which originally was negotiated by former President George W. Bush, on the grounds that the Colombian government does not have the capacity to enforce protections for workers.
"It is premature to declare the Labor Action Plan a success," wrote AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in the Wednesday letter, obtained by HuffPost. "Now is not the time to relieve the pressure on Colombia to uphold the commitments it made in the Labor Action Plan."
Trumka detailed a host of labor disputes in Colombia, and noted that the Colombian government has prosecuted less than 10 percent of the cases of 3,000 trade unionists who have been murdered in Colombia since 1989, emphasizing, "None of the 29 labor activists killed in 2011 had their cases resolved by a successful prosecution."
The Labor Action Plan sets no specific benchmarks for reducing violence for the Colombian government to meet to be in compliance. Instead, it requires the nation to establish institutions and programs to protect workers. If those programs are ineffective, the government is still technically in compliance with the plan.
Trumka outlines a handful of problems in the letter, including the local government of Jamundi, Colombia, which chose to fire 43 municipal workers who began an effort to unionize. One of the activists for the new union, Miguel Mallana, "was gunned down in the street on March 25," Trumka wrote.
Obama will visit Cartagena, Colombia, April 14-15 for the Summit of the Americas, an international conference of political leaders hosted by the Organization of American States. If Obama declares that Colombia has met its obligations under the Labor Action Plan, key aspects of the free trade agreement will go into effect.
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