THE BLOG

Colombia Retains Position as the Most Dangerous Country in Latin America

As it has for many successive years now, Colombia continues to be the union murder capital of the world. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), which keeps track of such statistics, issued its Annual Report yesterday, and reported that Colombia (with its small population of about 44 million people) accounted for 48 of the 100 union assassinations which took place in the world in 2009. That is, nearly one-half of all murders of unionists took place in Colombia.

As Guy Ryder, the ITUC General Secretary, opined: defending workers rights in Colombia is a "death sentence." The ITUC further reported that, of the 48 unionists killed in Colombia in 2009, "22 were senior union leaders, of whom five were women."

The country with the second worst record in terms of anti-union violence, Guatemala, fell far short of Colombia's record, with 16 union assassinations last year. Also, quite notably, as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton argues for Honduras' readmission to the OAS, Honduras came in at number 3, with 12 union assassinations last year. Nearly all of these killings in Honduras took place after the militiary coup last summer which resulted in Honduras' expulsion from the OAS in the first place.

Notably, the nations usually vilified by the mainstream press in this country -- China, Cuba and Venezuela -- did not make the ITUC list at all, for they suffered no assassination of unionists last year.

What's more, the ITUC's report on Colombia's abysmal anti-union violence record comes just as Colombia was ranked the most violent country in Latin America, and the top 11th most violent country in the world in the 2010 Global Peace Index.

Meanwhile, at least 17 unionists have been murdered in Colombia so far this year.

All of this belies the claims of those in both the Colombian and U.S. governments, eager to pass a long-stalled Free Trade Agreement, who argue that Colombia is progressing in terms of providing peace and stability for its people.

Just as the reports of Colombia's record of violence came out, the United Workers Central of Colombia (CUT), the largest trade union confederation in Colombia, released a Statement about the corporate machinations at the ILO Standards Committee (a committee made up of business, government and union representatives) which led to Colombia's removal from the ILO's labor watch list.

The ILO watch list, which Colombia has been on for years given its horrendous labor record, subjects those 25 nations on the list to special monitoring by the ILO. As the CUT explains, the business sector on the ILO's Tripartite Standards Committee threatened to prevent any watch list at all from being approved if Colombia continued to be listed. In its Statement, the CUT characterized this action by the business sector as "blackmail."

Clearly, this maneuver was carried out by the business sector (led by The Coca Cola Company's Director of Global Relations Ed Potter) in order to give the business community ammunition in their constant quest to pass Free Trade Agreements with Colombia. These Free Trade Agreements are almost universally opposed by labor and human rights groups who fear that they will further erode the rights of workers, indigenous and Afro-Colombians, as well as the environment, as they open up Colombia for further multi-national penetration.

However, as the CUT noted, Colombia did not leave the ILO's Tripartite discussions unscathed. Rather, Colombia did in fact accept a sanction of receiving an ILO High Level Tripartite Mission. As the CUT explained, by doing so, Colombia itself was "admitting that the situation of freedom of association in Colombia has not improved."

Even as these revelations about Colombia's horrendous human and labor rights situation come to light, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Colombia today to meet with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe -- a long-time friend of the Clintons, and the U.S.'s closest friend in the Hemisphere. Curiously, the chief political strategist for Bill Clinton in his 1992 Presidential election campaign -- James Carville ("The Ragin' Cajun") -- is the senior political strategist for Uribe's former Defense Minister and heir apparent to Uribe, Juan Manuel Santos. Santos, who is the front-runner in the Presidential elections to be held on June 20, is running under a cloud of scandal for his overseeing the "false positive" program in which between 2,000 and 4,000 civilians were murdered by the Colombian military who falsely counted these victims as guerillas in order to justify continued U.S. military assistance to that country.