(Another) Colombian Trade Unionist Murdered.

25 Jan

Another trade unionist in Colombia was murdered this past week.

Dave Coles, president of the Communication, Energy and Paperworkers’ union of Canada, released a statement condemning the murder. He also made a point of demanding that the Canadian government cancel the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement until Colombia upholds its international obligations to uphold human and labour rights:

The president of one of Canada’s largest unions, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, says both the Colombian and Canadian governments need to act now to denounce the latest murder of a trade union leader in Colombia.

Maurico Redondo and his wife Janeth Ordóñez Carlosama were murdered by two gunmen in their home in Putumayo on January 17, leaving their five children orphaned.  Maurcio was a provincial leader of the Union Sinical Obrera (USO), and both he and his wife were activists in a community group that advocated for better working conditions, environmental stewardship and labour and human rights in the booming oil and natural gas fields of south-western Colombia.  The murders followed telephone threats to three other USO leaders and a bomb threat at USO’s regional office in Orito.

“Once again we see that activists for decent work and decent communities continue to be targets in Colombia,” says CEP President Dave Coles.  “We mourn the deaths of Maurico Redondo and Janeth Ordóñez and call on Colombian authorities to bring those responsible to justice.  We also call on the Canadian Government to cancel the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, until the Colombian Government meets its international obligations to respect labour and human rights.”

This is important to me. There are dear friends in Colombia who sacrifice so much and risk their lives on a daily basis to do the work they do.

When the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement was up for ratification, I was a little too confident that the powerful testimonies from Colombian activists (and the rich social movements and organizations that they represent) would be enough. And–perhaps naively–I was convinced that with the Conservatives in a minority government situation, that it wouldn’t go through. Surely the hard work of so many would not be in vain.

When it passed, I was crushed. It was perhaps the biggest, heart-wrenching failure of hope in our parliamentary system that I have ever personally experienced. I thought of Colombian union activist Liliany Obando, who is to this day still in prison for the trumped up accusation of “inciting rebellion”, who had been so driven in her work with FENSUAGRO – the Colombian union of peasant farmers & farm workers, and who fearlessly denounced the terror and oppression that the government and paramilitary thugs inflicted on the working class in that country for so many decades. Lily had been such a warm, gracious host and friend when I was in Colombia to help with some research. Upon saying goodbye before our return to Canada, I briefly imagined seeing Lily and our other friends if we returned in a year or two. It was the next summer when she was arrested.

When the Conservatives won their majority, many of us found it a hard pill to swallow, but I could only reflect on how it had been much more painful to read Bob Rae’s memo stating that Liberal MPs would be supporting the trade agreement with Colombia. Any bitter tears had already wept–and it certainly wasn’t the only disappointment in the minority opposition. The Harper Majority nearly two years afterwards was simply a grim reminder that we had much work ahead of us.

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