URGENT ACTION: ECOPETROL NOW THREATENED - 25th JUNE
Colombia Solidarity Preface: Up to 600,000 Colombian state sector workers went on strike last Thursday 19th June against the imminent loss of 40,000 jobs through the privatisation of telecommunications and health and social security agencies. There were four marches in Bogotá, accompanied by four thousand armed police. The police also took over hospitals in the capital and the headquarters of state oil corporation ECOPETROL.
The turn out would have been greater were it not for the decision by the leadership of the school teachers union FECODE not to stop work. With around 350,000 members, FECODE is by far Colombia's biggest union. In fact many rank and file teachers joined the demonstrations, on which workers from TELECOM and the further education institute SENA were prominent.
The Colombian press is reporting the imminent division and liquidation of ECOPETROL. The union centres have called another general stoppage for later today, 25th June.
Direct from Barrancabermeja
The petroleum worker's union has just issued an action alert in response to the militarization of the ECOPETROL (government-owned oil company) refinery here in Barrancabermeja, and the president's plans to privatize the company. On June 20 and 21, the government security forces used tear gas and a water cannon to break up peaceful demonstrations in Barrancabermeja.
This morning, an ongoing Vigil in Defense of ECOPETROL began in front of the entrance to the refinery. The army had placed razor wire and barricades at the entrance. The soldiers behind the barricade had shields, helmets, batons, and tear gas cannisters; in addition, to their automatic weapons. Several activities are planned this week in Barrancabermeja to prevent the privatization of ECOPETROL, and there is concern that the government will again resort to force to disrupt these activities.
The members of the petroleum workers' union, USO, are taking action to prevent the government's efforts to privatize the most important government-owned enterprise, the Petroleum Company of Colombia, ECOPETROL. The company was created by the struggle of the workers in 1948. ECOPETROL has assets of more than $8 billion and provides $2 billion annually to the national budget. The company provides 7,000 direct jobs and 100,000 indirect jobs.
The conflict has been aggravated by the government's refusal to negotiate the bargaining demands presented by the USO in November 2002. In addition to the privatization of ECOPETROL, the government of President Alvaro Uribe has budgeted for the privatization of more than 280 government-owned enterprises. These include Telecommunications of Colombia (already liquidated), Social Security Institute (health care), National Learning Service (vocational education), and the San Rafael Hospital, among
The workers have responded to the plans of the government with protest, mobilization, work stoppages, preparation of a strike, and other actions permitted by the National Constitution. In response to union's actions, the government has adopted measures that go from declaring the protests to be illegal, up to the elimination of labor organization through administrative measures carried out by the Labor Ministry in violation of the treaties signed by Colombia with the International Labor Organization, ILO.
The government is also:
* Militarizing the installations of ECOPETROL;
* Charging and imprisoning USO leaders and activists through processes based on false witnesses paid for by the government security forces;
* Arbitrarily detaining people, such as Hector Alfonso Galvis, who was detained during a demonstration and accused of being a terrorist by the commander of the Middle Magdalena Special Operations Command;
* Using cruel and inhumane treatment of union activists and the people that support them; and
* Charging people detained during demonstrations with the crime of terrorism.
The government has also created a "Program of Improvement and Competencies" - forced isolation under the threat of dismissal.
Union activists are sent to this program with a tutor for one year. The tutor assigns their work, evaluates the work weekly, and prohibits the person from returning to their previous work site - which restricts their union, personal, and labor relations with their co-workers. These administrative measures destabilize the worker, their family, and their social environment. They also put at risk the life and physical integrity of the workers.
The United Self-Defense Forces (AUC) paramilitary organization has declared the USO to be a military target. As a result, 87 workers, activists, and union leaders such as Auri Sara Marrugo, Cesar Blanco, and Rafael Jaimes Torra, have been assassinated. Three people have been disappeared, more than 400 have been forced to flee from their homes, and three are in exile.
1. Contact your senators and representative. Urge them to contact U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson [UK readers substitute Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell] and ask her [him] to:
* urge the Colombian government to demilitarize ECOPETROL and TELECOM;
* to not privatize these or any other government enterprises;
* to not use force against peaceful demonstrations;
and to immediately release Ramon Rangel, Jairo Calderon, Alonso Martinez, Hernando Hernandez, Fernando Acuña and Luis Viana (all members of the USO).
2. Contact Ambassador Anne Patterson [Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell]
Contact info. and sample message for Ambassador Anne Patterson firstname.lastname@example.org 011-57-1-315-2112
[Bill Rammell MP Under Secretary of State Foreign Office email@example.com ]
Dear Ambassador Patterson,
I'm writing to express my grave concern for the militarization of ECOPETROL and TELECOM; the liquidation of TEELECOM; and the government's plans to liquidate ECOPETROL, Instituto de Seguro Social, and the SENA.
ECOPETROL is the result of 30 years of struggle by the petroleum workers' union, USO. The company provides 7,000 well-paid jobs and contributes $2 billion a year to the national budget. The liquidation of ECOPETROL would have disastrous consequences for Barrancabermeja, the Middle Magdalena region, and Cartagena. In addition, the privatization of ECOPETROL
and other government enterprises would worsen the grave problem of unemployment.
3. Immediately contact President Alvaro Uribe E-mails firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
Fax numbers: 011-57-1-286-7434, 011-57-1-286-6842, 011-57-1-284-2186
Presidente de la República de Colombia
Alvaro Uribe Vélez
Palacio de Nariño
Carrera 8 No.7-26
Santafe de Bogota
Excelentísimo Sr. Presidente,
Me dirijo a usted para expresar mi grave preocupación por la militarización de ECOPETROL y TELECOM; la liquidación de TELECOM; y los planes para liquidar y privatizar a ECOPETROL, el Instituto de Seguro Social, y la SENA.
ECOPETROL es el resultado de 30 años de lucha por parte de la USO. La empresa transfiere anualmente 5.5 billones de pesos al Presupuesto Nacional y genera 7,000 puestos de trabajo. La liquidación de ECOPETROL sería un desastre para la economía de Barrancabermeja y la Magdalena Medio, y Cartagena. Además, la privatización de ECOPETROL y otras empresas
estatales empeoraría el grave problema de desempleo.
Pido a usted que:
Desmilitarice a ECOPETROL y TELECOM,
No privatice a ECOPETROL, TELECOM, Instituto de Seguro Social, SENA, y otras empresas estatales,
No use la fuerza en contra de manifestaciones pacíficas,
Ponga en libertad a Ramon Rangel, Jairo Calderon, Alonso Martinez, Hernando Hernandez, Fernando Acuña and Luis Viana (miembros de la USO).
Voy a seguir muy de cerca a esta situación y voy a mantener informados a mis senadores y representante.
English translation of letter to President Alvaro Uribe:
I'm writing to express my grave concern for the militarization of ECOPETROL and TELECOM; the liquidation of TEELECOM; and the plans to liquidate ECOPETROL, Instituto de Seguro Social, and the SENA.
ECOPETROL is the result of 30 years of struggle by the petroleum workers' union, USO. The company provides 7,000 jobs and contributes $2 billion a year to the national budget. The liquidation of ECOPETROL would be a disaster for the economy of Barrancabermeja, the Middle Magdalena region, and Cartagena. In addition, the privatization of ECOPETROL and
other government enterprises would worsen the grave problem of unemployment.
I ask you to:
Demilitarize ECOPETROL and TELECOM,
Not privatize ECOPETROL, TELECOM, Instituto de Seguro Social, SENA, or any other government enterprises.
Not use force against peaceful demonstrations.
Immediately release Ramon Rangel, Jairo Calderon, Alonso Martinez, Hernando Hernandez, Fernando Acuña and Luis Viana (all members of the USO).
I'm going to closely follow this situation, and I'm also going to keep my senators and representative informed.