Colombia Human Rights Network Spring National Tour

Civilians Under Fire: Colombian Labor Leaders Under Threat, March 17 -- April 5, 2000


More labor leaders are killed in Colombia than any other country. According to a 1999 Colombian Commission of Jurists report, over 2,500 trade union activists and leaders have been murdered since 1987. Because of the growing violence directed at Colombian unionists, the Colombia Human Rights Network and U.S./Colombia Coordinating Office chose to feature leaders of Colombia=s largest union federation, the CUT, in its recent Spring 2000 national tour. The tour visited 10 cities across the United States.

The CUT, Central Unitaria de Trabajadores, is the largest union federation in Colombia. Since it was founded in 1986, more than 8,000 organizations have affiliated with the CUT. However, its members, like many other union representatives in Colombia, have had to work under the intimidating tactics of Colombia=s armed actors.

The ongoing struggle of the CUT has resulted in the deaths of many of its leaders and activists, as well as the displacement of many more. CUT statistics show that in 1999 alone 179 of its members were assassinated. In October 1998, Jorge Ortega, the director of the CUT=s Human Rights Department, was murdered. Following his assassination, numerous labor activists have applied for asylum abroad.

The tour featured Patricia Buriticá Céspedes, director of the Department of Women and member of the CUT=s National Executive Committee, and Luis Alfonso Velásquez Rico, Director for the Department of Judicial and Labor Affairs. Patricia and Luis Alfonso visited grassroots organizations, churches, and universities, and union offices, and attended labor meetings, in Washington D.C., Pittsburgh, PA, Reading, PA, Morristown, NJ; New York City; Boston, Massachusetts; Chicago, IL; Iowa City, IA; Seattle, WA; Los Angeles, CA; and San Francisco, CA to address the complex conflict in Colombia, the challenges and threats union activists face, and their efforts to defend the rights of unionized workers. They also addressed the role of U.S. multinational corporations and the impact of a changing U.S. policy on human rights and peace in Colombia.

The AFL-CIO=s international division and Latin America Solidarity Center assisted the CHRN in contacting labor councils and other labor groups in each city helping the CHRN to reach yet another potential constituency in the United States interested in Colombia=s human rights crisis. They also gave Colombian labor leaders the opportunity to meet with AFL-CIO executives and build networks with U.S. labor groups.

To learn more about future national tours and how to get involved, please contact the U.S./Colombia Coordinating Office, tel: 202-232-8090.