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Solidarity with the Trade Unions in Colombia

Issued on July 20, 2009 at 02:41 PM

Luis Alberto Vanegas of the CUT, Colombia - Luis Alberto Vanegas of the CUT, Colombia - Credit: Kevin Cooper, Photoline
Luis Alberto Vanegas of the CUT, Colombia - Credit: Kevin Cooper, Photoline

Luis Alberto Vanegas, Colombian Trade Union leader at the BDC in Tralee

- The solidarity with Colombia shown by the Irish Trade Union Movement during my days here in Ireland is highly valued by me and my comrades in CUT-Colombia.

Luis Alberto Vanegas, the Director of the Human Rights Department in the Colombian Trade Union Congress (CUT) was happy after his week in Ireland. He was invited by ICTU Global Solidarity to take part in the Biennial Delegates Conference in Tralee, where he spoke on the 8th of July to the 800 delegates and observers. The speech which was much appreciated described the extremely difficult situation for Colombian trade unionists.

- Colombia is the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionist. 49 trade unionists lost their lives last year. That means that over 60% of all the murders of trade unionists in the world 2008 were carried out in Colombia, said Luis Alberto Vanegas in his speech.

He pointed out that teacher's unions' members very often are targeted. Only last month two teachers were murdered.

The Colombian President Alvaro Uribe claims that the situation is improving but the fact is that the killings have increased by 25 % over the last year. Paramilitaries are very often used to carry out these horrific acts. Guy Ryder, the General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation has described the situation as showing "that the authorities are, at best, incapable of ensuring the protection and in some cases are complicit."

Need for concrete solidarity work

Luis Alberto Vanegas clarified that there is of utmost importance to open an EU investigation into Colombia's labour and human rights performance. It is important to show the Colombian government that this situation is unacceptable. He also asked the ongoing negotiation on a bilateral free trade agreement between EU and Colombia to be stopped until Colombia complies with the basic conventions on human rights and labour standards. The US President Barack Obama recently rejected a free trade deal with Colombia citing the anti-trade union attacks as one of the principle for doing so.

Luis Alberto Vanegas welcomed the establishment of an Irish branch of the Trade Union network "Justice For Colombia" (JFC) and he emphasized the need for concrete solidarity work. Many people at the BDC showed their interest in Colombia. Almost 200 people attended a fringe event, where Luis Alberto spoke and answered questions. A special meeting with the teacher's unions attracted more than 50 participants. Many of those who attended these events signed JFC's list of interest to work in solidarity with the Colombian trade union movement.

After the BDC, Luis Alberto Vanegas also spoke at a solidarity meeting in Wexford co-organised by Amnesty International and the Council of Trade Unions in Wexford. The last two days in Dublin, he met with TDs, Members of the European Parliament and the Human Rights section of the Department of Foreign Affairs.