Protection for Colombian agricultural trade union leaders – ACT NOW!

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On Saturday 1 July, Alberto Román Acosta González, President of the Guacarí branch of the National Union of Workers in Agricultural Industries (SINTRAINAGRO) in Colombia, was assassinated in the Valle del Cauca’s sugar plantation zone. This attack followed an earlier grenade attack in March this year at SINTRAINAGRO offices in the department of Magdalena, Ciénaga municipality of the country.
 
In response to this latest attack, SINTRAINGRO is calling for international support for their demand that the Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos Calderón and his government undertake a full and transparent investigation into this latest assassination and implement appropriate measures to protect union leaders and members.
 
You can sign an email to the President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón, Minister of the Interior, Guillermo Rivera Florez, the Attorney General, Luis Eduardo Montealegre, and the Director of the National Protection Unit, Diego Fernando Mora, below:
 
 
 
 

Background

 
SINTRAINAGRO represents 35,000 workers engaged in the production and / or export of bananas, sugar cane, oil palm, rice and flowers. Throughout its history, the Union has supported all of the peace negotiations carried out in the country, which has led it to becoming a direct target of armed groups opposed to these processes. Some 1,300 leaders and members of the union have been murdered in this context, mainly by paramilitary groups and henchmen of entrepreneurs. For that reason, SINTRAINAGRO was forced to ask for protection and security for some of the leaders of its Executive Committee and of the different sub-directives in each one of the departments.
 
That protection was withdrawn following the signing of the recent peace agreement with the FARC in Colombia. But as this recent attack has demonstrated, trade unionists continue to be targeted by armed groups opposed to the peace process. 
 
The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) publishes an annual survey of violations of internationally recognised collective labour rights by governments and employers. Their 2016 survey ranks Colombia among the ten worst countries, noting that, “Trade unionists have been murdered with impunity for decades in Colombia. In 2015, 20 murders of trade unionists were recorded in Colombia- the highest number in any country”.
 
Since the signing of the peace accords last year between the Colombian Government and the FARC, attacks on human rights, environmental and trade union activists have actually been on the increase. According to a recent documentary by the China Global Television Network - A rise in murders of activists in Colombia puts peace in peril – 130 activists have been murdered in the country in the months since the signing of the peace accords. 
 
 

SINTRAINAGRO published the following statement following the assassination of Alberto Román Acosta González

 
The National Union of Workers in Agricultural Industries (SINTRAINAGRO) is a trade union that represents 35,000 agricultural sector workers involved in the cultivation of banana plants, sugar cane, rice, flowers and palm oil in Colombia.
 
The organisation has worked for over 45 years to fight for labour rights and to defend production in these economically important sectors in Colombia. Agro-industrial production takes place in regions where there are many social issues and problems for workers, and where illegal terrorist groups have historically identified our organisation as a target, simply because they are opposed to us fighting for the unions. They believe that SINTRAINAGRO’s work with state institutions to maintain employment opportunities in Colombia is a crime, and for this they make us pay the heavy price of the assassination of our union members and leaders. 
 
The murder of more than 1,300 of our colleagues, amongst them union members and leaders, has lead us to request government protection for some of our leaders from the Colombian Ministry of the Interior. Thanks to this security system, we have been able to continue carrying out union activity in Colombia.
 
Some of this union activity has involved us working to support the peace process between the guerrilla fighters from FARC and the Colombian government, and we have been named as a terrorist target by those who oppose this peace process. Yet, instead of granting security to the union leaders who are being threatened, the Colombian government has withdrawn the protective measures that they had put in place for these leaders. They justify their actions with the fact that the guerrilla group FARC has now been demobilised and therefore the leaders’ safety is no longer threatened. However, on 1 July 2017 our colleague ALBERTO ROMAN ACOSTA GONZALES, the president of the Guacarí branch of SINTRAINAGRO, was sadly murdered in the Valle del Cauca region. 
 
Consequently, we are seeking solidarity on a national and international level from human rights organizations, the trade union movement and the state institutions concerned with the security of union leaders in Colombia. They can help us to demand that the Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos Calderón and his government respect the international conventions of union freedom and permanently guarantee that we will be able to carry out union activity, so that we will not have to mourn the death of any more union leaders in Colombia.
 
SINTRAINAGRO NATIONAL EXECUTIVE COMMITEE
Medellín, 4th July 2017