Recent reports on Colombia

Trade union rights, forced disappearances and the para-political scandal

In February and March of this year, CoDev was pleased to host Colombian human rights partner, Berenice Celeyta of NOMADESC. Her visit included time in Ottawa, Vancouver and Regina meeting with union leaders and activists, government officials, MPs and other interested Canadians. In Berenice’s presentations to Canadians she spoke about the new government of President Juan Manuel Santos who became President in August 2010. She said that although his discourse was nicer sounding than that of his predecessor, Alvaro Uribe who was infamous for calling people terrorists or guerrilla sympathizers, most Colombians see that little has changed with this new government.

She reminded Canadians that it is important to remember that Juan Manuel Santos was Defence Minister under the Uribe regime during a time when human rights violations, including the abhorrent practice of “false positives*”, continued to be carried out in the name of stopping terrorism.

Berenice expressed deep appreciation for the solidarity from CoDev and Canadian unions which allows NOMADESC to continue their work defending human rights and strengthening communities and organizations in the south west of Colombia. She also asked that we continue to keep close watch on events in Colombia and help counter the stories that the Colombian government perpetrates in order to show that all is well there.

Accordingly, the following articles cover some of current pertinent issues in Colombia.

1. The International Trade Union Confederation has released their Annual Survey of Repression of Trade Union Rights and Economic Freedoms across the Globe showing the Americas as the most dangerous region for trade unionists in the world. Colombia continues its unenviable record as the worst country with 49 trade union deaths in 2010 (Guatemala is second in the Americas with an alarming 10 trade union deaths during the year).

2. Despite all of the attention that has been given to Colombia’s human rights situation in the last many years, forced disappearances have only recently received the attention that they deserve. The number of people identified as victims of forced disappearances in Colombia, currently more than 57,000, surpasses that of Chile and Argentina during the military dictatorships in those countries. The exhumation of mass graves and the slow process to identify victims and return their remains to their families is the beginning of what is certain to be a long road to justice for those people and their families. The Guardian published a short article on a recent exhumation of a mass grave with more than 10,000 remains.

3. America Latina has an analysis of the United Nations’ position on Colombia’s forced disappearances (in Spanish only).

4. For a longer analytical piece that includes information on how Plan Colombia played a role in disappearances see this report (PDF) by the U.S. Office on Latin America and the Latin American Working Group.

5. Lastly, an excerpt from a recently published book (Y refundaron la patria…De cómo mafiosos y políticos reconfiguraron el Estado colombiano) by Colombian journalist and activist, Claudia Lopez, in the New York Review of Books follows the first steps of how the para-politico scandal (the plan between Colombian politicians and paramilitaries to control the government, the country, and the economy) was uncovered as well as some details of those agreements.

*False positives is where ordinary citizens, generally young men, are duped into leaving home, often with the promise of a job and later found dead, dressed in guerrilla fatigues.  These deaths were shown as proof of the successful war against the guerrilla. Army units were rewarded for each guerrilla death, lending a financial incentive to the practice.

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