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2001-07-25

"Life Tastes Good"–That’s Coke’s Theme; It’s Also Why Colombian Coca-Cola Bottlers Aresuing the U.S.-Based Multinational for the Killing and Intimidation of Union Leaders

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The House of Representatives yesterday approved President Bush’s "Andean Initiative": $676 million in aid forColombia and 6 of its neighbors. That is on top of former President Clinton’s "Plan Colombia," $1.3 billion in aidfor training and equipping Colombia’s military, for what the White House calls a war on drugs but what critics call awar on rebels.

President Bush had also called for a measure that would allow unlimited numbers of American civilians to work undercontract in U.S. military operations there. Currently, the U.S. military personnel in Colombia is capped at 500 andthe number of civilian contractors–whose missions include flying aircraft into combat areas and aerial fumigationof drug crops in rebel-held zones–is capped at 300. The House rejected Bush’s request, reflecting risingcongressional concern of expanded U.S. involvement.

But multinational corporations seem to have unlimited access to the country, even if they support paramilitaryforces.

Labor rights advocates are suing Coca-Cola, the giant, U.S.-based beverage company, for the killings and intimidationof union leaders at several of its bottling plants in Colombia.

The lawsuit, which was filed Friday in a Miami federal court, charges that Coca-Cola bottling plants brought inright-wing paramilitary death squads to break up unions. Since Coca-Cola is the parent company, it bearsresponsibility for the abuses, including murder and torture, under both U.S. and state law.

The United Steel Workers of America and the International Labor Rights Fund brought the lawsuit on behalf ofSINALTRAINAL, a Colombian trade union that represents workers in beverage and food companies; the survivors of IsidroSegundo Gil, who was murdered by paramilitary forces inside a bottling plant in 1995; and several other union memberswho say they have been subjected to the paramilitaries’ campaign of violence and intimidation.

Guests:

  • Dan Kovalik, United Steelworkers of America lawyer who has brought the case. E-mail: dkovalik@uswa.org.
  • Javier Correa, President of SINALTRAINAL.

Translator:

  • Juan Pablo Lombana, with El Taller Latino Americano in New York.

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