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2002-11-12

Leading Colombian Trade Unionist Goes Into Hiding After Receiving Threats On His Life

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One of Latin America’s leading bishops was kidnapped yesterday as he went to hold a religious service in central Colombia.

No group claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of Colombian bishop Jorge Enrique Jimenez, but the abduction took place in an area where guerrillas are active.

Meanwhile, we have just received an email from a well-known Colombian trade union leader who has gone into hiding after. Francisco Ramirez of the Federation of Mine Workers had just completed a tour of the United States. He writes:

“Problems began immediately upon my return. I have had to remain at someone’s house and only go out when absolutely necessary. Yesterday when I went to see my son we were followed by a motorcycle with an armed passenger. I had to duck down in the back seat to protect myself.

"Here in Colombia the law states that the driver and the passenger on a motorcycle must display the license number on their vest and on their helmet. These two were not wearing the vest, and the license number on their helmets did not correspond to the number on the license plate. They followed us for a while, and when they couldn’t see any more in the back seat they decided to leave."

Of every five trade unionists murdered in the world, three are Colombian. Since 1986, over 4,000 trade union leaders have been murdered in Colombia. Not one person has ever been successfully prosecuted for these crimes.

Most of the murders are committed by rightwing death squads. Colombia’s military, as well as its current president Álvaro Uribe, have a history of connections to these rightwing paramilitary groups.

But Washington is expanding its support for the Colombian military. At the beginning of next year, U.S. Special Forces will begin training two Colombian army brigades, which will be tasked with protecting an oil pipeline that carries oil for Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum across northern Colombia to a seaside oil depot.

Meanwhile, a local Brazilian newspaper reported on Sunday that the U.S. military command has warned Colombia that if it doesn’t cancel a $234 million deal with Brazil for military equipment and fighter planes, Colombia will risk losing future financing from Congress.

Well, we had a chance to speak with Francisco Ramirez in our firehouse studio last week. He is the Secretary of the Colombian Federation of Mine Workers.

He began by talking about what it’s like to be a trade unionist.

Guests:

  • Francisco Ramirez, Secretary of the Colombian Federation of Mine Workers. Jana Silverman, an organizer for the Committee for Social Justice in Colombia, translated.
  • Dan Kovalik, a lawyer for the United Steelworkers of America, is representing the Colombian Miners.

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