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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
The Desaparecidos
Anthony McIntyre • 17.10. 03

Colombia has come to secure its own niche in Irish political consciousness as a result of the ongoing detention of three Irish republicans who have been incarcerated in dangerous conditions for more than two years while the bizarre nature of the prosecution case grinds on against them. Constant international monitoring secured by the efforts of Catriona Ruane and others has at least ensured that we know where they are. And while they have every reason not to feel safe they are at least alive. Others who have fallen foul of the country’s security apparatuses and associated paramilitaries have not been so fortunate. While Sean Smyth and colleagues, who engage in solidarity work on behalf of Colombian trade union activists, have worked diligently to highlight their plight in Ireland, they have not been able to command the international interest that Ruane has managed to generate.

Today an appeal went out on behalf of two trade union leaders who have gone missing in the country which has been described as ‘notorious for repression against unions.’ On September 29, 2003 Seth Cure and David Vergara disappeared in the course of conducting union business. Given what has happened to others in similar circumstances the outlook can only be bleak. One newspaper report in 2001 underscores the point:

In mid-March, Valmore Locarno Rodriguez and Victor Orcasita were riding from their jobs at the Loma coal mine in northern Colombia. Locarno and Orcasita were president and vice president of the union at the mine, a local of intramienergetica, one of Colombia's two coal miners' unions. As the company bus neared Valledupar, 30 miles from the mine, it was stopped by 15 gunmen, some in military uniforms. They began checking the identification of the workers, and when they found the two union leaders, they were pulled off the bus. Locarno was hit in the head with a rifle butt. One of the gunmen then shot him in the face, as his fellow workers on the bus watched in horror. Orcasita was taken off into the woods at the side of the road. There he was tortured. When his body was found later, his fingernails had been torn off.

Teaching and health workers’ unions in particular have fallen at the coalface of the systematic murder campaign. More than 3,800 union leaders and activists have been assassinated since the mid 1980's while more than one hundred were killed in the first six months of 2002 alone. Union activity is effectively criminalized by the Colombian State which vigorously promotes an anti-union culture. Human rights bodies claim that violations take place:

as a direct consequence of the exercise of the union activity, when the union workers solve or finish an industrial dispute, during the realization of national and local strikes, when they try to exercise their collective bargaining right, when they are in process of creation of a union or, when they face peacefully and legally the loss of their labour and union conquests.

Evidence of State indifference to the death squad activity is to be found in court records: the last 3,500 murders of trade unionists in Colombia have resulted in only six convictions underlining the contrast between the ease with which the paramilitaries can find the trade unionists and the 'inability' of the state to trace the authors of their murders. But pro-active engagement rather than indifference may be more characteristic of state policy. According to the Uruguayan-Mexican writer Carlos Fazio - he attended the funeral of Arch Bishop Romero in El Salvador 23 years ago and has been commenting on the region for some considerable time - the death squad activity is 'the product of a systematic strategy, sponsored by the State, and based on the classical counter-insurgency doctrine of the new model for low-intensity warfare.'

Corporate profit seems to be the hidden hand clearing the market of unionisation in order that it may be truly free – for capital to roam and rampage unhindered. In the 1990s the US based Drummond Coal Company closed down much of its home operation and relocated in Colombia. In March, 2001, during a dispute between the company and the union, the president and vice president of the union, Valmore Locarno and Victor Orcasita, were assassinated by a right wing death squad. Towards the end of the same year Locarno’s replacement as president, Gustavo Soler, met a similar fate.

A former mine worker who had to get out before he too was murdered described the role of Drummond:

Drummond apparently allows the violence to continue on its behalf. When union members complain about safety or other issues at the mine, they are targeted by the company. As a union, we have a responsibility to speak out. The indifferent Colombian government turns a blind eye, saying the company needs “free reign” to be productive and boost our economy. Well, it's a reign of terror with productivity placed before humanity. This climate of violence allows the company to further violate its contract and the law. On top of that, the wage difference between Colombian and American miners is horrible. Drummond's newest wage scale at La Loma ranges from $1.50 to $2.75 per hour. The company fulfils only the minimum requirements of Colombian law. We get no pensions from the company and few benefits. Greed is the bottom line for Drummond.

Drummond is not alone in the employment of ‘murder incorporated’ against trade union activists. According to Jeremy Rayner:

There is mounting evidence that American companies are complicit in the persecution of trade unionists at their Colombian operations. In the case of the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Carepa, where Isídro Segundo Gil was murdered, the union Sinaltrainal argues that Coca-Cola knowingly stood by and allowed the plant's manager to bring in paramilitaries to destroy the union … unionists have also been assassinated at other Coca-Cola bottling plants in Colombia … The president of Sinaltrainal, Javier Correa, reported last year that the number of unionized workers at Coca-Cola plants had dropped by more than two thirds since 1993-from 1,300 workers to only 450.7

The International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF) and the United Steelworkers of America have filed a suit against the Drummond Company on behalf of the families of slain workers and their union. The suit, filed in March last year, accuses Drummond of hiring paramilitary gunmen to torture, kidnap and murder union leaders. An additional lawsuit charges Coca-Cola, amongst others, of complicity in the campaign of murder and intimidation being waged against unionists at Coca-Cola plants throughout the country.

Despite the murderous purges being waged against the unions by death squads linked to the Colombian military, Colombia is now the third largest recipient of US military aid in the world. And the purpose is to ensure that the neo-liberal agenda governing the operation of the country’s economy remains hegemonic. Which means US military hardware whether in the form of manpower or weaponry is the cutting edge for companies like Drummond and Coca Cola. For certain there is one drink that won’t pass my lips again. Fortunately, I have a choice. It may be too late for Seth Cure and David Vergara.






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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



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Index: Current Articles

18 October 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


Hold Onto Your Guns
Liam O Comain


Loyalist Violence
Newton Emerson


Sleeping With the Enemy
Kathleen O Halloran


Whatever Happened to the Anti War Movement?
Brendan O'Neill


Free Joe & Clare
Davy Carlin


Theodor Adorno
Liam O Ruairc


The Desaparecidos
Anthony McIntyre


The Letters Page has been updated.


12 October 2003


Tribalism is little more than the lowest common denominator
Thomas Gore


Separation vs. Segregation
Eamon Sweeney


The Legitimacy of Our Struggle
Liam O Comain


Not Losing His Way
Anthony McIntyre


A Hero of Reknown
Kathleen O Halloran


West Belfast - Childhood and the Wars
Davy Carlin


Abduction of Republican
32 County Sovereignty Committee


RSF attend Sardinian Conference
Des Dalton




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