The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Luis Eduardo Garcia Interviewed
Both international and Colombian human rights organizations now attribute the large majority of atrocities to paramilitaries, who are so closely, and so visibly, allied to the military that Human Rights Watch calls them the "Sixth Division," alongside the five official divisions – Noam Chomsky
Anthony McIntyre • 14.11.03

It was around four in the afternoon when Sean Smyth of the Colombian Solidarity Campaign called. The flight from London was expected on time and we were running slightly behind schedule. The passengers would have most likely disembarked and cleared whatever delays there were before we would reach Belfast International and we did not want them to be waiting around on us. Jackie Seymour, the interpreter, had probably made the journey before but for Luis Eduardo Garcia it was the first trip to our pacified and socially stratified city. On pulling up at the entrance to the arrivals, our two charges were standing beside their luggage. Once in the car and safely ensconced behind seat belts we were on the road to Derry and Sandino's Bar. The last time I had been there was in the company of John McGuffin. I made the point to Sean that were he still of this world, McGuffin would be at Sandino's ready as ever to lash his tongue in the direction of those willing to keep their foot firmly on the dispossessed of this world. The last time I was in John McGuffin's company was to attend his cremation.

The dispossessed and how they fare in a world increasingly shaped by neo-liberalism - the discursive nicety employed by the grossly selfish to mask their rapacious intent - as it ravages Colombia was the reason that brought Luis Eduardo Garcia to Ireland. The Derry Trades Council in conjunction with the Colombian Solidarity Campaign was hosting a talk by him in Sandino's. And he agreed to be interviewed by the Blanket once his talk had ended. Luis is a trade union leader in Colombia and is employed by the Coca Cola company which is believed by many to be actively involved in murdering trade unionists amongst its workforce. Maria Engqvist has termed the murders ‘the Coca Cola killings.’ Luis’s union, Sinaltrainal - Food and Drink Workers Union - has been at the forefront of seeking to curb Coca Cola's attempts to impose neo-liberal economics on the workforce. It is no easy task. In a flyer announcing a London meeting featuring Luis it was claimed that, ‘all forms of social organisation which attempt to resist this are being exterminated: indigenous people, small farmers, and workers are assassinated for opposing the objectives of foreign investors.' Every year Colombia sees more of its trade unionists murdered than the rest of the world combined. Since 1990 right wing paramilitary death squads ‘allegedly hired by subsidiaries of Coca Cola’ have murdered eight colleagues of Luis in Sinaltrainal. Despite a US judge concluding that Coca Cola in Colombia had a case to answer, the company obstinately refused to cooperate.

After a lively discussion in a first floor room in Sandino's, myself, Luis and Jackie sat down at a table over our pints of lager. Sean abstained - he would be behind the wheel for the journey back over the Glenshane Pass later in the evening. Anyway he had been out the night before watching two matches and had a fair sup, so he would hardly begrudge us one pint. But it was not the alcohol that brought Luis to Ireland, although he may be excused if he felt the country housed more bars than radicals. Our reputation for leftist politics has hardly soared - all our parliamentary political leaders forming an obedient crescent at Hillsborough earlier this year to pay homage to George Bush while he contemptuously used them to legitimise his war on Iraq.

My visit is to help start a campaign against Coca Cola over its human rights violations. I went to England and this allowed me to come over to Ireland. Also the action by the students in boycotting Coca Cola in their university showed me that Ireland was a country willing to be radical on these matters. Ireland is interested in human rights and has never relaxed its vigilance on these issues. Ireland's example of independence and development has served as an example to other struggling countries.

But Ireland is a country absorbed with itself, particularly in the North at any rate. The rest of the world could be starving, flooding or ablaze and Northern politicians would carry on howling about the street they live in and demanding that prime ministers, presidents and Taoiseaigh convene to discuss the amount of watts the light at the corner of their street should have. Are Colombian activists so narrow in their focus?

It is part of a wider global movement. While our struggle is against Coca Cola and against human rights violations in Colombia it is also to show the ill-effects of a neo-liberal agenda of globalisation.

A man who looks to be in his mid-40s, Luis is married with three children, two girls and a boy. His son and one daughter are at present studying back home. He has worked for Coca Cola for 25 years. His one fear while out of the country is for his family back home. He used the word 'terror' when describing the thoughts that visit him while separated from them. Yet they support him, feeling that future generations should be free from the terrorism orchestrated by the rule of capital. One of his major influences is Fidel Castro and he loves the books of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. He is also a supporter of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. When I asked him about other figures such as Oscar Romero and Helder Camara, he told me that liberation theology was purposeful in that it offered alternatives to the poor.

When I moved to solicit his interest in Ireland I found it strange that he did not mention the hunger strike of 1981. Unlike the charade we have today the hunger strike was an event of huge international import. But if it was not at the forefront of his mind, then what was? He stated that he had been impressed by the miners' strike in England in the mid-1980s which demonstrated genuine evidence of union solidarity: a reflection that this man's interests were guided by a concern for the working person and that his energies had been absorbed in trade unionism. No easy task given the experience of trade unionists in his country. The case of the three Irish republicans held in Colombia had hardly escaped his attention? It had not. Their detention was unjust. He believed that the Colombian authorities were penalising the three.

It is an example of the insecurity that the government feels when it thinks it is confronted with international solidarity. It is against all international solidarity. It even declares the NGOs as being outside the law. The people of Colombia would prefer to see the three Irish men go free. It is the government alone that wants to hold them.

Colombia, he contends, lives in the permanent grip of armed confrontation involving the government, paramilitaries and guerrillas. Although the government often claims that the civilian population is squeezed between killers of the extra-parliamentary left and right, the situation on the ground is more accurately described as one in which the right wing paramilitaries strike out at the civilian population using the excuse of guerrilla activity. One report at the end of 2002 estimated that over 30,000 civilians had died in the previous decade. The paramilitary apparatus is, in the view of Luis, the creation of the country’s president, Alvaro Uribe Valez. The head of the death squads, Carlos Castaño, has a back ground in the Colombian armed forces.

In 1996 Luis was imprisoned for six months after he had been arrested inside the Coca Cola premises. The management had accused him of planting a bomb at the plant. But the charges were later dropped after the defence showed them to be absurd. But are there any links between the guerrillas and the trade unions? Luis readily admits that he is a Marxist and that FARC operate from within a Marxist paradigm. But there the similarity ends. The guerrillas don’t mix with the trade unions and the trade unions don't bother with them. But there is a degree of respect for each other. He does not live in fear of FARC claiming that they do not target trade unionists. His assessment of FARC is that it plays a role in certain areas and it seeks an alternative to the present situation while holding out the belief that it can reach agreement with the government on this. While Colombians are demanding a negotiated end to the conflict, in the view of Luis, peace processes have always failed.

At the end of the interview we posed for a photo, shook hands and embraced. We then made our way through the cold Derry air to our car for the journey through the mists of the Glenshane Pass and on to Belfast. There, Sean and myself made sure both Jackie and Luis were in their hotel before making our way home. The last thing I wanted to see in the foyer was a vending machine dispensing Coca Cola. We would simply have written on a blank sheet ‘out of order’ and laid it across the machine. However, we were spared that act of defiance. On the way up the Falls Road, past all those premises that still sell the murderers’ product – the Culturlann alone at present in refusing to stock it – we hoped the words of Sinaltrainal member Carlos Julia would bear down on the community of West Belfast: ‘We ask Coca-Cola to stop killing and you to stop drinking Coke.’






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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

14 November 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


Belfast Agreement Postpones Cure for British Problem
Liam O Comain


Further Problems at Maghaberry Gaol
Martin Mulholland


Luis Eduardo Garcia Interviewed

Anthony McIntyre


Choosing Sides in Iraq
Mick Hall


The Taboo of Racism So Subtle
Davy Carlin


Left Unity Meeting


Thessaloniki Prisoners On Hunger Strike
Anarchist Prisoner Support


Death Fast in 4th Year
DHKP-C Prisoners’ Organisation


10 November 2003


Address to Ard-Fheis 2003
Ruairí Ó Bradaigh


British Anti-Insurgency

Liam O Comain


From A Belfast Granny
Kathleen O Halloran


Planes, Trains and Big Wains!
Eamon Sweeney


The Most Important Election Ever, Again
Anthony McIntyre


What Went Wrong in the New South Africa?
Andrew Nowicki




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