WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
25 Feb 2014 | Video

Colombian Trade Unionists Highlight Criminalization of Social Protest, Labor Rights Violations

This event took place on Wednesday, February 26 at the Washington Office on Latin America.

Three years after the signing of the U.S. – Colombia Labor Action Plan, the agreement that paved the way for the passage of a free trade agreement between the two countries, labor rights violations continue unabated in Colombia. Mass firings, illegal subcontracting, and anti-union violence continue to undermine Colombian workers’ rights to form unions and exercise their right to free association, and union leaders are regularly killed for their work.

In this panel, labor and human rights leaders will discuss the criminalization of labor and social protest in Colombia and the challenges they face under the U.S.-Colombia trade agreement—which, despite widespread concerns over anti-union violence and labor rights violations, ultimately went into effect in May 2012. In addition to identifying broader trends, the leaders will speak on the specific case of the oil workers union (Unión Sindical Obrero, USO), which has suffered spurious legal charges, slandering in the media and physical attacks. The USO is an industrial union that represents approximately 36,000 workers in Colombia’s oil and energy sector. Founded 91 years ago, it is one of the oldest and largest unions in Colombia.

Edwin Castaño Monsalve is the newly elected President of the National Board at USO. His presidency follows a distinguished career in USO’s Cartagena Local and as a mechanical technician at the Cartagena Oil Refinery. César Eduardo Loza Arenas sits on the USO National Board as Human Rights, Peace, and Social Development Officer. Ha was formerly the Foreign and International Relations Officer from 2009 to 2013. German Alfredo Osman sits on the USO National Board as Foreign and International Relations Officer. Franklin Castañeda is President of the Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners Foundation (Fundación Comité de Solidaridad con los Presos Politicos, FCSPP), an organization that provides legal services for USO, defends human rights in Colombia and carries out international advocacy. Gladys Cisneros is the Senior Program Officer for the Americas at the Solidarity Center. Gimena Sánchez is WOLA’s Senior Associate for the Andes and a leading expert on labor rights in Colombia.

To learn more about WOLA’s work on labor rights in Colombia, please click here.