WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
25 Feb 2015 | Commentary

Deteriorating Security Situation for Unionists in Valle del Cauca

Recently, the security situation for trade unionists in Valle del Cauca has significantly deteriorated. Yesterday, Guillermo Rivera Zapata, the President of SINTRAINAGRO, and members Medardo Cuesta and Jhonson Torres were attacked by a gunman as they traveled in their vehicle. Earlier in the day, union members had attended a meeting at the Riopaila Castillo sugar factory.

This incident follows the disturbing February 20 attack on the directors of the Union Sindical EMCALI (USE)—Harold Viafra, Ricardo Montoya, James Agudelo, and Luis Lozano—in which gunmen opened fire on the unionists while they were eating in a restaurant in Cali. The gunmen also threw various objects in black bags that were thought to be explosives. Police later confirmed that the objects thrown were not explosives but items meant to appear as such, and included death threat pamphlets.

Harold Viafra and Jhonson Torres form part of the Afro-Colombian Labor Council (Consejo Laboral Afro-Colombiano). The President of the Council, Agripina Hurtado, has also been targeted with death threats and has noticed unknown men doing surveillance on her, as recently as last week. USE directors and members of the Afro-Colombian Labor Council have experienced numerous security incidents over the past two years, including shadowing and death threats. Despite this, they continue to experience problems with the protection schemes provided by the National Protection Unit (Unidad Nacional de Protección, NPU).

The Rastrojos paramilitary group is circulating a death threat pamphlet containing a list of various unions and union leaders in Valle del Cauca. This threat calls for continued attacks against union leaders “who disguise themselves as guerillas.” Among those listed are CUT Valle, CGT, CTC Valle, SINTRAIME, SINTRAEMCALI, SINALTRAINAL, SINTRAATLAS, SINTRAHOSPICLINICAS, Johnson Torres (SINTRAINAGRO), Jorge Ivan Velez (SINTRAEMCALI) and others. Given that last year SINTRAEMCALI’s offices were bombed and its Vice President had a firebomb thrown at him, these threats require an immediate response from Colombian authorities to guarantee the security of the organizations and individuals listed.

WOLA strongly condemns these attacks and threats and encourages the U.S. and Colombian authorities to act to guarantee security, investigate, and prosecute the responsible perpetrators. We welcome the Colombian Presidential Council on Human Rights’ condemnation of the USE attack and encourage continued action on these situations.