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

New Threats against Afro-Colombian Communities, Human and Labor Rights Groups Raise Concern

Dear All,

We wanted to bring to your attention the following cases:

Security Situation in La Toma Deteriorating

On February 8, Afro-Colombian leaders Sabino Lucumi, Eduar Mina and Francia Marquezof the Community Council of La Toma (Suarez) received a new death threat from the Black Eagles paramilitary group. The threat states: “We have already located all the snitches of the Community Council of La Toma who are opposed to the development of the community […] and order the incineration of the machinery. We already know the movements of the leaders and your families […] we have orders to carry out a cleansing in the south of Valle Cauca of those who block the roads […] “.

As we have reported in recent months, these activists have received several death threats in because they are asking Colombian authorities to end illegal mining operations and for authorities to remove the illegal machinery in their ancestral territories. The continued threats and security incidents against this community is of utmost concern. U.S. policymakers should encourage Colombia to guarantee the safety of all concerned, investigate and prosecute perpetrators and to fully implement the agreements they made with these leaders.

UNP Acting Problematically in MOVICE Security Cases

On February 8, Martha Diaz of the Atlántico Chapter of the National Movement of Victims of State Crimes (MOVICE) received a funerary death wreath at her home. The wreath had a note stating “rest in peace Martha Diaz.” Ms. Diaz decided to flee her home to a safer place. She requested that the National Protection Unit (UNP) allow her to do so with her security schemes. The UNP denied this request and said they would provide them in her place of refuge. However, this has not happened.

On February 12, the MOVICE coordinator in Valle del Cauca, Martha Giraldo, was called into an urgent meeting with the UNP. At this meeting, her security measures were lifted without any prior warning or consultation. This situation greatly increases the risk faced by Ms. Giraldo, who is a high profile activist in cases of extrajudicial killings and victims in Valle del Cauca.

U.S. policymakers should urge the UNP to reconsider these decisions and to guarantee the security of MOVICE activists.

New Security Incidents Against the USE Union

On February 5, Jose Roosevelt Lugo Cardenas of the USE reported new security incidents to the Fiscalia in Cali. On January 17, the door of the USE office was found to have been forcibly opened. On February 5, a suspicious unknown car appears to have been doing surveillance in front of Mr. Lugo’s home. This was reported to the police who did not do act. Further, followings and other suspicious activities have taken place when USE unionists travel to do their work, especially if done in the car that the UNP has given the union for protection. U.S. policymakers should encourage its Colombian counterparts to guarantee Mr. Lugo’s security and to investigate the recent incidents and prosecute the perpetrators responsible.

Indigenous Murdered in Sugar Cane Fields

On February 6, two indigenous sugar cane workers named Gerardo Velasco Etsecue and Emiliano Silva Oteca were disappeared in Caloto, Cauca while they were on route to Corinto. Both men belonged to the Toez Caloto indigenous cabildo. Their bodies were found two days later in the sugarcane fields near Guachené. The bodies of the men show evidence that they were tortured and shot multiple times. U.S. policymakers should urge the Colombian authorities to investigate and prosecute those responsible. The Fiscalia should determine whether or not these murders are linked to their labor activities.

Abuses Continue for SINTRACATORCE (Sugar Sector)

According to a February SINTRACATORCE report, the union continues to face persecution, obstacles to organizing, impediments to freely exerting their union activities, stigmatization and the firing of workers who try to affiliate with them. On February 25, 2012 five members of this union were fired in the Providencia sugar mill. On June 30, 2014 five members of the union’s directive were fired (Vice President, Secretary and Treasurer included) in retaliation for forming a sub-union directive. The union has asked a judge to reinstate the fired workers but the case has not advanced.

SINTRACATORCE is involved in two other cases of freedom of association. In the first case, the Ministry of Labor is advancing an investigation in Palmira sugar mill. The second case concerns the San Carlos sugar mill whereby in 2009 more than 350 workers were fired including some who had union protections. This case has advanced to the ILO with the support of the CUT and WOLA. However, the situation of the fired workers is dire since most were stigmatized in the area by the employer.

Despite Decree 2025 of 2011 and the U.S. Labor Action Plan’s promises, subcontracting has not been eliminated and remains the norm. New companies were created to circumvent direct contracting and include Cauca Cosecha and Servicios Agricolas, Riopalia Castilla SA, Castilla Cosecha SA, Cosecha del Valle SAS and Pinchichi Corte SA.

Additionally, there appears to be a growing number of sick workers transferred to other functions in order to avoid having to address their medical concerns. Such workers are placed in positions where their functions are not defined and they are paid less. We encourage the DOL and DOS to monitor this situation, encourage the Minister of Labor to push for results in the cases mentioned and to do away with sub-contracting in this sector.

Lack of Compliance in Bucarelia Labor Case

Regarding Bucarelia, the agreement the Colombian Embassy has circulated to U.S. policymakers and which they hold up as a good example, the company is not yet in compliance.  The workers that had to be rehired (31, 12 took the option of retiring with pension) were re-hired, but they were placed in jobs where they are making about half what they were making before. The SAS that sub-contracts workers has not been dissolved, and so the workers continue to be sub-contracted. The Formalization accord, including the complete liquidation of the SAS, was to be done by the first week of February. The company claims there are 60 workers in the SAS that should be hired on direct, permanent contracts (the workers count 100 workers in the SAS). The company also hired 55 new workers on fixed term contracts, while continuing to sub-contract through the SAS.  The guarantee of pensions for those that opted for that remains in process. The union and its legal advisors met with the Regional Director of the Ministry of Labor and she said the Ministry would talk to the company to urge compliance. U.S. officials should monitor this case and encourage full implementation of this agreement.

Other Sub-Contracting Issues

SINTRABIOFILM reported in February 2015 that workers associated with the Industrial Food Workers Union (USTRIAL) continue to be subject to sub-contracting through a subsidiary called A Tiempo Servicios. Such a subsidiary allows SEATECH INC, to maintain 2,000 workers (many who are female heads of households) in precarious conditions. The union notes that despite the LAP, that these workers cannot freely associate, they are harassed, have their salaries retained illegally and suffer intimidation. U.S. policymakers should encourage the Ministry of Labor to investigate and act on this situation.

Lastly on January 26, SINALTRAINAL reported that their members were intimidated outside of their Facatativa offices. This is an incident following numerous murders and death threats of SINALTRAINAL members requiring intervention.

We thank you all in advance for your efforts.