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News ::
21 Jul 2003

By Nathalie Alsop
Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the July 24, 2003
issue of Workers World newspaper


By Nathalie Alsop

It is dangerous in Colombia to be a unionist, a student, a campesino,
anyone who organizes for justice. The government of Alvaro Uribe Velez, with the political and financial support of the U.S. government, is broadening the more than 40-year-old civil war and paramilitarism in Colombia. Paramilitaries, who are closely allied with the Colombian military, routinely intimidate, torture and murder union organizers and others.

In the year 2000, three of every five unionists murdered in the world
were killed in Colombia.

Transnational corporations have moved much of their operations to
countries like Colombia where neoliberal policies have destroyed
obstacles to profit making. They take advantage of the rampant
paramilitarism in Colombia.

Coca-Cola, Drummond and Nestle have all been accused of collaborating
with paramilitaries to intimidate and murder union organizers.

An international campaign is being organized to call attention to the
abuses of transnationals in Colombia. It is focusing in particular on
Coca-Cola, one of the most brutal and greedy corporations.

Coca-Cola routinely exploits workers by subcontracting employees, laying them off without benefits, and by overworking and underpaying. But activists charge it also collaborates with paramilitaries to further repress workers who organize against these conditions.

Eight Coca-Cola workers have been murdered, half of them as a response
to the unions' demands for better working conditions or wages; 38
workers are displaced and 67 are living under death threats. Their
families have been threatened and relatives kidnapped. Demon strations
have been attacked and union offices searched, bombed and burned.

The United Steelworkers of America and the International Labor Rights
Fund on behalf of SINALTRAINAL--the National Union of Food Industry
Workers--filed a suit in U.S. courts in July of 2001 against Coca-Cola.

The suit maintains that Coca-Cola is responsible for the intimidation
and murder of union organizers in its bottling plants in Colombia.

Javier Correa, president of SINALTRAINAL, said in a Dec. 5 speech that
"According to a published article, in 1998 Coca-Cola officials met with paramilitary leader Carlos Castano in Cordoba."

The defendants in the case include Coca-Cola Corp., Coca-Cola Colombia, Panamco Beverages, Bebida y Alimentos, and Richard Kirby--the U.S. citizen who owns three of the bottling plants where union organizers have been murdered.

In March, a U.S. district court judge awarded the unions a partial
victory. Judge Jose E. Martinez ruled that the unions can go ahead with the suit against Panamco, Bebida y Alimentos and Richard Kirby. However, they removed Coca-Cola Corp. and Coca-Cola Colombia as defendants in the case. The unions are appealing the decision.


An international campaign is beginning July 22 to demand that Coca-Cola stop collaborating with paramilitaries, respect workers' rights and pay reparations to the workers. The union is asking people to support the campaign in any way possible.

The campaign is the result of three town hall meetings held in Atlanta, Ga., Brus sels, Belgium, and Bogotá, Colombia, in 2002. SINALTRAINAL, along with organizations that participated in these public tribunals, decided to call on the world to protest the abuses that Coca-Cola has committed against Colombian unionists.

On July 22 there will be a general strike and a protest in Colombia to
begin the campaign against Coca-Cola.

In the United States on that date there will be media conferences and
actions in New York, San Francisco and other cities to begin the
"Unthinkable! Undrinkable!" campaign against Coca-Cola.

Teresa Gutierrez, co-director of the International Action Center,
reported that the International ANSWER coalition---which has organized
massive protests against the war in Iraq--has officially endorsed the
campaign and will hold a major media conference in Washington, D.C., on July 22.

Gutierrez told Workers World, "As Colombian workers and students,
peasants and teachers continue their fight against privatization, dire
economic crisis and repression, the Bush and Blair governments are
arming the Uribe government to stop the struggle of the Colombian people for social change. The Bush administration has just released $800 million more for Colombia. The U.S. and Britain are carrying out overt and covert warfare to protect Occidental Petroleum and other
transnational corporations that are exploiting our sisters and brothers in Colombia.

"Just as SINALTRAINAL make clear their opposition to the imperialist war against Iraq," Gutierrez concluded, "ANSWER sees the urgent necessity to link the struggle against the military occupation in Iraq with this dirty war against the Colombian people and to mobilize to get the U.S. out."

- END -

(Copyright Workers World Service: Everyone is permitted to copy and
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allowed. For more information contact Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY,
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