Who is actually brave in Colombia

Right after meeting Pope Francis on 13 May, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos was quick to grab the photo opportunity and promote one of his preferred public relations slogans:

“We spoke about peace. About the need to be victorious in the pursuit of peace. The Holy Father told me ’Only the brave insist that these type of goals be accomplished”, said Santos.

A few weeks earlier however, very far from the spotlights in the Vatican, his administration was seriously challenged on its commitments to curb the violence against trade union leaders.

During April 2013, 92 organisations and social and political leaders received threats, where they were stigmatised and deemed as “a permanent military target and enemies” for “attacking senior government’s good and noble intentions to promote peace”.

Worse still, over 280 trade unionists received death threats and 20 were killed in Colombia during 2012. Four trade unionists have already been assassinated in the first three months of 2013.

Two years ago, the president also stood in front of the cameras to sign the U.S.-Colombia Labor Action Plan (LAP), which sought to solve labour rights violations in advance of a bilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Washington.

Although the FTA and the publicity machine were very efficient to attract more foreign investments than ever before, Colombian trade unions confirm that workers’ rights violations and anti-union violence have continued unabated.

But In a true display of courage, workers are fighting back. New sectors are now being organised – such as in retail and telecommunications – and a historic collective agreement was reached in the Cerrejon, the world’s largest open pit coal mining operation, benefiting 13,000 workers.

Now, as President Santos starts his campaign for re-election, the question is if he will be brave enough to stand up for workers´ rights, guarantee the safety of unionists and turn into really all his good words about peace.

Nidia Quintero of Colombian Agricultural Workers’ Union FENSUAGRO is pictured with former ICFTU General Secretary Bill Jordan at a UK Parliament House event organised by John Monks, former General Secretary of the ETUC.