WASHINGTON—In light of recent violence against workers throughout Colombia, today leaders from the U.S. House of Representatives asked the Colombian government to investigate the recent bombing of a public sector union’s headquarters in the industrial Colombian city of Cali and to further safeguard workers’ rights.

Members of the Congressional Monitoring Group on Labor Rights in Colombia, which is charged with overseeing the implementation of the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement’s (FTA) provisions to protect labor and human rights, called on Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to take action, in an effort that coincides with the two-year anniversary of the FTA going into effect.

“We recognize that steps have been taken to improve protection of union leaders and members, but ask that the Colombian government, through the National Protection Unit, significantly strengthen these protective measures,” Congressional Monitoring Group members wrote in a letter to President Santos. “We continue to be deeply concerned about the high levels of anti-union violence and labor rights violations in Colombia. We […] look forward to continuing our dialogue on advancing justice for union members throughout the country and the on-going implementation of the Labor Action Plan.”

Members of the monitoring group who signed on to the letter include U.S. Representatives George Miller (D-Calif.), Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Sander Levin (D-Mich.), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Henry “Hank” Johnson, Jr. (D-Ga.), Sam Farr (D-Calif.), and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.).

On April 16, the offices of the municipal workers union in Cali (Sintraemcali) were attacked with incendiary bombs, causing damage to the facade and plumbing of the building. The attack came five days after a judge in Bogotá ordered President Santos to issue a formal pardon to members of Sintraemcali, the Colombian university workers union (Sintraunicol), and the Bogotá telecommunications workers union (Sintratelefonos), which had been accused by former president Álvaro Uribe Vélez of being linked to terrorist groups.

The bombing occurred one week after the third anniversary of the U.S.-Colombia Labor Action Plan (LAP). Developed in parallel with the FTA, the LAP promised to curb abuses of workers’ rights in Colombia. The plan is intended to provide a road map for Colombia to protect internationally recognized labor rights, prevent violence against labor leaders, and prosecute the perpetrators of such violence.

In August 2013, Reps. Miller and McGovern traveled to Colombia to examine the implementation of the LAP and its impact on the ground, during which they visited the SINTRAEMCALI headquarters. They subsequently issued a report about their visit to detail their concerns with the efficacy of the LAP, citing weak enforcement of existing labor laws and continued violence against labor leaders.

In January of this year, Reps. Miller, McGovern, and Levin sent a letter to the Attorney General of Colombia Luis Eduardo Montealegre Lynett urging him to bolster efforts to stem extrajudicial killings of labor rights activists. The letter asks Lynett to advance investigations into the murders of 26 labor activists and death threats against others committed in 2013.

Read the full text of today’s letter regarding the recent bombing below:

May 15, 2014


Juan Manuel Santos

President of Colombia
Casa de Nariño
Bogotá, Colombia

Dear President Santos:

As members of the Congressional Monitoring Group (CMG) on Labor Rights committed to making sure that the United States and Colombia fully implement the promises made to Colombia’s workers in the U.S.-Colombia Labor Action Plan, we write to ask that the Colombian government – especially the Attorney General’s Office – launch an investigation into the bombing at the headquarters of the public sector union, Sintraemcali, in Cali, Colombia on April 16, 2014.

We recognize that steps have been taken to improve protection of union leaders and members, but ask that the Colombian government, through the National Protection Unit (UNP), significantly strengthen these protective measures.

We continue to be deeply concerned about the high levels of anti-union violence and labor rights violations in Colombia. The bombing occurred one week after the third anniversary of the U.S.-Colombia Labor Action Plan (LAP) and days after a major court decision regarding crimes committed against Sintraemcali, Sintrauniocol and Sintratelefonos under former President Alvaro Uribe Velez.

In August of 2013, CMG Members Miller and McGovern visited the city of Cali and met with the leadership of Sintraemcali who described how union members had been the repeated targets of paramilitary anti-labor violence, which included the forced exile of 15, murder of 8 and threats against more than 100 union members. As you know, in the past, this union was also the focus of “Operation Dragon” – an assassination plot involving former members of the armed forces against a long list of labor rights activists, including the former President of Sintraemcali and now Senator Alexander Lopez-Maya and prominent human rights defender Berenice Celeyta, the Robert F. Kennedy laureate for Colombia.

We thank you in advance for your continuing attention to this matter and look forward to continuing our dialogue on advancing justice for union members throughout the country and the on-going implementation of the Labor Action Plan.

Sincerely,

GEORGE MILLER

Member of Congress

JAMES MCGOVERN

Member of Congress

SANDER LEVIN

Member of Congress

ROSA L. DELAURO

Member of Congress

HENRY C. “HANK” JOHNSON JR.

Member of Congress

SAM FARR

Member of Congress

KETIH ELLISON

Member of Congress

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