Posted by Stephen Manker on Jul 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Army, police called to quell central Colombia labor riots

Colombia news - alejandro navas

President Juan Manuel Santos called on the Colombia’s army general and national police director to help with petroleum company labor riots in the central department of Meta.

Protests began last month when laborers from contracting firm Montajes JM, who work with Spanish multinational CEPCOLSA, went on strike.

According to newspaper El Espectador, labor unions Union Sindical Obrera (USO) and the Colombian Trade Union (CUT) came to support the protesters, who demanded higher wages and benefits.

One laborer told El Tiempo that operations for firm Montajes JM and CEPCOLSA were shut down 10 days ago.

Five thousand laborers from petroleum company Pacific Rubiales joined the strike Tuesday. About 500 riot police were moved from Villavicencio by plane to help local authorities with the angry protesters.

The tipping point for the riots was after Colombia’s Vice President Angelino Garzon, along with the department of Meta’s governor and petroleum companies were unable to reach an agreement with the labor unions. The town of Puerto Gaitan broke out in riots, wounding four people, and destroying various vehicles and buildings.

Some local news sources and labor unions speculate that one of the protesters might have been killed in the riots.

The president of the Colombian Trade Union in Meta said that additional support is needed to control the riots.

“We call on the government and local agencies to ensure an end to these hostilities and find a way to negotiate terms for new labor and community deals,” said CUT president of Meta Timothy Morales.

Meanwhile, the president of the Colombian Petroleum Association, Alejandro Martinez, said Pacific Rubiales is very concerned because people are wounded. He added that he does not yet know the full demands of Pacific Rubiales workers.

The mayor said that the laborers are right to protest against the oil companies, but criticized them for destroying facilities and vehicles. He established a local curfew in order to prevent further violent riots in the area.

“These people who have been apprehended encouraged clashes with security forces, forcing the imposition of a curfew,” said the local leader.