US union tells Clinton Colombian colleagues face ‘elevated threat’

U.S. labor union United Steelworkers sent Hillary Clinton an “emergency alert” Friday warning Secretary of State that Colombian unionists are under an “elevated threat” after Washington approved a free trade deal between the two countries.

The letter follows a warning by Colombia’s largest workers union CUT that the number of threats against labor rights activists increased this year. “In 2010 there were 307 threats and so far this year there have been 251,” the Colombian labor union said on its website. According to the USW, 23 unionists have been killed so far this year, 15 after the April signing of a bilateral treaty in which Colombia compromises itself to improve the protection of labor rights workers.

Both the USW and the CUT mentioned a letter allegedly received by the Colombian labor union on October 17 — four days after the U.S. Congress approved the FTA — in which, according to the USW, neo-paramilitary group Aguilas Negras announced its intention to “declare war against all” Colombian unions.  Three of the union’s leaders were explicitly named the “next military target” of the neo-paramilitary group.

“We would like to remind you that when given the first opportunity we will take any of you out of the way. As you already know we are already recognized as terrorists worldwide and we are not afraid to do this work now that we count on the support of large criminal groups like the Paisas, the Rastrojos, the Aguilas Negras etc.,” part of the letter published by the CUT said.

“We urge the Administration to call upon the Colombian government to take all measures to protect the members and leaders of the CUT, but especially the three individuals singled out by The Black Eagles,” USW International president Leo W. Gerard said in a press statement.

According to Gerard, the FTA “should not be implemented until Colombia fully complies with key elements of the deal providing protection to workers and improving the prosecution of perpetrators of crimes committed against unionists.”

U.S. unions have rejected a free trade pact with Colombia citing a fear for job losses among American workers and Colombia’s labor right situation as their primary reason. U.S. President Barack Obama has said that the FTA will not take effect until Colombia has improved “key elements” agreed upon in the Labor Action Plan that seeks better protection against violence and threats and an improved prosecution of those suspected of having carried out threats against Colombian unionists.

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