Two Colombian union leaders have received death threats from the Aguilas Negras neoparamilitary group, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) said Monday.
According to WOLA, the President and Vice-President of SINTRAEMCALI, a union in the western Colombian department of Valle de Cauca, received a letter Saturday inviting the two leaders to their own funeral.
The letter reads:
“Special message for the trade unionists of SINTRAEMCALI, especially the President and Vice-President of that f**king organization that is commanded by that pair of snitches, Jorge Ivan Velez and Albert Quintero. Those two motherf**kers don’t know who they are messing with. I’m sending you this message because I think it is the last one that you will receive because we are going to shoot you for denouncing our bosses. We’re sending you two bullets so that you can look and see which bullet will silence you for being f*gs. Each bullet has one of your names on it. Don’t think that your two bodyguards will be able to save you. They will have to watch over you in the cemetery. We’ve also noticed that you have been visiting the Attorney General’s Office often, but that won’t last long.”
-Aguilas Negras (Translation from WOLA)
In addition to the two bullets mentioned in the letter, the package also contained two roses and a prayer book with a message in it saying the two leaders will die very soon.
Mr. Velez told WOLA that he was threatened “for raising the profile of the case of SINTRAEMCALI internationally and domestically.”
The message came only a week after U.S. President Barak Obama announced at the Summit of the Americas that the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement would come into effect May 15 despite strong opposition from labor groups.
WOLA called on both the U.S. and Colombian governments to address the threat and to meet the conditions of the U.S.-Colombia Labor Action Plan — a set of commitments to improve labor rights and union violence that Colombia was supposed to meet before the FTA could come into effect.
“In order to effectively provide protection for labor rights defenders and show that violence and intimidation against this group will not be tolerated or condoned, the U.S. and Colombian governments must take immediate and decisive action to investigate this threat and fully prosecute the material and intellectual authors of the crime as mandated by the U.S.-Colombia Labor Action Plan,” said WOLA on their website.
At the Summit of the Americas, Obama claimed the Colombian government had met the conditions of the Labor Action Plan although many groups deny that substantive efforts have been made to protect workers’ right to organize or to prosecute crimes against unionists.
Human Rights Watch released a study last October which found that “virtually no progress” had been made in the past four and a half years in getting convictions for these crimes.
Colombia is the most dangerous country in South America for unionists. According to government figures, 30 trade unionists were murdered in Colombia in 2011, although Colombian unionists assert the actual number is 51.
The finalization of the FTA agreement despite ongoing threats to labor rights organizers has caused Colombian labor activists to question U.S. commitment to human rights.