The Colombian Vice President Angelino Garzon has won the support of Brazil in his bid to become Director-General of the International Labor Organisation.
Garzon’s campaign was launched last month by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who said that Garzon was a “great candidate” for the role, which was “one of the most important positions in the United Nations.”
Colombia hopes Garzon can replace the outgoing director Juan Somavia when he leaves office in September 2012, following an early resignation.
Brazil announced its support of the bid Friday. Garzon said various other Latin American countries had also been approached to ask for their backing.
Union leaders have criticized Garzon’s candidacy given Colombia’s exceptionally poor record on workers’ rights. For several decades it has been deemed the most dangerous place in the world to be a trade unionist – it’s estimated thousands have been killed since 1986, by paramilitaries and security forces.
Last year was the first time in two decades that Colombia was not included in the ILO black list of nations that fail to comply with international working conditions.
Tarciscio Mora, director of Colombia’s Confederation of Workers, said Colombia would have to set a good example to the international community before it could expect to lead it. According to Mora, Garzon should not be putting himself forward while “trade unionists are still being killed,” he said.
International NGO Human Rights Watch highlighted the ongoing murder of trade unionists in an open letter to Garzon prior to his visit to Washington in January.
However in terms of Colombian politicians, Garzon’s record on workers’ rights is strong. He was a union leader for ten years before entering politics, and was Minister of Labor between 2000 and 2002, under the government of Andres Pastrana.
Minster for the Interior Germain Vargas Lleras has countered claims that Colombia simply seeks the office in order to be able to silence its critics. He told reporters last month, “All that matters to us is that Colombia gains access to a position of great importance to this country and of great influence at a worldwide level.”
El Colombiano newspaper has reported there may be some technical problems with the plan. It said Garzon would have to leave his government position if he gets the post, as “the ILO constitution clearly states that the Director General cannot represent any government.”
However Garzon has claimed that his government position does not bar him from the role, and that he will continue as vice president if elected. He said last month, “Strengthening respect for human rights and international humanitarian law will remain a constant. (…) In that same sense, this application is part of the comprehensive effort by President Juan Manuel Santos and Chancellor Maria Angela Holguin to make Colombia play a more proactive role in international organizations.”