Colombia: Murder of Union Members May Hinder US Trade Deal
Unionists' Murders Cloud Prospects for Colombia Trade Pact
By Juan Forero, Washington Post
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
SANTA MARTA, Colombia -- Zully Codina was a mother, veteran hospital worker and union activist. The last role was the one that cost Codina her life at the hands of paramilitary death squads, whose records show they collaborated with the country's intelligence service to liquidate her and other union activists.
Recent disclosures about the purported role of the Colombian intelligence service, the Administrative Security Department, or DAS, in the murder of Codina and several other union leaders has ignited a political firestorm here that is reaching Capitol Hill just as the Bush administration is fighting for congressional approval of a free-trade pact with Colombia, the third-largest recipient of U.S. aid.
The Uribe administration's efforts have been hurt by the February arrest of the DAS's former chief, Jorge Noguera, who was charged with working with paramilitary members as they infiltrated the political establishment and silenced adversaries along the Caribbean coast. The illegal militias, organized a generation ago to fight Marxist rebels, have morphed into a Mafia-style organization dedicated to drug trafficking and extortion.
A clandestine paramilitary operative named to DAS by Noguera said in a recent interview that the intelligence service compiled lists of union members, along with details about their security, and handed them over to a coalition of paramilitary groups known as the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia.
"This list went to Jorge Noguera, and he made sure it reached the Self-Defense Forces," said the operative, Rafael Garcia, now in jail and working with prosecutors. "The DAS knows the movements of union members."
"I think the trade pact is in jeopardy," said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), who recently met with union leaders in Colombia. "With each passing day, it goes higher and higher. It goes to military leaders, the head of the secret police and prominent politicians. I don't know how far this leads, but it's too close for comfort."
The disclosures are now reaching two American firms here. An Alabama coal company, Drummond, is being sued in U.S. District Court by Colombian workers who accuse company executives of contracting with paramilitary groups to kill three union leaders. Colombian prosecutors are also going to investigate the smuggling of 3,000 assault rifles in 2001 to a Chiquita Brands International dock in northern Colombia; the weapons wound up in the hands of paramilitary fighters, according to an extensive report by the Organization of American States.
Even so, 72 union leaders and activists were murdered last year, making Colombia by far the world's most dangerous country for trade unionists, according to the National Union School, a labor research group in Medellin, Colombia's second-largest city. Of 2,100 murders of union members since 1991, there have been only 30 convictions.
Paramilitary documents seized by authorities bolster allegations that intelligence operatives worked closely with the paramilitary groups.
One lengthy document, under the heading "Information DAS Friends," lists union members murdered by paramilitary fighters. An internal attorney general's report notes that DAS officials in the city of Barranquilla pinned rebellion charges against union activists, the main accusation made against guerrillas. Those activists, once freed for lack of evidence, were then killed by paramilitary hit men, who labeled the victims as rebels.
Carolina Barco, Colombia's ambassador in Washington, said that while the disclosures have been troubling, they cannot tarnish the whole government. "This is definitely not state policy," she said.
Of course not Carolina. Just because the head of the national intelligence AND now the armed forces have been proven in documents to be conspiring with terrorists and murderers does not mean a thing. We should continue to give the government (mostly military) billions of our tax dollars, and we should negotiate a trade pact that gives Colombia preferetial status. And when we write supposed "human rights" reports, we must not include any of this unpleasantness. Sure...