Colombia deports 4 unionists

Aidan White, general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, condemned the Colombian government last week for deporting four senior international trade unionists from the international airport in Bogotá in early November.

“In a country where union activists are being killed as they fight for their rights, it is intolerable that international unionists expressing solidarity and support should be victims of a political game of intimidation,” said White.

The four labor leaders, due to attend an international union meeting, were detained at the El Dorado airport by agents of Colombia’s secret police, DAS. They were told by senior immigration officials that their names appeared on a “list of people denied entry to Colombia” because they had attended an international union conference last September later described as “illegal” by senior government officials.

The four included Victor Baez Mosqueira, general secretary of the world’s biggest union confederation, the Inter-American Regional Organization of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU).

In Brussels, a delegation led by ICFTU Assistant General Secretary Jose Olivio de Oliveira told Colombia’s ambassador, Nicolás Echavarría, that the deportation marks an escalation of the government’s anti-union policies.

Following strong international condemnation, Colombia’s Vice President Francisco Santos and Foreign Minister Carolina Barco apologized for the deportation, arguing it was a “mistake by immigration officials.”

According to ICFTU Online, the delegation told the Colombian ambassador that this explanation “could not be accepted.”

“This is no accident or mistake,” Olivio de Oliveira said. “The government’s explanations are simply not credible, and we are determined to respond to this hostile development with all available means.”

The delegation also expressed its concern that the Colombian government’s list may fall into the hands of extremist paramilitaries.

According to a new report by Colombia’s National Labor College, attacks against trade unionists have increased during the government of President Alvaro Uribe by almost 20 percent. More than 50 union activists have been assassinated this year by state security forces and right-wing paramilitary death squads.

In another development, union leaders from Great Britain, Ireland and Spain who had arrived in Colombia to attend a meeting of women trade unionists had their 60-day visas suddenly cancelled and were permitted to stay only three days in the country. The government’s decision was reversed following a formal protest to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs presented by representatives of the global union federations and Colombian unions.

— Reprinted with permission from ANNCOL (www.anncol.org).