Crowd greets appeals for solidarity

BALTIMORE – A near-capacity crowd at Stony Run Friends Meeting Dec. 9 applauded as Luis Fernandes of Brazil and Edith Manrique of Colombia appealed for solidarity in their people’s struggles for democracy and national independence.

Fernandes, a member of the International Commission of the Brazilian Communist Party, was introduced by Leslie Salgado, a native of Ecuador and leader of Howard County Friends of Latin America. How nice that speakers from Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador were sharing the platform, Salgado said. “Yes! The axis of good!” Fernandes quipped to appreciative laughter.

“We are in the middle of establishing a broad coalition government based on reaching out to centrist forces,” Fernandes said, speaking of the government of President-elect Luis Inacio “Lula” da Silva. “We have to adopt a very broad, inclusive program. If we adopt sectarian policies the government will be defeated.”

Manrique told the crowd she was a city hall employee in Baranquilla, active in trying to organize a union. One day she received a death threat. The leader of the public workers’ union, Manuel Pajaro Peinado, had already been shot to death. She fled for her life. The AFL-CIO is now providing asylum for her.

More than 3,500 union organizers have been assassinated in Colombia, she said, a majority of them in the public sector, school teachers, health workers. The Bush administration’s Plan Colombia has made things much worse, she charged.

“None of the perpetrators have been brought to justice,” she said quietly in Spanish. “Our struggle is to keep the unions alive and not let them die.”