Gustavo Soler, president of the El Paso section of the energy workers’ union Sintramienergetica, has been murdered in Colombia. His death adds one more name to the long list of Colombians slain for defending workers’ rights.

Labor activists are among the most frequent targets for assassination in Colombia – mainly by right-wing death squads, and sometimes also by guerrilla movements. Sintramienergetica seems to have been singled out for particular attention.

In a protest letter to Colombia’s President Andres Pastrana, Fred Higgs pointed out that in the El Paso-Cesar area alone, five Sintramienergetica activists have been murdered this year.

This is ‘a real policy of extermination directed against the leadership of Sintramienergetica,’ writes Higgs, who is the general secretary of the 20-million-strong International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions (ICEM).

Amnesty International has described attacks on trade unionists in Colombia as ‘widespread and systematic.’ Human rights campaigners inside the country allege that the death squads are linked to the Colombian military.

Colombia is by far the most dangerous country in which to be a trade unionist, according to a worldwide trade union rights survey just published by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU). Last year, the ICFTU says, no less than 153 of the 209 trade unionists assassinated worldwide were in Colombia.

Many other Colombian trade unionists and their families are subject to death threats and other harassment, and some have ‘disappeared.’ Almost all the murders of trade unionists in Colombia have gone unexplained and unpunished.