Colombia: Attempted Assassination of Union Leader

A leader of Colombia’s national petroleum union barely escaped with his life following an early-morning assassination attempt Monday.

The attack on Jonathan Urbano Higuera, president of the USO local for Puerto Gaitán, in Meta Department, occurred as he traveled in a vehicle assigned by the National Protection Unit, a government entity that assigns protection to endangered social leaders.

The USO reports that two armed men on motorcycles approached the vehicle and fired. Bullets shattered the rear window, and it was the quick thinking of the driver who saved lives and prevented injuries.

Urbano Higuera and four other USO leaders in Puerto Gaitán all have received harassing phone calls and death threats this year—as have fellow leaders from across Colombia, including in Huila, Magdalena Medio, Putumayo, Tolima and the capital, Bogotá.

In a statement, the union is calling on authorities to full investigate this incident and all threats against union leaders, as well as to guarantee that their ability to exercise union rights be protected. The USO is a Solidarity Center partner. In early February, the Colombian Workers Federation denounced acts of intimidation and overt threats—including a flier distributed by the Black Eagles, a far-right paramilitary group—to union leaders, members of the National Strike Committee and other social leaders.

Meanwhile, Colombian teachers are in the streets today in a “Strike for Our Lives,” to denounce the murders of and threats to social justice, rights activists and community leaders.

Within the first 52 days of this year, 51 Colombian social leaders—including union leaders and worker rights advocates—have been murdered.