Colombia: Attempted Assassination of Union Leader

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.

Colombian Workers, Allies Wage 3rd Protest for Justice

Colombian Workers, Allies Wage 3rd Protest for Justice

Colombian workers, their unions along with students, indigenous and Afro-Colombian and environmental groups took to the streets today in the third nationwide march to protest government moves that would reduce worker-rights protections, pensions and funding for education and increase electricity costs. The protests also demand full implementation of the 2016 peace accords.

Colombia, protests, unions, Solidarity CenterThe protests started on November 21, when an estimated 250,000 Colombians marched in cities across the country, driven by a coalition of unions—the Central Workers’ Union (CUT), Confederation of Colombian Workers (CTC), General Labor Confederation (CGT) and the Confederation of Pensioners of Colombia (CPC)—and now have been joined by a wide array of civil society organizations that formed the coalition of protesters, the “Mesa del Paro.”

The coalition presented the government with 13 requests, including repeal of new laws that make it easier to eliminate many labor rights protections and give a massive tax break for big corporations while cutting back on basic services for working people.

Colombians also are protesting the government’s moves to privatize the pension system,  base pension payments below the minimum wage and increase the cost of electricity by 35 percent, according the Colombian union federation CUT, a longstanding Solidarity Center partner, which represents 500,000 members. In addition, they are decrying the government’s inaction on the murders of community leaders and activists, as well as corruption draining the public coffers.

Following the November 21 protests, the government initially agreed with requests by the Mesa de Paro to hold a dialogue, but the government called for members of the military, police and corporate representatives to join in the discussions. The government ultimately accepted a direct and exclusive dialogue with the Mesa de Paro on December 2. The December 4 protests are part of ongoing actions to ensure the government pursues an agreement.

Five people were killed in the protests that began on November 21, and hundreds injured.

Colombia Marches Against Measures that Hurt Workers, Youth and Pensioners

Colombia Marches Against Measures that Hurt Workers, Youth and Pensioners

Tens of thousands of Colombians have taken to the streets across the country today, simmering with anger over the government’s moves to cut wages and pensions, restrict the right to protest, hike energy prices and reward corporations with tax cuts, among other proposed measures. The president responded by closing the borders, raiding the homes of activists and mobilizing riot police.

The nationwide strike, organized and led by unions, students, Afro-Colombians and indigenous Colombians, has tapped into deep discontent with the government of Ivan Duque. “Even the middle class is fed up with domination by the superwealthy and political class,” reported Courthouse News Service. “Colombian human rights defenders, artists, LGBT groups, teachers, health workers, air traffic controllers and others joined the call for a national day of peaceful protest.”

Income inequality in Colombia is high, in both regional and global terms, as are both unemployment and the poverty rate.

Among protester grievances are proposals that would: reduce salaries for young people to 75 percent of the minimum wage; privatize the pension system and base pension payments below the minimum wage; cut taxes for large companies while raising them for the middle class; and increase the cost of electricity by 35 percent, according the Colombian union federation CUT, a longstanding Solidarity Center partner. In addition, they are decrying the government’s inaction on the murders of community leaders and activists and corruption draining the public coffers.

In today’s strike, Colombia joins a host of countries—from Lebanon to Haiti—that have seen mass protests over bread-and-butter issues like wages, jobs and corruption.

Colombia Marches Against Measures that Hurt Workers, Youth and Pensioners

Colombia Marches Against Measures that Hurt Workers, Youth and Pensioners

Tens of thousands of Colombians have taken to the streets across the country today, simmering with anger over the government’s moves to cut wages and pensions, restrict the right to protest, hike energy prices and reward corporations with tax cuts, among other proposed measures. The president responded by closing the borders, raiding the homes of activists and mobilizing riot police.

The nationwide strike, organized and led by unions, students, Afro-Colombians and indigenous Colombians, has tapped into deep discontent with the government of Ivan Duque. “Even the middle class is fed up with domination by the superwealthy and political class,” reported Courthouse News Service. “Colombian human rights defenders, artists, LGBT groups, teachers, health workers, air traffic controllers and others joined the call for a national day of peaceful protest.”

Income inequality in Colombia is high, in both regional and global terms, as are both unemployment and the poverty rate.

Among protester grievances are proposals that would: reduce salaries for young people to 75 percent of the minimum wage; privatize the pension system and base pension payments below the minimum wage; cut taxes for large companies while raising them for the middle class; and increase the cost of electricity by 35 percent, according the Colombian union federation CUT, a longstanding Solidarity Center partner. In addition, they are decrying the government’s inaction on the murders of community leaders and activists and corruption draining the public coffers.

In today’s strike, Colombia joins a host of countries—from Lebanon to Haiti—that have seen mass protests over bread-and-butter issues like wages, jobs and corruption.

 

 

Colombia Women’s Soccer Team Tackles Discrimination

Colombia Women’s Soccer Team Tackles Discrimination

(En Español).

Vanessa Cordoba, a goalkeeper on Colombia’s women’s national soccer team, is familiar with tough challenges. But when she debated whether to join some of her teammates’ high-profile campaign to end gender discrimination in the women’s soccer league, she had to confront a barrier many women in her position face: fear of losing her job.

“There is a point in life where you choose,” she said in a recent interview at the Solidarity Center. “And I decided I’m going to do it.”

Cordoba and other women soccer players are now pursuing an industry-wide collective bargaining agreement that includes the men’s teams.

“That’s the only way we can change things in soccer, says Cordoba. “We have more power if we bargain for the entire sector.”

Training Equipment: Two Medicine Balls and Beat-up Boxes

Colombia, soccer, gender discrimination, Solidarity Center

Colombia’s Atlético Huila women’s soccer players were forced to sleep on the airport floor following their championship win. Credit: Fare.net

Colombia’s professional female soccer team, launched in 1998, played in the 2011 and 2015 World Cup as well as at the Olympic Games in the same years. The professional women’s league was created in 2017, and in the following year, Colombia’s Atlético Huila won the Copa Libertadores, South America’s most important club-level tournament.

Yet women players are paid less than the men and only get three-month contracts, while men play on multiyear contracts. The men train in state-of-the-art gyms; women players’ equipment consists of two medicine balls and beat-up boxes to practice jumping. The Colombia Football Federation (FCF) even eliminated their $20 a day training stipend. A video on social media in December shows the Atlético Huila women’s soccer players forced to sleep on the airport floor following their championship win.

Their marginalization was compounded, says Cordoba, when Adidas used star player James Rodríguez to represent the men’s team for unveiling new jerseys, but recruited a former Miss Universe, Paulina Vega Dieppa, to promote the women’s jerseys. Cordoba expressed her displeasure about the move on social media.

“I understand that for publicity’s sake, they preferred to give the jersey to Paulina Vega, but in terms of respect and merit, THE PLAYERS count as well,” she Tweeted, a message the media quickly twisted into a Soccer Player v. Miss Universe narrative. Reflecting on her comments today she says, “If we are talking about marketing, development of the women’s league is a big part of the overall goal.”

In retaliation for some women speaking up about their treatment, the FCF cancelled the women’s soccer season in 2018.

‘We’re Not Afraid Anymore. We’re Here to Speak Up’

Colombia, Isabella Echeverri, Melissa Ortiz, women's soccer, gender discrimination, Solidarity CenterThe longstanding gender discrimination against women players burst into the public in February, when former professional soccer players and Colombia national team players Isabella Echeverri and Melissa Ortiz released a video to highlight the disparities with their male counterparts, stating, “We’re not afraid anymore. We’re here to speak up.”

The video went viral, setting off a national dialogue at a time when the top-ranked U.S. women’s soccer team filed a lawsuit against U.S. Soccer alleging discrimination, and Latin America’s #NiUnaMenos (Not One More) movement campaigned for an end to sexual harassment and gender-based violence.

A handful of women soccer players gathered for a press conference in March to publicly back up Ortiz and Echeverri. Cordoba was among them.

“I figured my career would end after the press conference,” she said.

The women players were attacked by employers and a member of Congress, but their bold move also encouraged women and men players in some of Colombia’s many soccer leagues to speak up about sexual harassment they experienced, and at least one coach has been fired as a result.

“These things have been going on for a while, but what we did opened the door for a lot of things to come out into the public eye,” says Cordoba.

And while the FCF said it would rather shut down women’s soccer than act against coaches and staff allegedly implicated in the scandals, the women players, supported by the men’s teams and backed by the public and high-level government officials, succeeded in pressuring the FCF to resume the games this past summer. Cordoba and all the women who stood with her at the press conference were among the players.

One Union, One Contract

Colombia, women's soccer, Vanessa Cordoba, Solidarity Center, gender discrimination

For Vanessa Cordoba, a goalkeeper for Colombia women’s national soccer, tackling gender discrimination was one of her biggest challenges. Photo from Cordoba Twitter

Members of the all-male FCF Executive Committee refused for months to meet with the women represented by the National Association of Professional Soccer Players union, ACOLFUTPRO, about their demands for equal treatment, but have since come to the table. The Solidarity Center is supporting the women players in their efforts and is assisting ACOLFUTPRO in preparing a proposal for negotiations with the Colombian Soccer Federation, and another to establish a sectorwide bargaining policy with the labor ministry.

Additionally, the Solidarity Center helped the union engage the national Ombudsman’s Office, which filed a constitutional complaint for gender discrimination against the employers of the individual soccer clubs and the federation. The Solidarity Center documented players’ testimonies and contributed legal arguments that form the basis of the complaint. In August 2019, Colombia’s Constitutional Court ruled in favor of the women players, ordering both the employers and ACOLFUTPRO to present plans for gender equality.

Cordoba, who graduated from Ohio University with a degree in communications, also works at Caracol, one of Bogatá’s top radio stations. Her father, Oscar Cordoba, a former star soccer player, at first sought to protect her from the controversy, but ultimately supports her efforts.

“I’m very passionate about gender equality,” she says. “Women’s soccer was able to open the door to change soccer in Colombia.”

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