Union Leader Murdered in Colombia

The president of a local branch of Colombia’s National Union of Agricultural Workers (SINTRAINAGRO) was fatally shot by gunmen on a motorcycle on July 1 while watching his son play soccer.

Alberto Román Acosta González led the Guacarí SINTRAINAGRO branch in Colombia’s Valle del Cauca. The Guacarí branch, along with other SINTRAINAGRO branches that represent sugar workers in the region, have been engaged in a 10-year, coordinated effort to formalize workers’ jobs and secure basic labor rights. According to Rhett Doumitt, Solidarity Center country program director, sugar workers and their unions have faced extreme violence in response to organizing efforts and their demands to end informal employment, which deprives workers of social protection and rights.

SINTRAINAGRO is an affiliate of the global food, farm and hotel union, IUF, which has written Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to “demand a full and transparent investigation into this latest assassination and adequate measures to protect union leaders and members.” In 2013, Juan Carlos Pérez Muñoz, a union member in Colombia, was gunned down on his way to board a bus to the Cauca River Valley, where he worked in the sugarcane fields.

Last month, Colombia was listed as among the 10 worst countries for worker rights in the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) Global Rights Index. On June 21, a group of armed and masked men forcibly abducted and murdered Mauricio Fernando López Vélez, national vice president of the Union of Workers of Public Universities (SINTRAUNAL) and professor at Valle University, from his family’s farm in Buenos Aires, Cauca.

Up until the past few years, Colombia was the deadliest country for union leaders and members, with several thousand murdered over decades. The majority of those cases remain unsolved.

“Colombia remains one of the worst violators of trade union rights with a horrendous record for impunity regarding the murders of trade unionists,” according to the report. “Threats, violence and intimidation against trade unionists have a deep-rooted culture in Colombia and have continued apace in 2017.”

Sugarcane cutters work for up to 14 hours a day and make as little as $194 a month.