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On One Year Anniversary of U.S. Free Trade Agreement, Colombia Remains Deadliest Country for Union Members

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The number of Colombian union members violently displaced from their homes has increased and death threats against unionists have remained appallingly high since the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) was implemented one year ago today, according to the Escuela Nacional Sindical (ENS), the institution recognized as an authoritative source of monitoring data. The data show that unions and congressional labor rights defenders in Colombia and the United States were sadly correct in opposing the Colombia FTA on concerns of continued violence against workers, while the Obama administration’s promises about the FTA were incorrect, said Public Citizen.

One year after implementation of the FTA and two years after the Obama administration announced a Labor Action Plan with Colombia to improve its labor rights protections, Colombia remains the world’s deadliest place to be a union member. The number of unionists violently forced to flee their homes jumped 76 percent in 2012 compared to 2011, before the FTA took effect. Death threats against unionists have remained rampant, with 471 unionists receiving death threats in the year after the U.S.-Colombia FTA Labor Action Plan was launched – exactly the same yearly number as in the two years before the Plan, according to ENS. At least 20 Colombian unionists were assassinated in 2012 according to ENS data, while the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) reported 35 assassinations last year. These numbers are even more shocking when one considers the diminished ranks of unionists in Colombia, where more than 3,000 union members have been assassinated since 1986 and many have fled to exile. Meanwhile, many of the accused in the more than 2,000 unionist murder cases remain free.

In addition, violent mass displacements of Colombians rose 83 percent in 2012, adding to the five million Colombians who have been forced from their homes and their land in the world’s largest internal displacement crisis. Since the FTA’s 2012 passage, horrific violence and forced displacement has occurred in venues targeted for development under the FTA, such as the port of Buenaventura. Afro-Colombians, whose major civic organizations also opposed the FTA, have been among the hardest hit.