Bogotá, Colombia- Colombians have a negative perception of trade unionism. Many even believe in the existence of collaboration between unions and guerrillas.
This perception could be attributed to simple ignorance about the serious human rights crisis in the country, labor rights and their violations. However, media also plays a key role in the construction of public opinion through the transmission of government statements and certain events.
For example, persecution and violence besiege unions, attempting to silence them. But, in this context, the media does not describe reality, so that worsens the situation because this does not help to dissolve the enormous dark cloud hanging over it: the impunity that currently marks the union activity in Colombia.
Nevertheless, there has been damage done to the labor movement because of the alleged and painful links (in Spanish) between many of its members with illegally armed organizations. In 2007, the media published a story about the presence of Colombian trade unionists in a Quito Forum (in Spanish), which provided support to FARC and ELN. However, this does not justify generalized and irresponsible statements, because these cases are only exceptions, whose magnitudes are expanded when the media expose it, consecrating the impunity. In this sense, the media should be sources of exposure and condemnation rather than reproducing mechanisms of indifference, and therefore injustice.
Otherwise, the media does not show, for example, that both human rights defenders’ groups and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights have denied the collaboration between unions and guerrillas, and have concluded that in Colombia, trade unionists are killed not because they are tied to any illegal organization, but by just being what they are. They also fail to mention that in the last two decades in Colombia more than 2,000 trade unionists have been murdered, and 138 have been subjected to forced disappearance. In more than 90 per cent of cases, those responsible have not been brought to justice. Likewise, little has been said about the Amnesty International report that showed the employment of a coordinated military-paramilitary strategy, which aims to undermine the unionists’ work, both through their physical elimination, as well as trying to discredit the legitimacy of trade union activities; and that the guerrillas have also been responsible for killings of trade unionists.
In sum, we are really facing a bleak and disturbing picture that Colombians do not hear about, because it seems to be that negative news about trade unionism sells more than positives news.