There have been approximately 2,753 trade unionists and leaders assassinated in Colombia between January 1986 and June 2010. Nearly 3,000 people killed for standing up for the basic human rights associated with working conditions. Nearly 3,000 killed in a single country over the past 24 years.
Some who are in favor of the Colombia Free Trade Agreement would argue that Uribe made good on his promise to reduce violence against trade unionists. They would likely show you a chart similar to the one below – it highlights a peak of a staggering 274 assassinations in 1996 dropping to 48 assassinations in 2009. The Colombian trade unionist assassination rate declining to roughly 17.5% of its peak level isn’t anything to dismiss lightly. I mean, wow, what a drop – shouldn’t we reward Colombia for its efforts by passing the FTA into being?
Well… maybe not quite yet. Statistics need to be taken with a grain of salt. Anyone with Marketing 101 under their belt can probably do a halfway decent job of using a set of numbers and graphs to manipulate the feelings of their general audience without ever coming close to an actual lie. Now, I’ve never taken that course, so you can trust me if you like – but I suggest that you play with the numbers and see for yourself. The above chart is the only way I can think of to manipulate the numbers into speaking “positively” of Colombia’s trade unionist assassination rate.
[Apparently someone at the Colombian Embassy is far more statistically creative than I. Check out their piece entitled, Ensuring Justice and Protecting the Rights of Union Members in Colombia. They’ve created a chart that shows Colombian trade unionists have nothing to complain about, since the regular homicide rate in Colombia is so gosh darn high. But don’t stop there, take a second to read USLEAP’s response.]I would suggest that you gain a point of comparison on this topic. Because, although we all know 48 assassinations in a single year is pretty terrible, maybe it’s not so “bad” compared to other countries. So, to give some perspective on this, I’ve included a chart that maps out Colombia’s murdered unionists in red and the total remaining amount of worldwide trade union assassinations in blue.
Yeah, now things are starting to get even more disturbing. One country alone has pretty consistently had more trade unionists murdered than the entire rest of the world combined. To give it even more emphasis, look what happens to the numbers when I combine all the above years into a single pie chart:
OK, OK, so yeah, Colombia is definitely eating up a large section of that pie. But maybe Colombia is consistently just one or two cold-blooded murders ahead of the next worst country… right? I was able to find trade unionist assassinations broken down by country for the previous two years in the International Trade Union Confederation’s Annual Surveys of Violations of Trade Union Rights. Here’s what I found…
OK…. Well, what about looking at population, you may ask. Because, if Colombia were to consist of 65% of the world’s population, then that might be somewhat of an explanation for Colombia holding the title for being the World’s Most Dangerous Country for Trade Unionists. However, this is not the case.
I don’t doubt that there’s a lot more questions that the informed thinker would want to ask – questions to which I don’t currently have the answers; questions like:
- What about kidnappings, disappearances, threats, injuries purposefully inflicted, failed assassination attempts, assassination of family members and friends? Without a doubt, these should be taken into consideration as well when making an informed decision.
- Yes, the numbers have decreased over the years, but what about the number of people joining unions? If there are about 17.5% of the number of people who joined unions back in 1996, then that huge decrease of 274 killings down to 48 means quite a bit less than it could. And lets face it, when a country is consistently known as the most dangerous in any activity, that’s not a great way to convince more people to partake in said activity.
Looking at the numbers, it’s incredible to see Colombia’s atrocities, particularly in relation to the rest of the world.
When faced with such staggering numbers of killings, it can sometimes be difficult to remember that these aren’t just statistics, each represents a real person who heroically stood up for their labor rights. As I was performing translations and summarizing the stories of four murdered Colombian trade unionists last week, I was struck particularly by the story of Nelson Camacho Gonzalez. Here is a man who was employed as a Maintenance Worker at the Ecopetrol Refinery. He was just waiting for the bus on a Thursday morning last month to take his daily commute to work when a couple of guys rode up on a motorcycle and fired the shots that would end Nelson’s life.
This morning on the way to work, my biggest concerns (in descending priority) were: 1) keeping an eye on the cyclists; 2) catching the green lights; and 3) finding a good parking spot. Nelson, who had what most would consider a modest job, was facing assassins while waiting for the 5:30 a.m. bus.
• Why must Colombian trade unionists regularly face similar perils?
• Why was Colombia removed from the International Labor Organization’s list of 25 countries with documented labor rights issues?
• Why is the U.S. seriously considering passing the Colombia Free Trade Agreement?
Bush signed the Colombia FTA in 2006, but Colombia’s ongoing issues with excessive human rights violations have delayed the U.S. from passing the FTA. Nelson Camacho Gonzalez is just one example of these violations; on June 17th, his death marked the 31st trade unionist assassination in 2010.
The U.S. has tried a trade program with Colombia in the past and it is currently still in place. The Andean Trade Partnership and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA) was enacted in 2002. Among other things, the act provides Colombia with duty-free trade benefits on the export of flowers into the U.S. The plan was for Colombia to provide its workers with internationally recognized rights. Colombia has failed to do so.
Are we ready to say that 31 trade unionist assassinations in six months is a satisfactory improvement?
I’m not, but you can run the numbers for yourself.