Colombia: To organize and fight means death

Ramon Samblas interviewed Juan Carlos Galvis from SINALTRAINAL, the Colombian food processing and beverages trade union. Juan Carlos spoke today at one of the recent G8 Alternative meetings.

Many campaigning organisations around the world have described Colombia as "the most dangerous country to be a trade unionist". Certainly, considering the records of abuse and violence against the trade union movement in Colombia the results are horrifying. Over the last twenty years 4,000 trade unionists have been killed in this Latin American country. Ironically enough, Colombia has signed most of human right treaties. The cynicism and hypocrisy of the Colombian oligarchy and the different US backed Colombian governments has no limits. These 4,000 deaths reveal the secret war that US imperialism, with the help of the Colombian government and its different repressive arms (army, police and the feared far right paramilitaries), have waged against the organised working class, the peasantry, the students and whoever has dared to stand up for their rights. The official excuse has always been a fight against the guerrillas and drug trafficking, but the reality is far removed from the official explanation. The truth is that US imperialism's agenda for Colombia is to set up a bulwark of reaction in such an unstable region while opening the country to US capital. Trade unionists like Juan Carlos and his comrades of SINALTRAINAL are the obstacles that the imperialists have to remove in order to succeed.

The first contact we had with the SINALTRAINAL representative was in London at a meeting organised by the Colombia Solidarity Campaign on June 18. Five days after we met again at the offices of Rosie Kane MSP at Holyrood (Scottish Parliament) where we conducted this interview.

Juan Carlos is the president of CUT (Colombian TUC) in Barrancabermeja, where he lives. He is also the local Organisational Secretary of SINALTRAINAL which he has belonged to for more than 15 years. Juan Carlos is not a fulltime official and he has to do his trade union work after he finishes his shift in the Barrancabermeja Coca-Cola bottling plant.

The Colombian trade unionist has been invited to Europe in order to gather support against the attacks that his employer has waged against the Colombian Food and Beverages Union and to extend the actions they have undertaken against the fizzy drinks company. "I expect solidarity for our just cause. I also expect to establish communication between SINALTRAINAL and the Left in this country to reveal the different problems that our people suffer because of capitalist policies," Juan Carlos said.

In July 2003 SINALTRAINAL called a worldwide boycott of Coca-Cola products. On top of that, they also appealed to small shareholders to sell their shares back to the company and appealed to social organisations to add to this boycott and to withdraw their money from banks were this multinational company has accounts. Regardless the criticisms some readers might have of this tactic, it is clear that this is a desperate call for solidarity to stop the unsustainable level of violence against our Colombian brothers and sisters.

The trade unionist explained the events that led to this boycott. Five leading members of his trade union were imprisoned and accused of rebellion by Coca-Cola. One of the most horrifying accounts is the assassination of Isidro Segundo Gil in 1996. After his assassination, the paramilitaries gathered all the workers and gave them letters to disaffiliate from SINALTRAINAL. The letters were printed at the Coca-Cola premises. The Colombian representative has also received threats from the paramilitaries on various occasions. In fact, one of the four court cases that one of the US beverages and food processing union has opened in this country has to do with the constant threats he receives from the paramilitaries. One cannot fail to notice his anger and sadness when he recalls the pain that the paramilitaries have caused to him and his comrades.

Juan Carlos and his comrades see the Boycott of Coca-Cola as a tool to highlight the anti-social policies that the company is implementing all over the world. He also aims to use this campaign to expose the system and to build bridges with working people all over the world. "I want to make people understand that we are fighting against capitalist global policies. It is true that underdeveloped countries suffer them more, but also in the advanced countries working people suffer these policies," Juan Carlos said.

"We are talking about the abolition of many rights that the people had achieved through the struggle to improve our lives. Nowadays, these rights are threatened by capitalism. This is why it is necessary to unite the different struggles that aim to build a new world where the human being is the most important thing in society."

We bring our conversation to an end by requesting Juan Carlos about his opinion on the Venezuelan Revolution. Juan Carlos does not hesitate to brand the Venezuelan revolutionary process as "a hope for changes that our country badly needs." He also points out that the Venezuelan Revolution has boosted the revolutionary morale of the Colombian and Latin American people. "The Venezuelan Revolution allows us to say that it is possible to build a nation where the wealth of the country belongs to the people and can improve the living conditions of the people that has always lacked these decent living conditions."

Another lesson that Juan Carlos draws is that "the process in Venezuela shows that is possible to break with the conception that capitalism is the only system that can rule the fate of mankind. This process strengthens the militant mood of the Latin American masses."

He finishes by sending a very clear message to his Venezuelan brothers and sisters: "It is your mission to succeed and help to export the Bolivarian Revolution all over the continent. We must use the thought of Bolivar to unite all fights in Latin America and achieve freedom for Latin America as Bolivar always dreamed of."