US & Colombian Union Leaders Attack McCain over Colombia Trip

News from Colombia | on: Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Senator John McCain has come under fire from a group of Colombian and US union leaders for remaining silent about human rights abuses against trade unionists during his visit to Colombia. "The United States shouldn't be dealing with regimes that torture and kill its citizens - John McCain should know that better than anyone," said International Brotherhood of Teamsters president Jim Hoffa at a joint press conference on July 1st.

Joining Hoffa at the Washington press conference were several Colombian union leaders including Jorge Gamboa, head of the Colombian oil workers union USO, who recently survived an assassination attempt carried out by a paramilitary death squad working together with Colombian police officers. Also participating was Luis Alfonso Velasquez, a member of the National Executive of the CUT trade union federation Colombia's largest union organisation.

"In Colombia the situation has become graver," said Mr Velasquez, "the union killings have not stopped, the impunity that exists has not ended, and everyday it becomes more apparent that with respect to freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, we are moving backwards."

Another Colombian union leader present, Evan Torro Lopes of the bank workers union UNEB, added "the country is years, not months, away from eradicating the impunity, intimidation and trade union killings that exist there. It is difficult to comprehend how some think that the situation in Colombia is better when this year already more than 25 trade unionists have been murdered and many more threatened."

Hoffa also told the press conference that "Colombia is the most dangerous place in the world to be a union member. Since 1991, more than 2,500 trade unionists have been assassinated in Colombia, more than any country in the world." He also announced that the Teamsters Union would be sponsoring a radio ad campaign in the United States to bring attention to McCain's Colombia visit and to the proposed US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. The Uribe regime in Colombia and the Bush administration in the US are keen to push through the trade deal but, to date, Democrats in the US Congress have blocked it.

According to a Teamsters press release "With the recent disclosures that several top fundraisers and aides for Senator McCain have been on the payroll of the Colombian government or companies with interests in Colombia, it is imperative that Senator McCain's ties to Colombia and his interest in the Colombia trade deal earn more scrutiny."

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