Colombian Labor Rights Lawyer in Critical Condition after Assassination Attempt

News from Colombia | | credit: Washington Office on Latin America on: Monday, 16 May 2011
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On May 13, 2011, armed men on motorcycles fired five bullets into labor rights lawyer Hernán Darío in the heart of downtown Cali, Colombia. Mr. Darío is the lead attorney in a high-profile case defending the leaders of a group of sugarcane workers who led a labor strike in 2008 from criminal charges. While no one has taken responsibility for this shooting, it is widely believed to be connected with the sugar strike and Mr. Dario’s defense of the sugar workers.

The shooting comes only weeks after the Colombian government agreed to implement a “U.S.-Colombia Labor Action Plan,” a plan to make improvements in labor rights conditions in Colombia, in connection with U.S. Congressional consideration of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the U.S. and Colombia. The shooting underscores the continuing and serious labor rights problems in Colombia. It also calls into question whether there has been real progress on the labor rights situation in Colombia.

The sugarcane industry in Colombia has been the site of ongoing and serious labor conflicts. Sugarcane workers, like workers in many other labor-intensive sectors of the Colombian economy, are generally hired by subcontractors, called Associative Labor Cooperative (CTAs). Workers and unions have criticized the CTAs because they undermine worker protections and labor rights by displacing responsibility away from companies. In 2008, 18,000 sugarcane workers protested deplorable working conditions in Valle del Cauca and Cauca. The protesters demanded direct contracts with refineries and other basic labor rights such as the right to unionize, job stability, and social security. The 2008 protest was met with resistance from the government and regional elites. Efforts to delegitimize the strike resulted in legal charges against the aforementioned strike leaders and key supporters in September 2008. Mr. Dario, who remains in critical condition, has paid a very heavy price for defending these workers against false charges and their efforts to seek justice and proper labor conditions.

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