Colombian teachers union FECODE receives more paramilitary death threats

The FECODE teachers union, Colombia’s largest trade union, has received new threats from paramilitary organisation the Black Eagles (Águilas Negras).

On 3 September, threatening pamphlets were sent to FECODE’s executive committee. The union’s president, Nelson Alarcón, said ‘in these 25 years, more than one thousand colleagues and teachers have been murdered. In 2019, more than 700 colleagues have been threatened in Colombian territory’.

Alarcón was named in the pamphlets along with other FECODE officials including second vice-president Martha Alfonso, and legal officials Domingo Ayala and Carlos Rivas. The threats come a week after FECODE (Federation of Colombian Education Workers) staged the latest strikes in a long-running dispute over health coverage and conditions for teachers in the national education system.

Other strike demands include implementation of the 2016 peace agreement and an end to chronic levels of insecurity that have seen hundreds of social activists murdered since the agreement was signed.

In the pamphlet, the Black Eagles wrote that ‘it is time to clean the country. Death to all guerrilla collaborators, called trade union and social leaders’. The group also claimed to know where union officials and their families lived. It also warned FECODE to cancel its forthcoming Caravan for Peace, Democracy and Life, which aims to promote human rights and peace across Colombia over 6-8 September.

Violence against trade unionists escalated dramatically in 2018, with murders more than doubling to 34 from 15 the previous year. Teachers were the worst-affected workers, with at least 13 teacher trade unionists killed.

The violence has continued during 2019. On 12 August, school principal Orlando Gómez was abducted and killed in the region of Cauca. In response, the teachers trade union NASUWT wrote to FECODE to offer support and solidarity to Colombian teachers.