Equity trade union visits Colombia to support JFC campaigns on human rights and peace

Justice for Colombia organised a delegation from the Equity trade union for actors and performing arts workers to Colombia earlier this month to participate in the regional congress of the International Federation of Actors (FIA) and to support JFC’s campaign work in the areas of trade unionism, human rights and peacebuilding.

During the FIA congress in Bogota, Equity members and officials met with trade union delegates from across Latin America, including the Colombian Actors’ Association (ACA) and Colombian audiovisual workers. Other countries represented included Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Cuba, Panama, Mexico and Peru. Common themes of discussion included the struggle for workers’ rights in the arts, the impact of the pandemic and the challenges posed by modern technology such as streaming services and artificial intelligence.

After the conference, the Equity delegates visited Cali, Colombia’s third-largest city, where they met with victims of police violence during the 2021 National Strike protests against inequality and conflict. In a meeting at the REDDHFIC human rights organisation, they heard from mothers whose children were facing criminal charges on highly dubious accusations, as well as the young founders of the Caliventura festival set up to promote local culture and support victims of police violence. They also visited major concentration points during the protests and heard testimonies from two women, Sandra Moreno and Laura Guerrero, whose sons were killed by police during peaceful protests, as well as young people with permanent injuries and those recently released from prison.

In Cali’s neighbouring municipality of Palmira, delegates visited two cooperatives run by former FARC guerrillas in the peace process. In the first of these, they toured papaya and mango plantations that were providing livelihoods for the former guerrillas. The second cooperative, led by three indigenous women who previously were in the FARC, was developing fish and cattle breeding as a means of economic advancement. One of the women, Alba, gave the delegates a tour of the local area which overlooked the central mountain range.

Back in Bogota, delegates met with trade unionists María Eugenia Londoño of the FECODE teachers federation and Fabio Arias, president of the country’s largest trade union federation, the CUT, who met with Equity as an official guest of this year’s TUC Congress in Liverpool. They also visited Senator María José Pizarro, First President of the Senate, at her offices in Colombia’s National Congress to discuss the government’s support for the arts, as well as overall policies for improving worker rights and building peace. In was Senator Pizarro’s second meeting with Equity following her attendance at Labour Party Conference 2022.

One particular highlight was a visit to Bogota’s historic La Candelaria theatre, renowned for programming that since the 1960s has been heavily rooted in social and political themes. There, they were received by Sarah Luna, a former FARC guerrilla-turned-actor, who has performed in a number of plays at the theatre. Joining Sarah and the delegates was the renowned actress, playwright and director Patricia Ariza, who previously served as Culture Minister under Gustavo Petro’s government.

Other meetings included the Comunes political party, formed in the 2016 peace agreement, as well as human rights organisations Lazos de Dignidad and TUC Senior International Officer Mariela Kohon who is currently seconded to Colombia’s High Commission for Peace, the government body which oversees peacebuilding initiatives.

The Equity delegates were general secretary Paul W Fleming, vice-president Nick Fletcher, honorary treasurer David John and policy officer Tom Peters. In a statement, the union said ‘[o]ver our week in Colombia, we have been deeply struck by the bravery, determination, and passionate commitment of performing artists, workers, and community activists resisting injustices here.’

JFC would like to thank Equity and everyone in Colombia who took the time to meet with our delegates and help ensure their visit was informative, engaging and supportive to JFC’s campaign work.