Colombia’s Air Force and the paramilitaries Fridge magnets from the future
Oct 172008

An editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal criticizes Sen. Barack Obama for saying the following about Colombia in Wednesday’s presidential debate:

The history in Colombia right now is that labor leaders have been targeted for assassination, on a fairly consistent basis, and there have not been any prosecutions.

This, the Journal says, is an example of Obama “repeating union distortions” about labor violence in Colombia.

It is true that Colombia has seen progress on labor violence according to one measure: the absolute number of labor-union leaders, organizers and members killed. Estimates vary, and labor-rights defenders contend that acts of anti-union violence have, in fact, increased dramatically this year. Nonetheless, killings of unionists have dropped since the worst period of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

The Journal’s argument, however, cannot overturn Sen. Obama’s second objection: that prosecutions, another very crucial measure, have seen little improvement.

Today’s editorial tries to make the case:

As for prosecutions: In union-member killings, there were zero convictions from 1991-2000 and one in 2001. But from 2002-2007, there were 80.

The argument collapses right here. Eighty convictions in six years is an extremely poor result. It is not a number to celebrate – especially when the total universe of cases from the past twenty years is well over 2,000. This statistic is one of the strongest arguments that opponents of the free-trade agreement could employ.

It shows that even though labor killings are reduced from 2002 or so, the impunity rate for such killings has barely budged. In nearly all labor killings, the murderers – both the planners and the trigger-pullers – are still at large and have little to fear from the justice system.

Until the prosecution rate for unionist killings improves, the Free Trade Agreement will continue to be a hard sell in Washington.

Hopes for improvement hinge on the work of the Labor Sub-Unit of the Colombian government’s Prosecutor-General’s Office, which is trying to make progress on dozens of “benchmark cases.” Observers, notably Rep. George Miller (R-California), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, have questioned whether this Sub-Unit will be able to make significant progress at current levels of funding, political and institutional support.

If it does not, the agreement’s opponents will continue to have a very strong argument.

10 Responses to “Prosecuting labor killings: a long way to go”

  1. boz Says:

    One question I had while reading the editorial was how many of the 80 prosecutions were from current cases and how many were from cold cases? It would seem to me that if there were 27 murders last year and 15 prosecutions, that would be a legitimate sign of significant progress on halting union violence (although there would still be much to do on the historical cases). If, however, the 80 prosecutions were dispersed across the past 20 years of cases, you’re right that it would be a statistically insignificant number.

    Any chance a labor rights organization has put together a chart on the subject?

  2. E Says:

    My question is how many of the murders of union leaders are actually politically motivated and not the consequences of common crime or domestic violence?

  3. Jaime Bustos Says:

    This guy E must be from E! … entertainment television :lol:

  4. Montserrat Nicolas Says:

    Why is WSJ bickering? Didn’t they hear John “Panama” McCain say to Obama that he must “travel there”, at the oh-so-boring debate??? Not paying attention perhaps?
    We all know that the WSJ gets excellent intel from all those tourists visiting Cartagena. I been there. Nothing to see. Pure love and peace in that country. Except the bomb search they did at the hotel. It was fun! Took pics.
    Can I have my lobby dollars now? Or did Uribe spend it all on over rated dinners?

    Guess how much Juan El Plumero cares about this topic…


  5. Jose David Says:

    Talking about reality “distortions”, Uribe said a couple a days ago on national tv news Caracol referring to the indigenous protest in cauca, that the indigenous communities should apologize to the army and policeman who shot at the protesters leaving 4 dead and 30 wounded…

  6. Paul Says:

    “Until the prosecution rate for unionist killings improves, the Free Trade Agreement will continue to be a hard sell in Washington.”

    Big Labor and the radical Left will just move the goal posts even if the the prosecution rate improves. And President Obama won’t break character and cross them.


    To your question, the editorial sheds some light: “According to the Colombian attorney general’s office, 29% of those murders were “found to have been results of theft, petty crime and random violence unrelated to union activity.”

    If we could add the fair X % of unionists killed who really were affiliated with the FARC, and the X % killed by guerillas, we would have a clearer picture beyond what the “Killer Coke”/Big Labor crowd is telling us.

  7. Kyle Says:

    Paul, it doesn’t matter if someone is connected to the FARC or not, and some have been in places in the past Like Uraba, their murder is still a crime. Also, that 29% is unclear. For example, when I was in Barranca in 2006, the sinaltrainal vice-president for the city had just been murdered a couple weeks before. The authorities said it was a domestic violence case while the family and union said it was not and that the circumstances were different. Since the methodology of arriving to that statistic (as for now) is unclear, we don’t know how this case was handled, similar cases are handled and how many cases such as this end up being counted as not related to union activity when the reality is that it is unclear.

  8. Jaime Bustos Says:

    Ah, Pablito also belongs to the E! entertainment crew. Sure your last name is not Escobar? :lol:

  9. CAC Says:


    Impunity is a troubling matter but , On the broad persective of things, most unionist crimes pale in comparison to the investigations which determine the immediate future of the State, such as the trial to paramilitaries, parapolitics, farcpolitics or drug traffiking. The colombian judiciary sistem is severly burdened by these and other activities. The fact that there have been progress on union crimes is actually good proof that there is some political will to solve this issues.

    Jose David: Should I remind you that these protests were FAR from pacific?. And that they blocked and threatened one of the main highways of the country?

    There were witnesess there, who claim that Indigeneous people were carring knives and explosive devises. It was like a timebomb waiting to detonate, so don’t be so quick to judge one side or the other.

    There is no clear evidence of huge mismanagement or excessive use of force by part of the state on any of these encounters. They used trained mob police(not the army), which also suffered casualties.

    WATCH THIS VIDEO(In spanish):

    Poverty can be seen as a tool to exercise influential power. Years and years of abuse have left the indigeneous people with no choice but to use violence in an attempt to get their voices heard, but the timing seems a little suspicious (With so many strikes happening at the same time)

    The DAS has shown a video in which an opposition senator supported some of these strikes, he met with the ‘cañeros’ and openly supported these simultaneous strikes, months before these actually happened, What does this mean?

    This means that there is a political reasoning behind these protests.They aren’t simply based on the rights of some of these impoverished communities: This serves as clear evidence that these strikes are meant to put political pressure on the government, in deterrance of the greater public good. (It’s not like there is anything wrong with defending individual rights, is just that the political intent is on destabilization, on promoting the use of violence against the government.)

    Finally, if the indigenous people have the right to protest in order to reclaim their rights, the government also has the obligation of defending the common good by stopping these protests when they turn violent, or threaten the community (which is exactly what happens when an important road is blocked by riots)

    People here seem to lose objectivity and open-mindness quite often…
    Of course, I forgot, some people here have already declared Uribe guilty of everything from paramilitarism to fascism and corruption- forgetting the context on which these events evolved in the overall Colombian society. They will never be able to admit that, while far from perfect, Uribe has been fundamental in the recent improvements in the country-and that he isn’t really the ‘little Hitler’ they are inclined to believe.

  10. Marcos Says:

    Even so, Obama said something that was incorrect. You can’t erase that.

    But you are all giving him a pass, because you agree with him.



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