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The Colombian Triangle
A lawsuit filed in June in a U.S. District court against Coca-Cola on behalf of a murdered Colombian labor organizer has intensified a long-running human rights campaign against the beverage giant. The International Labor Rights Fund and the United Steelworkers of America filed a similar lawsuit several years ago. This time, they are holding the company directly responsible.
This suit claims that in 2002 paramilitary forces in Barranquilla, Colombia, conspiring with both the government and the managers at the town’s Coca-Cola bottling plant, killed union activist Jesus Munera. The suit was filed in Florida under the Alien Torts Act. The Coca-Cola company is named as a defendant.
Eight labor leaders have been assassinated at Coca-Cola bottling plants in Colombia since 1989 and many others have been physically attacked, threatened, or harassed. These crimes have caused the movement to boycott the company to grow in U.S. and European anti-sweatshop and labor circles. More than a dozen college campuses have banned Coca-Cola products as a result and several union locals have signed onto the boycott.
Daniel Kovalik, assistant general council for the steelworkers’ union, claims that the ILRF and his organization warned Coca-Cola about paramilitary activity at bottling plants. Ray Rogers of the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke also says that at least one Coca-Cola representative admitted keeping word of such warnings from the Colombian food workers’ union.
Rogers, who spends much of his time coordinating the nationwide boycott of Coca-Cola, sees the development as another blow against the company among others as of late. The City University of New York Law School recently kicked Coca-Cola off its campus, like many other campuses in the U.S. have done. “I know that there’s a lot more,” he said referring to issues that the boycott movement could exploit. “I know we could cause great harm.”
This case also comes at a time when the Colombian Administrative Department of Security (DAS) has been exposed for supplying vital information and assistance to the right-wing paramilitary group, United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), which is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. government. Officials in a government department (DAS) devoted to protecting people like factory workers instead aided and abetted in this violence. This collusion has been a major scandal in the country and the focus of many human rights organizations.
Regardless of these issues, the company believes this current lawsuit is an attempt to open a closed case. “The death of Mr. Munera is a tragedy that is unrelated to his employment,” said Kerry Kerr, a spokesperson for the company. “His murderer was convicted and is currently in prison serving a 17year sentence.” There is also the sentiment that things are improving in Colombia. “The new head [of DAS] is reported to be honest and has fired 70 employees,” said Heather Hanson, director of the U.S. Office on Colombia, a nonprofit organization in Washington.
Munera, who was killed in 2002, was the last union leader at a Coca-Cola plant to be murdered, according to the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke. But paramilitary groups continue to harass Coca-Cola workers. In September 2005 Luciano Enrique Romero Molina, also a member of the Colombian food workers union and a former Nestle worker, was murdered in Valledupar.
Rogers believes that the fate of Coca-Cola workers is intertwined with the nation’s troubled political situation. Colombia is one of the most dangerous nations for labor activists and the nation has been the recipient of billions of U.S. aid dollars. “There is a symbiotic relationship between the paramilitaries, the government, and multinationals like Coca-Cola,” Rogers said.
Kovalik agreed that while the lawsuit names Coca-Cola as a defendant there is also a greater issue at hand. The overall situation, he said, “calls into grave question the propriety of the U.S.’s continued commitment to aid for the Colombian military forces.”
A ri Paul is a freelance writer. His articles have been published in Z, the American Prospect, In These Times , and openDemocracy.
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; mailbikesnotbombs.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduate Center, Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; convention @adc. org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljustice center.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www. peacestockvfp.org.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.