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Report from Colombia

On the 30th of November Aury Sará Marrugo president of the oilworkers union (USO) in the city of Cartegena was kidnapped by members of  Colombia's right-wing paramilitary death squads (AUC) along with his bodyguard.  Shortly after Carlos Castaño the leader of the AUC admitted in a communiqué that the AUC had kidnapped Aury Sara.  According to Castaño Aury Sara had ‘confessed’  to being the commander of a guerrilla front of the ELN and that they had tried him and found him guilty.  In the communiqué Castaño offered to hand him over to the Peace Commissioner Camilo Gómez on condition that he be tried on the basis of the supposed confession that he had made.  The Colombian State naturally refused to contemplate opening proceedings against an individual in such circumstances and given that the AUC had accused the Peace Commissioner of being a guerrilla collaborator it was highly unlikely that he would meet the paramilitaries to receive Aury Sara.

However, the government did absolutely nothing to try and resolve the situation.  Union leaders have pointed out that when members of parliament were kidnapped in the past the government put into operation various mechanisms at their disposal to obtain the liberty of the MPs and Senators.  Aury Sara´s fate was different, as the respected exiled commentator Alfredo Molano described it, the army looked skywards as if they were praying.  His body was found along with that of his bodyguard showing clear signs of torture.  The government bears some responsibility  for Aury´s murder, not only because they did nothing to save his life but also because in October of this year the Colombian State accused various union leaders of being members of the ELN.

The trade union movement in Colombia has suffered various persecutions over the years with leading members being jailed on trumped up charges such as Esteban Cancelado whose case was taken up by Amnesty International and was eventually released without charge after a number of years on remand.  Further so far this year 148 trade unionists have been killed in Colombia, 11 in the city of Barrancabermeja alone.  Moreover no less than three trade unions have closed down in Barrancabermeja in the last year due to the pressure brought to bear by the paramilitaries.  Castaño, in accusing Aury Sara of being a member of the guerrillas, echoes the years  of judicial persecution of the oilworkes union USO which has seen many of its leading members accused at one stage or another of rebellion.  In that context the State bears a clear responsibility.  Further, according to witnesses to the kidnapping, two members of the police were involved.

During the kidnapping the oilworkers maintained a stike and organised various protests throughout the country.  But more than a stike, it appeared to be a lockout, given that in the city of Barrancabermeja (with the main refinery of the country) the army took over and completely militarised the refinery using subcontracted labour to maintain a minimun level of output.  The government of Pastrana which has not met once with the oil workers union in three years has refused to meet with them now in the aftermath of the murder of Aury Sara citing as an excuse the declarations of the ELN accusing the Minister of Defence of giving the order to carry out the execution.

Once again in the public mind the State has linked USO with the guerrillas.  If, as the goverment have recognised, Aury Sara was not a member of the guerrillas, what does it matter what the ELN say?  It is an excuse and also a justification for Castaño who can once again point to what the State itself has to say in relation to USO in order to justify his threat to wipe out the trade union executive.  It should also be borne in mind that USO has been the major obstacle to complete privatisation of the oil industry and it is no accident that as a trade union it has suffered at the hand of the Colombian State and also the paramilitaries described by Human Rights Watch as the Sixth Division of the Colombian Armed Forces.



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