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April 6, 2009

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Colombia liquidates Cali unions

CUPE BC president Barry O’Neill is asking CUPE members throughout the province to send e-mails to Colombian president Alvaro Uribe Velez after riot police and soldiers evicted city workers in Cali, Colombia and liquidated their union last week.

The Colombian government has been trying to privatize municipal sanitation and utility services for years.

Send e-mail to Colombian president Alvaro Uribe Velez

Despite public opposition and the unions’ efforts to prove the viability of their services, in January, Colombia sold off three of the four garbage pick up routes in Cali. They also closed the city landfill site.

The government moved in on March 26, dissolving EMSIRVA, the city-owned waste disposal company, using riot police and soldiers to evict the workers from their workplace.

The move puts 439 union members out of work, including Maria Fernanda Bolanos, who toured Canada in 2008 as part of a solidarity exchange.

Meanwhile, at EMCALI, the municipal utilities company, two union executives and four fired workers have begun a hunger strike to protest a government-appointed trustee’s decision to fire still more union members. (In all, 54 union members have been fired since the government took over the company in 2004.)

The unions are asking for e-mails and letters to be sent to Colombia’s president and cabinet ministers. The government needs to know the world is watching.

Sixteen members of Cali’s public sector unions have been killed since 2004, including union executive Carlos Alberto Chicaiza Betancourt.

“This is a total outrage—enforcing privatization from the barrel of a gun,” said O’Neill. “Stephen Harper has just signed a free trade agreement with the Uribe administration. Does our federal government condone this type of human rights abuse?”

CUPE BC has been working with SINTRAEMCALI and the human rights organization, NOMADESC, for years to support human rights and labour rights training for trade unionists and other community activists in Colombia.

Financial support for the union members who have lost their jobs can be sent to SINTRAEMSIRVA through CoDevelopment Canada. Please send cheques marked “SINTRAEMSIRVA Support” to Barbara Wood, CoDevelopment Canada, 260 - 2747 East Hastings Street, Vancouver, BC. V5K 1Z8. For more information, contact CoDev at (604) 708-1495 or via e-mail at [email protected]

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