Unions Call for House Committee Investigation of Possible Misuse of U.S. Aid in Colombia

Communications Workers of America (CWA) International President Larry Cohen and United Steelworkers (USW) International President Leo W. Gerard issued the following statement today regarding their request to a member of the House Select Intelligence Committee that there be an investigation of press reports that the government of Colombia may have misused U.S. government aid by spending it to investigate and undermine the activities of labor leaders and union activists in that South American country.

“Colombia has the worst record of any country in the world when it comes to violence against union leaders and activists,” said CWA President Cohen. “Press reports allege that the United States provided aid, equipment and training that Colombian officials wrongly exploited in ways that endangered labor leaders and activists. The Select Intelligence Committee must take these allegations seriously and aggressively investigate abuse of U.S. government support and assistance by Colombia.”

“Congress is being asked to consider the U.S.-Colombian Free Trade Agreement (FTA) this fall,” said Gerard. “For many years, organized labor and many members of Congress have criticized Colombia’s labor laws and unconscionable record of violence against labor leaders and activists. If U.S. assistance fueled Colombia’s actions in this area, it not only highlights the unacceptable track record of the Colombian government but undermines any conceivable legitimacy of an FTA with Colombia,” USW President Gerard stated.

Even before these revelations, Colombia’s failure to protect workers’ rights and end the shocking violence against union leaders made approval of a free trade agreement abhorrent, Gerard and Cohen said. “These new allegations must be thoroughly investigated before Congress considers any agreement,” Cohen added. “Colombia has not done enough to address the flaws in its laws to protect workers’ rights. It has done little to address the continuing violence against union activists. And it has done almost nothing to bring to justice those who have perpetrated past crimes. These new charges about Colombia’s use of U.S. aid raise serious questions about the country’s commitment to address these critical issues.”

Gerard added, “Colombia should not be rewarded with an FTA until the workers in that country have the rights they deserve and the confidence, that in exercising those internationally-recognized rights, they will not be subject to violence. A full investigation is necessary and Congress must shelf the proposed FTA until after Congress and the public, have all of the facts.”

Presidents Cohen and Gerard sent the attached letter (http://assets.usw.org/releases/110824_USW-CWA_Schakowsky.pdf) to House Select Intelligence Committee member U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky today asking for her assistance in having the Committee seriously review the allegations in the Aug. 11 Washington Post article by Karen DeYoung and Claudia J. Duque, U.S. Aid Implicated in Abuses of Power in Colombia…Congresswoman Schakowsky has been a leading member of Congress fighting for worker’s rights.