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Colombia: Workers Win Victory In Teeth Of Reaction
A DECADE of civil war in Colombia has left 300,000 people dead and two million internally displaced.
By Simon Carter
Over recent years the Colombian government has received $1.3 billion in military assistance and 300 military 'advisors' from the US. This has been facilitated through the US's 'Plan Colombia' - ostensibly to fight drug operations but in practise to bolster the weak army in its fight against the left-wing FARC and ELN guerrilla groups.
Operating out of their 42,000 square kilometre 'safe haven' in the south of the country the FARC have in the last two weeks stepped up their bombing campaign of oil pipelines and electricity pylons and car bombings in the urban areas.
The right-wing paramilitary AUC - which is closely allied to Colombia's armed forces - has also stepped up its murderous activities. And with presidential elections due in May, political violence is expected to increase.
On 5 February Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International called on US secretary of state Colin Powell to suspend assistance to the Colombian government on human rights grounds. However, the US government is asking Congress to approve a $98 million plan to protect the Cano Limon oil pipeline which pumps oil for the US firm Occidental Petroleum Corporation.
This could be the start of a stepping up of US involvement in Colombia. The US Ambassador, Anne Patterson, has said there are more than 300 sites with infrastructure of strategic importance to the US in Colombia.
THE COUNTRY'S working class (of whom only 22% are economically active) have been pulverised by the Pastrana government's capitalist policies and its war against the guerrillas.
Harsh anti-union labour laws and privatisation measures have extracted a heavy toll on the organised working class. Many public sector workers do not have the right to strike. In the last decade hundreds of union branches were forced to close, to the extent that, today, only 8% of the workforce (95,000 workers) are unionised.
Trade union leaders are regularly targeted and assassinated (3,100 since 1987) by right-wing paramilitaries.
It is all the more remarkable then that public-sector workers in the SINTRAEMCALI union, Cali, defeated government plans to privatise municipal companies.
On 24 December 2001, the government militarised the workers' plants forcibly privatising them. The union responded by occupying the CAM Tower administration offices and for the next 37 days battled with armed riot police.
Eventually, on 30 January, the government withdrew the privatisation measures and agreed not to victimise any of the workers.
Of course, the right-wing forces are expected to retaliate. During the workers' struggle 13 union members were killed and 200 arrested. But as Luis Hernandez, the union's Vice-President, says: "We will not bow down before the dark forces of paramilitarism even if that means spending the rest of our days in prison."
In The Socialist 15 February 2002: