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Colombian labor leader inspires solidarity in Miami

By Conor Munro

Colombian trade unionist Nidia Quintero speaking in south Florida

Miami, FL – Nidia Quintero, the leader of Colombia’s largest union of agricultural workers (FENSUAGRO), spoke to a crowd of 50 workers and activists at the South Florida AFL-CIO April 8. She came to speak in support of the peace process between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), taking place in Havana, Cuba. Quintero emphasized that a just and lasting peace is crucial for the Colombian labor movement to grow and flourish.

Audience members were visibly shocked when Quintero described the repression of trade unions by the Colombian government and its paramilitaries, “2000 members of FENSUAGRO have been assassinated by right-wing paramilitaries. The paramilitaries attack agricultural workers and drive them off their land so that the big landowners can control those areas.”

According to Quintero, “The root of the conflict in Colombia is that our economy and government is controlled by a tiny group of wealthy landowners and businessmen who violently repress anyone who opposes them.”

Despite the huge challenges they face, FENSUAGRO is a strong and vibrant union. Quintero showed the audience videos and pictures of her union fearlessly protesting in the streets of the capital city Bogota.

Her talk ended with a standing ovation from the room. Then event organizer Carlos Valnera asked about the role of Plan Colombia, the U.S.-funded war plan. Quintero responded, “75% of the money from Plan Colombia goes to the military. So the U.S. is directly funding human rights abuses and crimes against agricultural workers. The U.S. has also been paying for the spraying of herbicide on our lands. This has caused millions of people to be displaced and we are seeing increased rates of cancers amongst our workers.”

People left the talk with new perspectives. David Gibson of Peace Justice Sustainability Florida commented, “There are lots of similarities between the struggles of people in Colombia and the struggles we face here. Listening to Nidia drove home the point that the struggle for freedom and justice that we must wage is a global one.”

Miami was Quintero’s last stop on a speaking tour of the U.S. that saw her speak to labor unionists and immigrant rights activists in Milwaukee and Detroit, as well as at the Labor Notes conference in Chicago. During her talk, Quintero said, “I was moved by the struggles of immigrants and workers in this country and I will take back your solidarity when I return to Colombia.”

After the event, POWIR Organizer Cassia Laham said, “Nidia and the workers of FENSUAGRO are a true inspiration. We have so much to learn from their courage in face of repression and their dedication to fighting for a better world.” Attendees resolved to continue organizing in solidarity with the people of Colombia and to build a stronger labor movement here in the U.S.

People’s Opposition to War, Imperialism and Racism (POWIR), the Alliance for Global Justice and the local labor council organized the event.

Nidia Quintero (center) with event participants

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