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Colombia: The Campaign Against Killer Coke Continues

By Meredith Aby

The campaign to boycott ‘Killer Coke’ is spreading across college campuses and communities around the country. The Coca-Cola boycott was launched July 22 by the Colombian food and beverage workers’ union, SINALTRAINAL, to shine a light on the murders of nine Coca-Cola trade unionists there by company-hired death squads.

Colombia is the world’s most dangerous place for labor activists. Trade unionists in Colombia have been threatened, disappeared and murdered by right-wing military death squads, financed by the Colombian government. Colombia is the third highest recipient of U.S. military aid.

In response to the call from the workers, the Colombia Action Network has been organizing the boycott from coast to coast. They organized two days of student protest, Oct. 16 and Dec. 5, with enormous success. Over 80 student groups on more than 40 campuses participated in both or one of the days of action. The national days of action gave students the opportunity to stand together and demand that their universities break their exclusive contracts with Coca-Cola and helped to educate other students on the cooperation between Coca-Cola and the right wing paramilitary death squads in Colombia.

In Chicago, 70 protesters gathered at St. Pious Church and marched to a Coca-Cola distribution center in the Mexican neighborhood of Pilsen. Colombian trade unionist Luis Adolfo Cardona said, “We remember my friend and our lead union negotiator Isidro Gil, who was gunned down seven years ago today by Coca-Cola’s death squads. We build this shrine to Isidro Gil on the steps of Coca-Cola to commemorate him and all the other Colombian workers killed by the death squads of Plan Colombia. Our candles may be blown out by Coca-Cola’s management here tonight, but the struggle for justice will continue to burn in our hearts. Those who struggle for social justice in Colombia have a saying, ‘If you do not organize and fight back, then you are already dead!’ Thank you my friends for supporting the workers and those struggling for social justice in Colombia.”

At Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, students with the Student Labor Action Coalition have been pressuring campus administrators to end their contract with Coke. They have had several educational events on campus since the visit of Colombian trade unionist Luis Cardona. They also organized students to wear red armbands in solidarity with the workers in Colombia, to pass out literature, sign petitions and to drink alternative beverages to Coke.

In Madison, Wisconsin, community members and students at the University of Wisconsin in the Colombia Action Committee organized a Latin America and Human Rights fair with Amnesty International. Earlier that day they tabled at the Community Action on Latin America’s Fair Trade Fair.

Kris Penniston, an organizer with the Colombia Action Committee, explained, “We took the opportunity to build connections with other groups on and off campus around Colombia and other Latin American countries in regards to human and labor rights. We’ve had high visibility on campus on the Coke boycott. Next semester we’d like to demand that the University of Wisconsin end its beverage contract with Coke and to continue to connect with the broader issue of Plan Colombia. We think this is especially important as the U.S. changes its military operations in Iraq.”

In Missoula, Montana, Community Action for Justice in the Americas organized a funeral procession of 50 people to the office of university president to deliver a coffin with the names of the union leaders who have been killed in Colombia.

Erin Thompson, president of Missoula’s Community Action for Justice in the Americas explained, “By promoting and marketing Coca-Cola, the university administration is supporting Coke’s practices in Colombia which include allowing right-wing paramilitaries to threaten and murder union leaders. When Vice President Bob Duringer was presented with information about the repression of Coke’s union workers in Colombia, he responded that he didn’t have the ‘luxury’ of being concerned about human rights.” At the event organizers read a letter from William Mendoza, the president of SINALTRAINAL, which passionately explained why the union needs college campuses to end their contracts with Coca-Cola. Students at the University of Montana at Missoula are committed to making the university administration see the value in respecting labor rights both here and abroad!

In Flagstaff, Arizona, 40 community members and students at Northern Arizona University marched through downtown, passed out flyers and plastered stickers on vending machines. Jeronimo Vasquez, a Latin American studies student at NAU and organizer said, “We are participating in a national day of action against Coca-Cola to protest the human rights violations by Coke in Colombia and other places in the world. On this national day of action we are standing in solidarity with people all over the country and especially in Latin America.”

Campaigns against Coca-Cola are taking place around the country. Lake Forest College, near Chicago, ended its contract with Coke earlier this year. Bard College in New York has stated that it won’t renew its contract with Coke when it expires in 2004, in protest of the treatment of the company’s union workers in Colombia. The Colombia Action Network will continue their campaign to end Coca-Cola’s repression of union activists and to end the U.S. financial support of Colombia’s right wing paramilitary violence.

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