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Colombian Trade Unionist Speaks Out Against Plan Colombia

By Erika Zurawski

Interview with Javier Correa, president of SINALTRAINAL

Javier Correa is the president of SINALTRAINAL, the courageous beverage workers’ union, which fights for labor rights in Coca-Cola bottling plants in Colombia. Coca-Cola-sponsored death squads are responsible for murdering nine Colombian trade unionists. SINALTRAINAL calls for an international boycott of Coca-Cola products because of Coke’s use of paramilitary violence against the union.

Fight Back! : What effect does Plan Colombia (the U.S. military aid package) have on SINALTRAINAL?

Correa : Plan Colombia limits free speech and limits the ability for people to enter cities and regions in order to organize the workers. The war terrorizes the workers and their families. Plan Colombia attacks our union, because our union doesn’t want the war. We demand a political solution to the social and armed conflict in Colombia. We always struggle for peace and social justice. At the same time, Plan Colombia motivates unions to protest against the abuses suffered by the people in the zones where the Colombian government does fumigations, bombings and machine gun attacks. Plan Colombia also, to the union, is a violation of our national sovereignty.

We reject the presence of North American soldiers on our soil and the intervention of the United States government in our country’s affairs. We see Plan Colombia as a tool of force to subject the Colombian people and our movements to the will of the transnational corporations, so that the big foreign companies, without any barriers, can exploit our natural resources and our labor. Plan Colombia is a plan against our country. It is an instrument of military domination against organizations that resist and that struggle for a different or alternative model of life. Also, Plan Colombia forces the governments of the region to impose the so-called free trade agreement on their people, the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas). Plan Colombia is a plan for domination.

Fight Back! : What are the conditions for SINALTRAINAL today?

Correa : At this time we live under real conditions of great persecution. We live with a lot of uncertainty due to the policies of the foreign companies and of the Colombian state that continuously violate our rights. The government refuses to acknowledge the conditions of poverty and misery that the workers and the people live in. This puts the workers in a struggle for survival and in defense of their lives, a difficult struggle.

Fight Back! : How is the boycott against Coca-Cola affecting the work of SINALTRAINAL?

Correa: The boycott, or the campaign against Coca-Cola, has had a positive impact for the union and for the workers of Colombia. First, because the world is learning what is happening in Colombia. Second, the truths of the abuses by Coca-Cola are being revealed. Third, it has put increasing pressure on Coca-Cola. Since 2002, Coca-Cola has not assassinated any of our members. Although other types of aggression continue, this is a major advance. Fourth, the boycott has allowed the continued existence of the union, because there is a strong sense of solidarity around the world with us, the workers of Coca-Cola and SINALTRAINAL. And fifth, we are very hopeful that we will achieve a victory against Coca-Cola in order to obtain truth, justice and compensation [reparations].

Fight Back! : How do the SINALTRAINAL members feel about our solidarity work here in the United States?

Correa: First of all, there is an understanding that the United States government is responsible for the aggressions that we suffer in Colombia. And we see the North American people, who speak out against the policies of the U.S. government and of U.S. corporations, as being very different from the U.S. government. Second, the solidarity work in the U.S. gives us a lot of hope, a lot of strength to keep fighting. Third, we see that we are not alone in this struggle; that equally, we must continue to strengthen solidarity between the people. And in general, the workers and the union are very grateful for your solidarity because, thanks to all the support, even in the middle of such a difficult conflict as in Colombia, it is possible to keep organized and to struggle for change for all of society. It makes us very happy to see how the campaign creates a higher consciousness among many people in the United States and in other countries, and to see how, through this campaign, the truth becomes known about what is happening in our country and how our struggle unites other sectors of the population here – like students, indigenous peoples, the peace and anti-war movement, the women’s movement, peasants and ethnic minorities.

Fight Back! : What do you want us to do here in the U.S. in order to support the struggle of the SINALTRAINAL members?

Correa : One very important task is to help eliminate Coca-Cola contracts in universities and in other institutions. Another is to demand that Coca-Cola resolve the requests for compensation [reparations petitions] that were presented by SINALTRAINAL and require that the U.S. government and corporations like Coca-Cola adopt a policy of respect for human rights. Another possibility is to send delegations to Colombia so that you may verify testimonies directly from the victims and convince Coca-Cola and the United States government that the abuses are real.

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