Fighting for basic rights

IssueNovember 2005
Feature by Josh/Justice for Colombia

On 12 October people gathered outside the Colombian embassy in London to protest in support of the strike in Colombia.

The General Secretary of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), Jeremy Dear, as well as other senior trade unionists and representatives of Justice for Colombia, handed a letter to the acting Colombian Ambassador Cesar Castro to demand that the rights of peaceful protesters in Colombia on the day of the strike be respected and that the security forces not use unjustifiable force as they have done in the past. Unfortunately - as the following report shows - this obviously did not happen.

The issues

The strike had been called several weeks before to highlight the following issues:

  • The continuing repression against Colombian trade unions and other sectors of civil society that oppose the current Colombian regime - already this year 40 Colombian trade unionists have been assassinated;
  • The efforts of authoritarian President Alvaro Uribe Velez to change the Colombian Constitution to allow him to stand for a further term;
  • The continued negotiation of a free trade agreement between Colombia and the USA which the Colombian unions argue will lead to an increase in unemployment and poverty in Colombia.


Responding to concerns from the international community the Colombian authorities had given assurances that they would respect the right of the Colombian people to participate in the strike and that they would not interfere in any of the events planned. This has not been the case and it is important that the Colombian regime knows that the international community has not been deceived.

You can send a message of protest concerning the cases below to the Colombian President Alvaro Uribe Velez. See the end of this article for details.

Regional roundup

Antioquia Department At least one participant in the General Strike, Carlos Eduardo Arroyave, who was marching in the city of Medellin was detained and taken away by the police.

Arauca Department

Due to combat with the leftwing FARC guerrilla insurgency, the Army declared a “State of Siege” in the entire department of Arauca meaning that people were not allowed to leave their homes and the strike and planned marches could not take place at all.


The evening before the strike four student activists at the National University (Laureano Hernandez, Sergio Latorre, Daniel Garzon and Yanith Quientero) who were involved in mobilising participation in the strike, were detained just outside of the university and taken away, their current whereabouts are unknown. The same day, the university was occupied by ESMAD riot police and it remained closed the following day. At 5.30am on the morning of the strike four other youth activists (Yuri Jimenez, Camilo Arango, Manuel Arango and Elkin Mas) were arrested and taken away by the police in the neighbourhood of Bosa.

In the Samaritana Hospital 400 trade union members who worked in the hospital gathered to join the main march through central Bogota' but found that the Army and Police had surrounded the hospital and would not let people in or out.

Cauca Department

As people began assembling for the various marches in Cauca at 10.30am the regional Governor announced that any type of march or manifestation in the region was prohibited. Peasant farmers and indigenous people from the areas of Jambalo, Toribio and Caldono marching on the Pan American Highway near the municipalities of Miranda and Corinto, were subsequently attacked by the police and army (the “Pichincha” and “Codazzi” Battalions) who prevented them from exercising their right to protest. During this harassment Belisario Conte, a peasant from the village of Guabito, was shot in the arm by soldiers.

Later that day, near the village of Quisgo in the region of Silvia, riot police fired tear gas at extremely close range at a large group of indigenous people who were attempting to participate in the strike. Three of them were seriously injuring and hospitalised.

Huila Department

On the evening before the strike, some 1,500 rural workers were detained by the army in a region known as “Guacimo” as they travelled towards the departmental capital Neiva to join the main regional protest march.

Among those detained were Jacob Conde Gutierrez (leader of the regional coffee workers union and member of the regional executive of the agricultural workers union FENSUAGRO), Yeison Calderon and Octavio de Jesus Londono (both local community leaders).

Risaralda Department

In the departmental capital Pereira, Jonatan Giraldo and Gerardo Pantoja, two leaders of the student union in the city, were both detained by the police.

Santander Department

Jairo Mendez, an activist with the transport workers' union, was detained and taken away by the police in the departmental capital Bucaramanga. The regional coordinator of the Committee for Political Prisoners (Colombia's oldest human rights NGO), Principe Gabriel Gonzalez Arango, was followed by six unknown individuals with two-way radios on motorcycles. Another regional human rights activist who help\ed organise the strike, Jacqueline Hernandez, was also followed by two unknown individuals on a motorcycle.

Sucre Department

The peaceful demonstration of rural workers, students and trade unionists was filmed and photographed by military intelligence - focusing particularly on student union leaders. ESMAD riot police also arbitrarily arrested secondary school student Gustavo Cutua, who was later released due to pressure from regional human rights organisations.

The day before the strike the security forces closed Sucre University and it remained shut for the day of the strike.

Tolima Department

For the two-weeks leading up to the General Strike local Army units in Tolima had been intimidating people and telling them not to participate.

The day before the strike soldiers of the 68th Mobile Brigade led by a Lieutenant Freyder, told people making their way to the departmental capital that they considered those who participated in the strike to be working for the insurgency - thus putting all of their lives in grave danger.

On the evening before the strike 30 organisers of the rural worker's march in Tolima (most of them members of the agricultural workers union FENSUAGRO) were detained in the region of Chaparral by the Army as they led a large number of people to participate in the strike: 24 of them were subsequently released although Walter Hernandez Quintero, Alter Hernandez Quintero, Emiliano Ramirez Ortega, Joaquin Hernando Ramos Monroy, Ferney Guzman Baquiro, Jhon Jairo Carrisosa and Pedro Fernando Morales, all of them members of the union, were taken away by the army. On the Mariquita Ibague highway, also in Tolima, the army and police blocked the route of one of the marches forcing participants to abandon it.