123 Colombian ‘Social Leaders’ Killed Between Jan 1 And July 4!


THE MURDER of teacher José Domingo Ulcué Collazos in the Colombian department of Cauca on 22nd October has been condemned by teachers’ union FECODE, which has demanded the government investigates the case and prosecutes those responsible.

Cauca Department is a Department of Colombia located in the southwestern part of the country, facing the Pacific Ocean to the west. Jose Domingo Ulcue Collazos was on his motorcycle when he was shot.

The indigenous teacher was killed on that Monday night in the town of Santander de Quilichao in the department of Cauca, Colombia. His death makes him the 173rd social leader killed in Latin America in 2018.

Social organisations reported that the killing occurred between 4.30pm and 8pm local time while Ulcue was commuting on his motorcycle. The suspects shot Ulcue in the chest, he was later transported to the Francisco de Paula Santander hospital, where he died.

Ulcue was a teacher at the Benjamin Dindicue school where he lectured on, among other subjects, ethics and values. Agencies and activists have pressed the government for the need to fight impunity, and a similar sentiment has been expressed by citizens online.

This makes 173 killings this year. And since January 1, 2016, when the Colombian government and the former guerrillas of FARC agreed to halt hostilities, 478 social leaders have been killed.

According to a report published in July, titled ‘All The Names, All The Faces’, at least 123 Colombian social leaders were murdered between January 1 and July 4 this year.

About 80 per cent of the people assassinated were members of Campesino or indigenous organisations.

About 13 per cent had some connection to coca cultivation, particularly those working in crop substitution or protesting against forced eradication by the state. Almost 15 per cent of the victims were women. Over 30 were connected to the Revolutionary Alternative Force of The Commons (FARC), and many were affiliated to Marcha Patriotica, or Colombia Humana, which is Gustavo Petro’s party.

The organisations behind the report include the Political and Social Coordination of the Marcha Patriotica; the Agrarian, Campesina, Ethnic and Popular Summit (Cacep), and the Institute of Peace and Development Studies (Indepaz).

The report highlights the following patterns: illegal surveillance by state intelligence agencies; unfounded criminalisation through the penal justice system; extrajudicial killings by state forces; executions by paramilitary groups acting with the acquiescence of the state, and the use of excessive force by Colombia’s Mobile Anti-Disturbances Squadron, commonly known as Esmad.

A total of 173 social leaders have been murdered so far this year, 31 of them killed since Iván Duque won the Colombian presidency in August. As reported to authorities by the Asociación de Institutores y Trabajadores de la Educación del Cauca (ASOINCA), on 22 October, a member of FECODE, José Domingo Ulcué, was held and executed by armed men while on his way home.

He worked as an ethics and agriculture teacher in the Munchique Los Tigres indigenous reserve. Ulcué worked at a school named after Benjamin Dindicué, an indigenous leader who, in 1979, was killed at his home in front of his wife and children after having received many threats.

This latest assassination has prompted a reaction from the Colombian Federation of Education Workers, FECODE, a member of Education International (EI). In a letter signed by Nelson J. Alarcón Suárez, president of FECODE, the union demands that an official investigation be launched in order to determine the facts.

In their communiqué, FECODE decries the attack as taking place in a political context of violence and insecurity: the statement references a ‘criminal wave of threats, forced displacement and murder of teachers and social leaders throughout the nation’.

The union is also urging authorities to adopt measures to protect and uphold civilians’ right to life and safe participation in all teaching and union activities. Education International has also condemned the murder of Ulcué and joins FECODE in demanding that authorities open an investigation.

‘In accordance with ILO Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, the government has the duty to guarantee safety, life and free exercise of rights for indigenous teachers, community leaders and their families,’ declared Haldis Holst, EI Deputy General Secretary and the officer responsible for EI’s work in the areas of human and trade union rights.

‘The facts must be thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators duly punished in accordance with the law.’ The police launched an investigation into the events surrounding the grassroots leader’s abduction and subsequent murder.

• FECODE announced last Wednesday that they will also go on strike, in the context of nationwide protests led by public university students, professors, and directors who are demanding an increase in their budget.

‘To our students, tomorrow we will define the start of the teachers’ strike. Tomorrow there will be class as usual. Once the National Board defines the date and characteristics we will inform you,’ FECODE said. FECODE’s announcement was a measure against Bill 057 discussed in Congress, which according to the education union would reduce the budget for public schools, especially in rural areas. 

‘The way the transfers are stipulated there they will jeopardise territorial entities, like education secretariats … and their programmes,’ Alexander Gomez, a union leader argued. It would ‘affect labour rights, pensions, and services to which teachers are entitled,’ Nelson Alarcon, head of FECODE said.

Shortly after the announcement, FECODE celebrated Congress’ withdrawal of the bill.

‘The announcement of the Fecode’s national strike achieved the withdrawal of Bill 057 in Congress,’ their official Twitter account stated. This will not mean a suspension of the strike. ‘Education still needs resources,’ FECODE said.

‘We ratify our commitment and call on the country’s teachers to continue the fight to prepare the mobilisations and strikes that will be summoned because the fulfilment of the agreements signed last year is still pending,’ Alarcon said.

Teachers are also demanding the fulfilment of the agreements signed between the state and the union on June 16, 2017. According to the federation, only eight of the commitments have been met. The others, including an increase in the education budget, elimination of pay gaps, and improvements in their health services and the national fund for social services have not been addressed.

They have also demanded better security measures for teachers in rural areas who are facing threats and attacks by paramilitary forces. This would be the fifth strike by public educators this year alone. Three took place during the government of Juan Manuel Santos and this would be the second during the government of Ivan Duque.

• Workers at Tenaris TuboCaribe in Colombia are holding a series of demonstrations against the company’s violations of their fundamental rights, and its dismissal and sanctioning of union leaders. Trade unions Sintratucar, Sinaltrametal and Sinaltratenaris held a demonstration on 19 October and will take further action every Friday, as TuboCaribe, which is owned by steel multinational Tenaris, has refused to negotiate with them over their list of demands.

Workers are also protesting against the lack of pay rises in 2017 and 2018, the violations of their right to freedom of association, and the threats made against union leaders. In addition, they are calling for dismissed union members to be given their jobs back and for the company to withdraw its demands for union protection to be rescinded.

What’s more, the company’s head of human resources and its industrial relations manager have held meetings with non-union workers on the factory floor in which they gave the workers false information and distorted the truth. They told the workers that the company had not increased their wages because the trade unions didn’t want it to, and union members have received anonymous death threats as a result.