The Solidarity Center office in BogotÃ¡ has received an unusually large two-year grant of $3 million for its operations in the Andean Region. The scope and dimensions of the grant are not fully known, nor the exact programs to which it will be applied.
However, given the history of the BogotÃ¡ office and the Solidarity CenterÂs Andean representatives, observers expect the grant to have major implications for the countries of Colombia and Venezuela, where the officeÂs work is usually concentrated. The Andean region also covers Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia. The Solidarity Center has offices both in Colombia and Peru.
The grant comes from USAID (the United States Agency for International Development). The office receives notice of this funding at the same time that three key developments are underwayÂin Venezuela, the coming October elections, and in Colombia, the implementation of the new Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the US, coinciding with a massive popular mobilization to demand a political solution to the armed and social conflict.
Little information is available concerning the details of the grant. Because of the documented history of the AFL-CIO intervention in Venezuela through its Solidarity Center, activists must analyze past history and current circumstances in order to be able to discuss intelligently what we may anticipate from these augmented activities.
The Solidarity Center is one of four core institutes of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and a creation of the United StatesÂ largest union center, the AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Unions). Along with the Solidarity Center, the four core institutes of the NED are: the International Republican Institute (associated with the Republican Party), the National Democratic Institute (associated with the Democratic Party), and the International Center for Private Enterprise (associated with the Chambers of Commerce).
The NED was established by the US government in 1983, during the Reagan administration. The NED exists for one reasonÂto manipulate governments, social movements and elections in other countries in order to advance the international policies of the US which, in turn, are designed to accommodate private access to natural resources and increase transnational corporate profits. In an interview with the New York Times in 1991, Allen Weinstein, one of the NEDÂs founders, said that, ÂA lot of what we do today was done covertly by the CIA.Â
Marc Plattner, an NED Vice President, explains the role of the organization in the context of the Imperial strategy that brings together in one fabric the threads of politics, business and the military: ÂLiberal democracy clearly favors the economic arrangements that foster globalization Â .The international order that sustains globalization is underpinned by American military predominance.Â
The Solidarity Center receives over 90% of its funding from the public coffers by means of the Department of State, USAID and the NED. Union contributions are typically around two to three percent. Thus, the Solidarity Center has little to do with union locals and rank and file unionists, although it has the full cooperation of the highest officials of the AFL-CIO. Local unions have no input or say in the establishment of international relations or program development.
The Solidarity Center has some good and helpful programs and some that are at least more or less benign. But these good programs can act to hide a more fundamental purpose to infiltrate and influence the labor movements of other countries and to provide a channel of interference in their electoral processes.
The NEDÂs first ÂsuccessÂ in Latin America was the defeat of Daniel Ortega, the Sandinista candidate for President, in the Nicaraguan elections of 1990. The US government, via the NED and other channels, spent more than $20 per voter and effectively bought the victory for Violeta Chamorra, its favored candidate. The US spent more per Nicaraguan voter in 1990 than both parties did in the US presidential elections in 1988. It is notable that at the time, Nicaragua sustained a population of only 3 million persons.
Haiti provides another example of how the Solidarity Center operates. in 2004, the Solidarity CenterÂs partner, the International Republican Institute, not only funded, but convened and trained the coup plotters against the elected government of Pres. Bertrand Aristide. During 2004 and 2005, beginning before the coup and extending into the months afterward there was a bloodbath against the supporters of Aristide that included among its victims members of the Confederation of Haitian Workers (CTH).
Rather than helping this most targeted union, the Solidarity Center channeled hundreds of thousands of dollars to a small labor organization that before and during the coup did nothing to defend the elected government and, in fact, called for Pres. Aristide to step down.
Years later, by 2009, when the CTH changed its positions and approved a proposal for factories that paid half the minimum wage established by the Aristide administration, the Solidarity Center began to fund the CTH with grants of more than $200,000. With such funding, the CTH also changed its electoral associations and participated in the Preval administration electoral council that excluded the participation of Lavalas, AristideÂs party, in the elections despite it being HaitiÂs largest political party..
More pertinent to our discussion is the history of interference in Venezuela by the Solidarity CenterÂs Caracas office. Like the BogotÃ¡ office today, it was managed by Rhett Doumitt who during and before the 2002 coup attempt helped channel funds to Carlos Ortega and the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV), a union confederation that had an anti-democratic and corrupt reputation.
In his case study of Solidarity Center groundwork for the 2002 coup against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Purdue University North Central sociologist and long-time labor activist Kim Scipes tells us that,
Â according to a January-March 2002 quarterly report from the Solidarity Center to NED that was discoveredÂ by journalists Jeremy Bigwood and Eva GolingerÂ Solidarity Center staff members were involved in a series of meetings that were designed to bring together leaders of the CTV and FEDECAMARAS (the national business confederation). These meetings, six in all, took place around the country and culminated in a national meeting on March 5, 2002. At that meeting, the CTV and FEDECAMARASÂ were anointed Âflagship organizationsÂ in the struggle against President ChavezÂ .Barely more than 30 days after the March 5 conference, the CTV and FEDECAMARAS launched a national general strike on April 9th to protest the firing of oil company management on April 7th, and the events leading to the coup attemptÂin which CTV and FEDECAMARAS played central rolesÂbegan. On April 11th, a massive march and demonstration was held to support the union. ÂAbout midday on April 11th, speakers at the opposition rally, including Carmona and Ortega, began calling for supporters to march on the Presidential Palace, Miraflores, to demand ChavezÂs resignationÂ (Golinger, 2005: 96).
Around the same time, US unionists began a movement to demand that the Solidarity Center open its books concerning its activities past, present and future in order to ensure its transparency and begin the process of ending its financial dependency on the US government. They urged the Solidarity Center to turn over funding and direction to legitimate union organizations, assuring maximum participation of the AFL-CIOÂs grassroots base.
The situation converted into one in which it became very difficult for the NED and USAID to channel their support directly to their Venezuelan beneficiaries, especially via labor institutions. In response, they developed a complicated shell game, including, shortly before the coup, the transfer to BogotÃ¡ of the Caracas officeÂs operations, with funding intended for programs in Venezuela diverted into regional grants, and thus not listed specifically for Venezuela.
For example, in 2010, the Solidarity Center received $400,000 from the NED, ÂTo support unions in Colombia and Venezuela in their defense of fundamental worker rightsÂ
.Â To many observers of the world labor movement, it seemed a rare combination because the struggles in Venezuela, where union representation continues to grow and function without an atmosphere of threats of violence, are very different than those of Colombia, where labor representation is even lower than in countries where it is illegal to belong to a union, and where, every year, the number of murders of unionists is the highest in the world.
But from another perspective, for the US/Corporate EmpireÂs goals, there are many reasons to deal with Venezuela and Colombia together. With their natural resources, significant populations, historic and strong Left movements and with their geopolitical positions, the two countries have a great influence on political and labor development in the Americas.
Presently, the two countries are in circumstances that are very particular and the cause of much concern on the part of US government officials. Especially with VenezuelaÂs upcoming elections and speculations about the health of Pres. ChÃ¡vez (usually by non-medical personnel who know nothing about such matters), the US/Corporate Empire is sure to be looking at any and all opportunities to derail the Bolivarian Revolution.
Meanwhile, in Colombia what they want to derail is the massive mobilization of unionists, students, rural populations, indigenous, Afro-Colombians and the political opposition to the status quo. Those groups demand land reform, social investment, and an open and safe political process. They call for a negotiated political solution to the armed, social and political conflict. In other words, they want an end to neoliberal economics that favor transnational corporations over communities and the needs of people. Â On the other hand, The US/Corporate Empire historically takes the road of interference in and manipulation of the labor movement to maintain political stability and maximize its control and profitability.
In my last visit to Colombia in April, 2012, I had different occasions to talk with Colombian and Venezuelan unionists. (I was part of a contingent of international guests to attend the formation of the Patriotic March political movement.) I heard anecdotes concerning the presence of Venezuelan unionists with connections to the Solidarity Center who were helping train Colombian workers in some technical matters. At least one such training included members of the CUT (Unitary Workers Center), by far the largest union confederation in Colombia.Â
The union official who told me about the training said that at one point the Venezuelan unionists began to talk about political matters, and their lines were Âvery conservative and right-wing.Â[Although the Solidarity Center has some relations with the CUT, it is much more closely connected to the two more conservative federations, the CTC (Confederation of Colombian Workers), historically linked with both the Liberal and Conservative Parties and the smallest of the federations, and the CGT (General Confederation of Work), which was part of the former World Labor Confederation, associated with international Christian Democratic political parties .]
The website of the Solidarity Center has no special section for its activities in Venezuela, and to look at it, one might think there are no programs there. But it is well known through other sources that they do have ongoing programs although they operate in the shadows, beneath public scrutiny. Although it is not a very dramatic example, in the already mentioned anecdote, we can see some clues concerning the nature of the activities supported by the Solidarity Center. We can see an example of the continuation of activities in Venezuela, that the work in Venezuela and Colombia is linked by the BogotÃ¡ office, and that formally or informally, the most basic trainings can provide a space for dissemination of right wing ideas.
We know more about the Solidarity CenterÂs record with respect to Colombia. However, it is a situation a little confusing and mixed. While the members of the AFL-CIO, especially among its base, have a history of solidarity in defending labor rights in Colombia, and while they sustained a significant struggle to defeat the FTA with Colombia, the record of the Solidarity Center and AFL-CIO leadership is not so clear.
In 2008, the leaders of the AFL-CIO were united in opposition to the FTA with Colombia. Then-President John Sweeney said on April 7, 2008, that, ÂThe AFL-CIO stands in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Colombia in opposition to violence against trade unionistsÂ .The AFL-CIO is strongly opposed to the Colombia FTA and will mobilize with all of our might to defeat it.Â And this commitment continued up through the recent struggle against the FTA which, unfortunately, was approved by the US Congress on October 12, 2011. But even the day before the FTA passed, the AFL-CIO had sent a letter to the members of Congress that declared, ÂThe AFL-CIO remains firmly opposed to the Colombia FTA.Â
We must remember that the Solidarity Center fundamentally represents the international interests and policies of the US Department of State, not this countryÂs unionists. It is important to recognize that in 2008, the attitude of the US union leaders toward the FTA with Colombia was united in opposing it.
But in July, 2008, Rhett Doumitt of the BogotÃ¡ office and Samantha Tate (the Solidarity CenterÂs current Coordinator for the Country Programs of the Southern Andean Region, with responsibility for its programs in Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador) organized a delegation of six AFL-CIO leaders to Colombia. At that time, Tate was just finishing a 2004-2008 stint as a Senior Program Officer for the Solidarity CenterÂs Americas Department. While in that program she had been involved in the development of the Solidarity CenterÂs efforts in HaitiÂa period that included the coup and violent aftermath that destroyed HaitiÂs popularly elected government.
During the delegation, in place of strategizing for the struggle to defeat the FTA, Doumitt and Tate advocated for making it better. In a report by Mike Williams, President of the AFL-CIO for the State of Florida, he wrote that,
The next meeting was held at the national headquarters of the three major unions in ColombiaÂ .They look to American Labor for assistance in ensuring the Free Trade Act resolves such issues as privatization (co-ops), laws prohibiting collective bargaining, threats of violence and murders of labor activists, kidnapping, paramilitary intimidation and criminal impunity.
This seems strange to me because I also visited Colombia in 2008. In October I met with leaders and members of different unions affiliated with the CUT, and especially spent time with members of the national directorate of FENSUAGRO (National Federation of Unitary Agricultural Unions), the countryÂs largest organization of peasant unions and associations. I was witness to a general strike in BogotÃ¡, including a labor march with more than 50,000 participants. Without exception, every unionist I talked with urged me to go back to the US and work to defeat the FTA. There were far more placards and banners calling for the defeat of the FTA than any other single demand. Absolutely no one suggested to me that I return to advocate for reforms ÂÂ ensuring the Free Trade Act resolvesÂ issues.Â
However, the reformist position of the Solidarity Center toward the FTA with Colombia does not seem so strange given information that has come to light via the Wikileaks revelations. Cables from the US Embassy in BogotÃ¡ show a history of meetings and information sharing that included the participation of Doumitt and the BogotÃ¡ office. These show an ongoing conversation aimed at explicitly working to foster the emergence of a pro-FTA contingent within Colombian labor unions while at the same time seeking to undermine not only Leftist tendencies and leadership in the labor movement, but all manner of political struggle by Colombian unions
A February 26, 2008 cable titled ÂCOLOMBIAÂS PRO-TPA UNIONS TO FORM THEIR OWN LABOR CENTRALÂ shows us that,
On February 14, representatives from over 60 unions who support the US-Colombia Trade Promotion ACT (TPA) [the official name for what is commonly referred to as the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement] proposed forming a new labor group (central)Â .They plan to lobby for permanent access to U.S. marketsÂ .Some recently traveled to Washington to lobby in support of the TPAÂ .
CUT President Carlos Rodriguez issued a statement threatening to expel member unions that defied the confederation leadershipÂs authority. CTC President Apecides Alvis said his confederation has no plans to meet with pro-TPA union leaders. CGT President Julio Roberto Gomez took a more moderate stance, saying the CGT would meet with its pro-TPA member unions to discuss what would be best for organized labor as a wholeÂ
.Rhett Doumitt of the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center agreed that forming a ÂlooserÂ central of federations, unions, and individual workers would exempt organizers from incorporation rules required of a confederation.
In an August 11, 2008 cable titled COLOMBIAN UNIONS, IDEOLOGY, AND THE ARMED CONFLICT, it seems that talk of creating a new labor central had subsided in favor of an effort to merge the three main labor federations. This effort was being pursued largely via the urging of the Labor Conferation of the Americas (CSA-ConfederaciÃ³n Sindical de las AmÃ©ricas), presided over by the AFL-CIOÂs Linda Chavez-Thompson, with the CGTÂs Gomez serving as Vice President.
According to the cable, labor advocacy groups complain that ColombiaÂs three main confederations focus too much on politics, hindering efforts to improve wages and worker conditionsÂ
.complained of a ÂStalinistÂ approach taken by Communist and other hard-left labor leaders within the CUTÂ
.Doumitt complains that the politics of the labor movement in Colombia impede positive, practical advances on labor issues. In the April 22 monthly Âlabor dialogueÂ meeting with President Uribe, the confederations focused discussions on the investigations of the Colombian congressmen associated with the parapolitical scandal. CGT (ConfederaciÃ³n General de Trabajadores DemocrÃ¡ticos) International Relations Secretary Jose Leon Ramirez notes there was no discussion of labor issues at the meeting.
The fact is that, given the number of anti-union murders committed by paramilitaries in 2008, discussing Âthe parapolitical scandalÂ was very much a labor issue. The CGTÂs claim that Âthere was no discussion of labor issuesÂ shows how out of step it is with the rest of the countryÂs labor movement. And apparently Doumitt agrees. According to labor journalist Alberto RuÃz,
Â in another cable dated September 5, 2008, Doumitt seems to side with the Colombian government in terms of the debate over the figures of unionists killed in Colombia. Thus, the cable states:
RHETT DOUMITT of the AFL-CIO affiliated Solidarity Center told us paramilitary violence against unionists subsided after the last paramilitary block demobilized in 2006. Recent murders of unionists are largely related to common crimeÂ .
The year this cable was sent, 2008, there were 52 unionists killed in Colombia, more than in all the other nations of the world combined. But for the BogotÃ¡ office of the Solidarity Center, these were mostly nothing more than Âcommon crimesÂ.
Returning to the August 11, 2008 cable, we read that,
The CGTÂ identifies less clearly with the opposition to the GOC [Government of Colombia]. CGT Secretary General Julio Roberto Gomez tells us their membership consists of 50% Polo Democratico and 50% UribistasÂ .He was recently selected to be the Assistant President of the new Labor Confederation of the Americas (CSA). Linda Chavez-Thompson of the AFL-CIO is CSA PresidentÂ .Gomez tells us he is not Âpart of the clubÂ that blames Uribe for everythingÂ He tells us a ÂracketÂ has developed around the violence against unionistsÂ to garner more international fundingÂ .CUT lawyer and consultant Carlos Rodriguez Mejilla notes the three national labor confederations face pressure from the CSA to merge nationally within the next two yearsÂ .Solidarity Center and the confederations say this will not happen anytime soon due to their leadersÂ rival personal, political, and financial interests.
Lacking the numbers to foster the creation of a new labor confederation in favor of the FTA, the Embassy, Solidarity Center and Colombian collaborators had jettisoned that tactic in favor of the creation of a new ÂcentralÂ. Lacking the ability to even see that through, it appears their tactics shifted to applying pressure for a merger of the three labor confederations. Since the CUT is many times larger than either the CTC or the CGT, a merger would be one of the best available strategies by which to dampen the Leftist influence of the Colombian labor movement. Yet, as even Doumitt pragmatically predicted, that effort has also failed.
Hedging their bets, the Solidarity Center also developed a strategy of working closely to support the activities of both the CTC and, especially, the CGT. The CTC, it is true ,has a history of opposition to the FTA, despite its connections with ColombiaÂs two main traditional parties. However, it has not mobilized to defeat the FTA with the same level of activity seen within the CUT, and it has also on occasion cooperated with more reformist efforts.
Labor Activist, Fred Hirsch maintains that what relations the Solidarity Center has with the CUT are being used to work from within the Federation to diminish its influence and subvert its political advocacy. Hirsch is a United States-er with many years as a unionist, including his position as the ÂgrandfatherÂ of the movement to change how the AFL-CIO conducts its international relations. In 1974, he was the first unionist who wrote publicly about the role of the AFL-CIO in supporting the coup in Chile in 1973. And in 2002, he and his co-workers of the South Bay Labor Council wrote the ÂUnity and Trust Among Workers WorldwideÂ resolution with the objective ending the dependency of the Solidarity Center on the US government. The resolution also called for the Solidarity Center to open its books regarding its activities. In 2004 that resolution was passed unanimously in the California Labor Federation, representing one out of six AFL-CIO members nationwide. The resolution was defeated in the 2005 national convention, victim of a manipulated process that delayed the vote until most delegates had gone home and that did not even permit discussion in the resolutionÂs favor.
According to Hirsch, in 2002 I interviewed, on camera, Domingo Rafael Tovar Arrieta one of the top officers of the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (CUT)Â
.He told me that the Solidarity Center had been working within the CUT to divide it and steer it in a rightward direction.
Another difference between the CTC and the CGT from the CUT is that, among unionists, it has overwhelmingly been unions of the CUT and their members that have called for a negotiated political solution to the armed and social conflicts in Colombia. The US position is to reject negotiations and a legitimate peace process and to take only the path of a military solution. Thus, the silence of the CTC and CGT sets very well with policies promoted by the US Department of State by means of the Solidarity Center. We can see well the Solidarity CenterÂs preferences toward the three confederations with a glance at their websites. At the bottom of the pages of the CTC and CGT are tags announcing that their sites are funded by grants from USAID. Such an announcement is absent from the CUT page.
The main theme of the August 11, 2008 cable was the attitude of Colombian unions toward the armed conflict. Throughout the cable, the CUT and Left-leaning members of the other labor federations are accused of being Âanti-capitalistÂ
and ambiguous if not sympathetic to the leftist armed struggle.Â
I have met with a wide array of Colombian unionists as well as with members of the Colombian Communist Party, the Left tendency of the Liberal Party and the Center-Left coalition Democratic Pole Party (Polo DemocrÃ¡tico). The Communist Party officially broke with the armed struggle in Colombia in 1993 and the Democratic Pole has never endorsed it. CUT leaders who also happen to be members of the Communist, Liberal and/or Democratic Pole Parties are not renegades from their parties but, rather, disciplined persons who uphold Party principles. They are not guerrillas, but unionists working for better wages and better working conditions and, more, a positive transformation of Colombian society. They do not, however, parrot Colombian and US government lines that demonize and dismiss guerrillas as ÂterroristsÂ, thus divorcing them from the real conditions that have lead to the formation of guerrilla groups. Whether their tactics are correct or not, guerrilla groups such as the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) exist in response to state and transnational corporate sponsored terrorism that has left hundreds of thousands dead and has displaced as many as 5 million mostly rural Colombians.
Furthermore, studies by both ColombiaÂs Attorney General and the National Labor School report that the number one reason that Colombian unionists are killed is because they are perceived by paramilitaries and military personnel as being guerrillas or guerrilla sympathizers. So when US Embassy and Solidarity Center personnel and collaborationist union leaders accuse Left unionists of being ÂambiguousÂ or ÂsympatheticÂ to guerrillas, these false allegations add to the atmosphere of terror and violence under which Colombian unionists and activists must live on a daily basis.
In my job working for the Alliance for Global Justice I receive an almost endless stream of alerts regarding unionists, political prisoners, students, farmers and human rights defenders being threatened and, all too often, killed because of these accusations. I have gone to Colombia and met personally with persons so threatened, and with their family members. IÂve read about unionists like Israel Verona, of the Arauca Campesino Association. He was arrested because of alleged links with the guerrillas. Like thousands of other persons so accused, he was eventually absolved and let out of jail because there was no evidence against him. Within weeks after he won his freedom, he was gunned down by paramilitary thugs.
I have also accompanied rural union members in peaceful meetings that were suddenly surrounded by members of the Colombian military. Their excuse was that they were searching for guerrillas. But when pressed regarding who they were looking for, they could provide no names or descriptions.
FENSUAGRO is one of the CUT organizations most affected by anti-union violence.. Its leaders and membership have suffered a high level of assassinations, disappearances and displacement due to military and paramilitary threats. In its 33 years of existence, according a study conducted by Liliany Obando, a labor activist, independent journalist and sociologist, more than 1,500 FENSUAGRO members have been assassinated. At the time of her study, Obando was serving as the Human Rights Coordinator for FENSUAGRO. She was arrested for the ÂcrimeÂ of Rebellion before her report could be completed and published. She was held in jail for 3 1/2 years before being released.
For FENSUAGRO, international solidarity is a matter of security and survival. However, at the same time in 2009 that FENSUAGRO signed an agreement establishing an official relationship with Unite the Union of the United Kingdom, Doumitt intervened directly to dissuade similar relationships with US unions, accusing FENSUAGRO of being too far to the Left. Even until this day, despite the many threats and attacks against its members, US unions have no solidarity projects with FENSUAGRO.
But it could be possible that the Solidarity Center and, more, the leadership of the AFL-CIO does not want to see Colombian reality as it truly is. In Colombia, 70 to 80% of political violence is committed by the Armed Forces and paramilitary groups. In Colombia, every year there are still more unionists killed than in any other country in the world. And in Colombia, there is a great popular mobilization throughout the country that demands a legitimate process toward a just and durable peace.
Given this reality, the collusion of the Solidarity Center in denying the depths of anti-union violence is all the more shameful. During the administration of Pres. Uribe, there were examples in which the leadership of the AFL-CIO and the Solidarity Center castigated some US union leaders for speaking out about the ÂparapoliticalÂ scandal (which has implicated some of the most powerful and well-known Colombian politicians of links with the paramilitaries). With so many unionists victims of paramilitary violenceÂfamous cases such as the murders of union leaders by thugs paid for their services by transnational corporations such as Drummond Coal, Coca-Cola and Chiquita BananaÂit is clear that the AFL-CIO and the Solidarity Center are not serving the interests of Colombian workers.
With the present-day Obama administration, we are witnesses to a growing reticence on the part of the AFL-CIO leadership to even use the term ÂparamilitaryÂ, preferring to speak of Âarmed actorsÂ or Âextra-judicial groupsÂ. In all probability, this reflects a profound conflict on the part of the AFL-CIO. On one hand, AFL-CIO members have mostly opposed FTAs, especially with Colombia. But on the other, AFL-CIO leaderships is completely tied to the Democratic Party and, thus, the Obama administration. While it opposed the FTA, it did not want to embarrass Obama right before his reelection campaign.
However, ObamaÂs dominant policies toward Colombia have been to consolidate and augment transnational corporate access to the countryÂs natural resources. The FTA is part of this, and also the commitment to military engagement and dominance. Corporations and big land owners do not want peace because with a sustainable and just peace would come land reform. And the Obama administration has gotten approval of the FTA by repeating the myths of greatly improved human and labor rights and, more, that the government has control over its territory and is winningÂnot negotiatingÂan end to the war. But the resilience of the guerrillas continues, and the attacks and threats of the paramilitaries continue as well.
In 2011, 29 unionists were assassinated and the number of attacks and threats against human rights defenders is the highest in 10 years. In fact, in the past year, more persons died in war-related violence in Colombia than in Afghanistan. And while I write this article, I have just been informed of the discovery on June 13 of more than 180 mass graves of paramilitary victims. If the AFL-CIO wants to help Colombian unions, it needs to call in a loud voice for the government and the Obama administration to recognize the ongoing violence against the Colombian labor movement, and it needs to express its support for a negotiated political solution and a change in US policies toward Colombia.
In April, 2012, the Patriotic March and Patriotic Council were constituted as a Left political mobilization for human and labor rights, land reform, open and secure participation in the political system and, above all, a political solution to the armed conflict. Since this event, there have already been two assassinations and one disappearance of Patriotic March participants, including Henry DÃaz, a FENSUAGRO union leader from Putumayo. Likewise, there has been an increase in threats against members and leaders of the Patriotic March, including pointed threats against FENSUAGRO and other unions. Yet faced with this reality, the voices of the AFL-CIO and the Solidarity Center remain silent. This is the kind of silence that constitutes complicity.
Meanwhile, across the border, in Venezuela, the nation prepares for an election that most its citizens hope will be free from foreign interference, including support for coup plots should the candidates favored by the US not make significant gains.
What is hidden in this damaging and secretive shell game and what will be supported by the $3 million USAID funding for Solidarity Center activities in Venezuela and Colombia? As long as the Solidarity Center operates in the shadows, we may not be able to know exact details. However, it is very possible for us to predict the nature of these activities.
The US/Corporate Empire sees in Venezuela and Colombia a double-sided door that opens up all of South America and, indeed, Latin America. Influencing and manipulating labor movements and organizations is a very important tactic. Yes, the needs and struggles of the Colombian and Venezuelan labor movements are very different from each other. But what matters to the Solidarity Center and its State Department patrons is that, together, these movements are keys that they would use to open this door , unlocking a new period of recolonization and unobstructed corporate profits.
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