Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the May 22, 1997 issue of Workers World newspaper
In September 1996 hundreds of thousands of Colombian workers and peasants took to the streets in militant anti- government demonstrations. The armed struggle--led by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People's Army (FARC-EP) and the National Liberation Army (ELN)--is in its strongest position in decades.
Now the army and its death squads are taking their revenge.
On April 15, Ramon Osorio and his 5-year-old son were kidnapped while they were visiting El Poblado neighborhood in the northern province of Ura=A0b. Osorio was the leader of the Sintrainagro banana workers' union and a member of the Colombian Communist Party. The Colombian human-rights Juridical Freedom Association has called for an immediate investigation of the disappearance and demanded that the government protect unionists' and political leaders' rights.
Osorio ran for a leadership position in the October 1996 United Workers Federation union elections. While Communist Party members won the top posts, Osorio was forced to withdraw from the election due to death threats.
Victor Garz=A2n, a peasant leader during the 1996 demonstrations and a Communist Party leader, was assassinated by death squads in March 1997--after the notoriously brutal Colombian army accused him of being a "subversive." Over 1,000 labor and peasant leaders have been murdered in Urab=A0 alone since 1990, according to the New Colombia News Agency. Communist Party and Patriotic Union elected leaders cannot take their council seats for fear of assassination.
On May 3, paramilitary death squads killed some 11 people near the town of Cienaga in Urab=A0.
The death squads, organized by big landowners and army officers, are the paramilitary arm of the Colombian army's war against the mass movement. On May 7, Colombian President Ernesto Samper announced that foreign oil companies would have to contribute to the war effort in the form of security payments. Those costs are over and above the "war tax" Samper imposed on companies and rich individuals in Colombia in 1966.
Colombia receives the biggest U.S. military aid package in Latin America.
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