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An overflow crowd of about 100 global justice activists attended CoDevelopment Canada’s annual general meeting in Vancouver on Sept. 17 to hear National President Paul Moist discuss the Canada-Colombia free trade deal.

News of CUPE’s $100,000 donation for the “CUPE – CoDev Fund to Support Public Services” was met with a round of applause. Rhonda Spence, outgoing president, reported that the fund will support specific campaigns to promote, encourage and protect public services globally.

CUPE’s generous support will give our southern partners an extra boost in their struggles to keep much needed services in public hands,” Spence said.

Moist said that CUPE is very proud of CoDev’s track record and thanked the board, staff and members for their work.

CoDev’s Carol Wood reported on hurricane relief for Cuba. CUPE BC has donated $10,000 and the B.C. Teachers Federation has proposed a donation. Other donations continue to come in. The money goes to Cuban partners – National Union of Public Sector Workers (SNTAP) and National Union of Education, Science and Sports Workers (SNTECD).

Moist and BC Government Employees’ Union past president George Heyman gave a moving presentation on the July 2008 public sector labour leaders tour to Colombia. The presentation focused on the free trade agreement with Colombia, with both leaders stressing that country’s appalling record of rights abuses, including the regular murder of trade union activists.

Moist talked about what he called the ‘obliteration’ of collective and trade union rights in Colombia. He painted a stark picture of millions of displaced people and a growing gap between rich and poor.

Those who speak out are immediately targeted an often become victims of assassination. Despite the oppression, indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities and trade union activists continue to work together in defense of their rights.

Moist has committed CUPE to conduct corporate research to expose Canadian mining interests that will profit from the suffering of the Colombian people. And CUPE will seek to work with First Nations in Canada to build support for indigenous peoples’ struggles in Colombia.

Both Moist and Heyman spoke of the courage of ordinary Colombians and the need for the Canadian labour movement to redouble its efforts to raise awareness with our members and the public and to put pressure on government to end its complicity by cancel the free trade agreement.