Berenice Celeita, leader of CUPE’s partner in Colombia, NOMADESC (Association for Research and Social Action), attended the CUPE BC convention in April. She sat down for an interview with CUPE just months before the right-wing government of President Iván Duque Marquéz was elected to power. The situation facing social movement activists was dire at the time. The election of Duque makes the situation worse – and the need for solidarity even more urgent.
This is a condensed version of a conversation between Berenice and CUPE Communications Representative Dan Gawthrop. Steve Stewart of CoDevelopment Canada provided simultaneous translation. Read the full interview here.
DG: One of the most alarming stories is the targeting of trade union leaders for assassination. Has the situation changed?
BC: No, unfortunately—though the targets have changed to an extent. Before it was trade union leaders, then journalists. Now it’s community leaders protecting territories. Since December 2016, when the peace accords were signed, 285 community leaders and human rights activists have been assassinated.
DG: Are trade union activists still at risk?
BC: Yes. In Cali, in the western region, about every six or eight months, a threat gets issued that usually has a list of people, that includes union leaders, and people from NOMADESC, saying, ‘We’re watching what you’re doing, if you keep this up we’re going to get you.’
DG: What’s driving all this?
BC: The economic model on which the government is basing its development and its agreements with international forces, which is incompatible with the development models of the campesino, Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities. The shift to targeting territorial activists is linked to the conflict with the transnationals starting to come in and wanting to operate in those territories. From 2010 until now, the Colombian government has signed 17 free trade agreements. The first one was with Canada.