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A young Colombian public sector worker, who has been under threat from death squads, begins her visit to Canada this week as CUPE’s guest from July 14-August 22, 2008.

Maria Fernanda Bolanos, a 34-year-old single mother, will travel to Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, British Colombia and Manitoba. Her union, SINTRAEMSIRVA, represents about 450 waste management workers in Cali, Colombia. Its fight against the privatization of municipal services has meant severe repression against union members. Long-time union activist, Carlos Alberto Chicaiza, was killed in 2004. Others, including Bolanos, regularly receive death threats.

Despite the repression, the union has continued to fight privatization and to protect jobs and benefits for its members by developing alternative proposals for keeping the company, EMSIRVA, solvent and public.

“We always have to confront difficulties in order to realize our ideas and commitments,” Bolanos has said. ”If we fall we need to pick ourselves up with increased will and our heads held up high.” 

Bolanos, who operates the weigh scale in a solid waste disposal unit, will tour several waste water and waste treatment plants run by CUPE members. She will also be introduced to youth and women’s committee members at CUPE and other affiliates to Public Services International, the global union federation. 

During her stay, she will also meet with the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and the National Union of Public and General Employees. CUPE, PSAC and NUPGE are affiliated to Public Services International, a global union federation with 20 million members.

Meanwhile, leaders of those unions will travel to Colombia July 18-25 to assess the human rights situation surrounding recent free trade negotiations with Canada. Colombia is considered by many to have the worst human rights record in the world.