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CUPE National is participating in a ten-day solidarity tour to Colombia from March 7 to 17. The delegation is part of the Front Lines Initiative and includes Brother Jose Juarez, CUPE National Global Justice Committee member, and Sister Kelti Cameron, CUPE National International Solidarity staff.

The Front Lines Initiative is a joint project of four national public sector unions - the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) and CUPE National - working in collaboration with CoDevelopment Canada (CoDev).

The Initiative began in 2004 with the primary purpose of joining forces with sister unions in Colombia to fight against the privatization of public services by strengthening capacity for dealing with the on-going struggles, promoting mutual learning and helping to defend human and labour rights.

The delegation was warmly welcomed by Public Services International (PSI) affiliates in Colombia, including CUPE’s partner union in the water sector, SINTRACUAVALLE. Privatization and access to water are a daily struggle in Colombia where 30 per cent of Colombians do not have access to potable water and where the private sector has unbridled support from the government in power.

SINTRACUAVALLE’s work to develop and strengthen community-based water utilities is critical in the struggle against privatization, and is commendable in a country where resistance to the imposition of multinational corporations in the public sector is often met with violence.

When Brother Jose introduced CUPE National to another Colombian partner organization, NOMADESC, he stated “we know you have suffered persecution and you continue to fight - we support you in this struggle.” NOMADESC is a human rights organisation that advises and accompanies a variety of social organisations and unions, including civic, women’s, indigenous, afro-descendent and peasant farmer organisations.

When 29 trade unionists were murdered in 2011 and NOMADESC leader Berenice Celeyta stated “you are our voices and the eyes of the outside world”, we took this very seriously. The trade union movement in Canada has supported NOMADESC’s work of exposing and resisting human and trade union rights violations that have taken place in Colombia over the past decade.

The Front Lines Initiatives delegation will return to Canada on March 17.