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The national leaders of the four major public sector unions in Canada will visit Colombia July 18-25 to meet with union leaders, politicians, diplomats, human rights groups and others. Their mission is to assess the human rights situation.

The visit will allow the leaders to examine first-hand the problems that afflict the South American country, especially given the current government’s human rights record and the concerns about the recent free trade agreement with Canada.

The group includes national presidents: Paul Moist, Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE); Denis Lemelin, Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW); John Gordon, Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) and George Heyman, international vice-president of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE).

The labour tour will stop in Bogota, Medellin and Cali as well as some rural destinations to visit indigenous communities. A main focus of the tour is to assess the impact of Colombian government policies on various sectors, but especially the public sector.

The leaders will also attend the final meetings of the Permanent People’s Tribunal on Colombia in Bogota on July 21, 22 and 23. The tribunal has been holding hearings on human rights violations since April 2006. Since then, there have been hearings on six sectors of the economy: food production, mining, biodiversity, oil, public services, and lastly on the genocide of indigenous peoples.

The leaders will also discuss the impact of the new free trade agreement and continued pressure to privatize Colombian public services.

Watch for postings from Colombia on this site during the week of the leaders’ tour.

 Stop the hate, says Betancourt to Uribe

“On Monday, [July 7, released hostage Ingrid] Betancourt sent a message of solidarity to the remaining hostages on the Spanish-language service of Radio France International. At the same time she called on Mr. [President Alvaro] Uribe to soften his tone with the guerrillas.

” ‘Uribe, and not only Uribe but all of Colombia, should also correct some things,’ she said. ‘We have reached the point where we must change the radical, extremist vocabulary of hate, of very strong words that intimately wound the human being’.”

- from a New York Times news item posted July 8, 2008.