In Bogota, Colombia, another day begins for trade unionist Wilson Borja. He survived an assassination attempt in December 2000. Since then, his life has been anything but ordinary. Intimidation and death threats are routine; simple goodbyes tinged with uncertainty.
In one of the most violent countries in the world, trade unionists have become the main targets largely due to their efforts to defend workers’ rights. In 2001, the International Labour Organization, the ILO, reported that 167 trade unionists were killed in Colombia. Hundreds more disappeared, were abducted, or, like Wilson Borja, survived outright attempts on their lives.
Wilson Borja, trade unionist
I feel that I am a survivor and I am convinced that I owe my life, not only to my bodyguards, not only to my own actions, but to something much greater... beyond. But I’m equally convinced that I survived because the situation is not new to me. Like the death threats. There is an ongoing reality in my country that naturally leads to attempts on my life and others.
The reality in Colombia is a two-decades long conflict involving guerrillas, paramilitary groups, drug traffickers and the government. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been forced to flee the violence, leaving jobs and possessions, taking refuge where they can, like this Red Cross office in Bogota. Javier Gonzalez, a displaced peasant, was shot by the paramilitaries. With three bullets still in his body, he calls himself a walking miracle.
Only someone like me who has suffered as much as I have can tell you how much sacrifice is involved just to survive. Living here in the city, like this... you lose your pride, your children... everything...
In Geneva, the ILO in agreement with the government of Colombia, adopted an agreement to create a programme the safeguard the lives, safety and freedom of association of trade unionists and workers. It may introduce a new reality... of peace in Colombia.
Marcelo Castro Fox, ILO Colombia
I believe that we are making progress in areas like the promotion of collective bargaining, the promotion of social dialogue. We have started several activities and I hope that soon we will see concrete results, especially in terms of conflict resolution.
Freedom of association represents an essential value in every democratic society. That’s why the killings of trade unionists in Colombia appears as a tragic reminder of the difficult struggle for democracy and peace, a peace that judging by the grim statistics seems each day more elusive.