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The other coke in Colombia

Trade-union activists from Colombia, speaking recently at the third Latin America Solidarity Organizing Conference in Washington DC, have appealed for a worldwide boycott of Coca Cola after a series of bloody crimes at its bottling plants. Javier Correa, President of Sinaltrainal (the Colombian Food and Beverage Workers Union) and Fernando Velez, a member of the Executive Committee of Sintraestatales (the State Workers Union) said life is increasingly difficult for labor activists in the Andean country. The paramilitaries responsible for attacks on them freely enter workplaces and terrorize employees. Workers and their families live in fear of kidnapping and murder.

'I am terrified of going back there,' said José Luis Cortes, a member of CUT (the Unitary Workers Federation). 'There are thousands of Colombians like me, who are in hiding.' He has been living in the US for almost a year under a union-protection program but will be returning to Colombia in the next few weeks. 'I have to go back because my two little girls are there,' he said.

In July 2001 a lawsuit was filed in Miami by Sinaltrainal and the International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF) against Coca Cola, Panamerican Beverages (the largest soft-drink bottler in Latin America) and Bebidas y Alimentos, who operate the Carepa plant. It was here that 28-year-old Isidro Segundo Gil worked before he was murdered by paramilitaries in 1996 - one of at least five union leaders who have been killed at the same factory.

Sinaltrainal and the ILRF claim that the Coke bottlers 'contracted with or otherwise directed paramilitary security forces that utilized extreme violence and murdered, tortured, unlawfully detained or otherwise silenced trade union leaders.' Coca Cola say the allegations are based on 'a political agenda'.

In March this year US District Court Judge Jose E. Martinez decided that the case can go ahead against Panamerican Beverages and American-owned Bebidas y Alimentos, but not against Coca Cola itself. Daniel Kovalik, attorney for the plaintiffs, says they may appeal, but that 'regardless, the case is proceeding against the other defendants'.

Some 300 different Coca Cola brands are sold around the world. For a full list, go to: www.cocacola.com

For more info about Colombia:

Lissa Rees

New Internationalist issue 356 magazine cover This article is from the May 2003 issue of New Internationalist.
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