Colombian Labor Leaders-An Endangered Species

Miguel is a high school Social studies teacher and a teacher’s union leader in the department of Cauca, Colombia. The day I met him, he was at a Colombia Teach-in at the SOA Watch Event. The T-shirt he was wearing caught my eye first. It had a statement on the front about Colombian Union Leaders being endangered and on his back, between the shoulder blades, was a bull’s-eye. Because of death threats from paramilitary organizations, Miguel was forced to leave his family and the country of his birth in an AFL-CIO protection program that offers sanctuary in the United States to endangered union leaders. 3 out of every 4 union leaders assassinated worldwide are killed in Colombia and nearly 2,100 union members have been slain since 1991. Just to give that some perspective, Colombia is a country of only 44 million people. According to the UN, lecturers and teachers are “among the workers most often affected by killings, threats and violence-related displacement.” As both a teacher and a union leader Miguel is a very “high value target”for the paramilitaries.

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