After witnessing murder by paramilitary forces in Columbia, union leader Luis Cardona – now on political asylum for one year – shared last night his experiences struggling to organize laborers in the Carepa Coca-Cola bottling plant and his recent efforts to improve labor conditions in his country.
Paramilitary groups, with the tacit support of factory management, assassinate and kidnap union leaders to keep union activity to a minimum, Cardona said.
In Columbia – the third top receiver of U.S. foreign aid – part of the paramilitary funding comes from the U.S., he said.
Aid that is received remains in the hands of corrupt leaders who suppress union activities, he added.
“We need support to manifest before the U.S. government and pressure them to stop sending money to Columbia without international oversight that verifies that the money is going to the population less favored by the situation,” Cardona said.
Cardona said in the last year, 165 union leaders were killed in Columbia, causing many others to flee the country.
Cardona was kidnapped the same day a fellow union member was assassinated, but escaped to a police station.
Now Cardona said he fears for his wife and young daughter, who have received threats while waiting to receive visas to enter the U.S.
Brought to campus by Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality, Cardona is pushing for a international boycott of Coca-Cola products this summer.
SOLE member Dave Deerg said this labor issue directly affects students because Coca-Cola is a part of everyday life.
“Beyond human rights, the U.S. involvement in Columbia and the familiarity of Coca-Cola connects students to this speaker,” Deerg said.
U.S. capital is responsible for human rights violations in global factories, SNRE sophomore Yochi Zakai said.
“It’s a sad fact that we are channeled to support these corporations that are violating human rights, so that anything you buy can come from a corporation that oppresses somewhere in the world,” he said.
LSA senior Meredith Koenig said she will try to never drink Coca-Cola products again. “Too many people choose to be ignorant,” she said. “I don’t want to take part in human infractions even though I used to drink Coke everyday.”