On Aug. 25, the workers of the sugar cane industry in the Colombian departments of Cauca and Valle del Cauca held an assembly in the town of Candelaria, Valle, attended by more than 7,000, where the decision was taken to strike to press demands that the owners of the sugar industry and their Asocaña business chamber negotiate on a list of grievances presented on July 14. Since the Candelaria meeting, the sugar mills of the region have been completely militarized; the workers are being followed by motorcycles with armed men wearing balaclavas, and several have been threatened.
On Aug. 28, the wife of the worker Efraín Muñoz Yánez of the Cauca sugar mill INCAUCA, received a phone call in which she was told to tell her husband not to “fuck around” anymore or his whole family would be killed. On Aug. 29, Efraín got a call in which we was told the same thing.
On Sept. 1, Daniel Aguirre, another INCAUCA worker, received a visit at his home from a man who had threatened to kill him in 2005 during another labor dispute.
The worker Luis Aguilar, of the Mayaguez sugar mill, received a call in which he was told to choose whether he would get some money to stop participating in the workers’ movement or even more money for his funeral.
Some engineers from the Central Castilla sugar mill threatened the worker Feliciano Saa, telling him that they are watching him. Other workers were told that paramilitary groups have infiltrated their movement with spies.
The workers have also been subjected to stops and inspections by the National Police, in which they have been verbally threatened and warned not to go ahead with the strike. Thirteen workers from the Mayaquez sugar mill were fired after participating in an organizing meeting in the town of Palmira.
Human rights groups are calling on Colombia’s Ministry of Social Protection to investigate the situation in Cauca and Valle del Cauca, and warn the sugar mill bosses that the workers have the right to organize and that this right must be respected.