Independent Media Centre Ireland

Colombian Union Replies to Coca Cola

category international | anti-capitalism | press release author Friday December 05, 2003 10:41author by Gearoid O Loingsigh - Lasc

More coke lies exposed by Union

The Union takes on some of the arguments presented by Coke and regurgitated by Siptu and others in Ireland.



This communique aims to make a number of clarifications in response to a letter from Martin Norris, Director of Communications of Coca Cola Great Britain.

In spite of all our denouncements, demands and petitions to the government to safeguard our lives and trade union activity, the same modus operandi continues. The agression is accentuated each time we enter the annual negotiation round, or each time the Coca Cola corporation implements restructuring that affects the workers and SINALTRAINAL.

This is shown by recent events:

• On 22nd August 2003 there was an assassination attempt on JUAN CARLOS GALVIS Vice-president of SINALTRAINAL in Barrancabermeja.

• Then on 10th September 2003, when at 1pm at a place known as Simón Bolívar Boulevard in the city of Barranquilla, four unknown subjects who had covered their faces with hoods took 15 year old DAVID JOSE CARRANZA CALLE from the bicycle he was riding. David is the son of LIMBERTO CARRANZA, a worker in Coca Cola in Barranquilla and a national leader of SINALTRAINAL. The assailants forced David into a white van, in which he was driven around while being tortured and interrogated on the whereabouts of his father. At about 4.30pm they threw David out at a place known as Ahuyama Canyon, where the youth was picked up by a passer-by and taken to the police. Meanwhile a telephone call was received at Limberto Carranza's residence. The caller said

“Son of a bitch trade unionist, we are going to crush you, and not just you, we are going to attack your home".

• At about 9pm on 11th September in Bucaramanga Coca Cola workers and local union leaders LUIS EDUARDO GARCIA an JOSÉ DOMINGO FLORES were together at the entrance to Almendros residences when two subjects set about them with blows.

• And on 30th October Everth Suárez president of the Cali branch of SINALTRAINAL who works at the Coca Cola bottling plant in that city received a death threat.

Meantime on 9th September 2003 COCA COLA FEMSA S.A. corporation launched an offensive in all the Colombia bottling plants, following similar offensives in 2000 and 2001. The corporation enclosed the workers by force in the factories or in hotels, pressurising them to renounce their employment contracts in exchange for a one-off payment. They used the [consultancy] firm called HTM for this, and they posted armed guards at the doors of the hotel meeting rooms. The state authorities did not act to prevent this but, on the contrary, they lent themselves to acting in co-ordination with the employer, pressurising the workers to sign the papers as happened in Barrancabermeja with SANDRA MARIA PAJARO, an official of the Ministry of Work and Social Protection.

Using this blackmail, psychological terrorism and illegal procedure, Coca Cola has converted bottling plants into mere distribution centres, closing down bottling production in Montería, Cartagena, Valledupar, Cúcuta, Barrancabermeja, Pereira, Neiva, Villavicencio and Duitama. After holding the workers on 9th September, from 12th September they started handing out redundancy notices according to the Ministry of Work and Social Protection procedure. And on 10th September the employer unjustly sacked two workers, PEDRO ANDRADE and SERGIO SILVA, in the city of Cúcuta to create fear amongst the workers so that they renounce their contracts.

This decision of COCA COLA FEMSA S.A. forms part of its cost reduction strategy, of subcontracting the workforce, eliminating trade union organisation and the collective work agreement, to concentrate production in a small number of bottling 'megaplants' with fewer workers, from which they supply the market through distribution centres. We have seen this scenario coming for many years. The corporation has been preparing the way to strike this blow against the workers, and is now taking advantage of the situation of sharpening unemployment, poverty and misery in the country handed to it by the government of Álvaro Uribe Vélez.

This action by Coca Cola as an employer violates Colombian law, since it closed the bottling plants without following legal process concerning employer's strike, illegal closures and sackings. For this reason we have placed motions at the regional offices on the Minstry of Work and Social Protection for it to intervene against the illegal closures, the lockout and the boss's strike being executed by COCA COLA FEMSA S.A., PANAMCO COLOMBIA S.A., EMBOTELLADORA ROMAN S.A. and/or EMBOTELLADORA DE SANTANDER S.A..

The corporation is violating the norms established in the current collective agreements. It cannot sack workers, but must retrain them and relocate them in a new function. Because of the above, and as a demonstration of our good will, we held a meeting with the vice-president of Coca Cola Femsa S.A. at 3.00pm on 16th September 2003 in Bogotá. We demanded the application of this norm [in the agreement], but up to now it has not been implemented.

In spite of all the pressure today more than 300 workers continue resisting and struggling in the factories, but the reponse of the management has been to try and illegally dismantle the machinery, as happened on 12th November 2003 in the Cúcuta and Cartagena factories, where the response of the workers stopped them.

It is an unethical and immoral abuse to try and justify [these actions by saying] it is a problem of generalised violence that persists in Colombia. This renders invisible the persecution that we the trade unionists are victims of, resulting in our stigmatisation and demonisation by employers sectors and the state - as is established in the security manuals on national security imposed by the USA. Even less do we accept that the corporation is trying to compete [in matter of human rights violations] by claiming how many on one side or the other have been victims, when at root we are all people who lend a service to the corporation through the means of a work contract.
What is certain is that Coca Cola corporation has directly or indirectly benefitted, and that we have been the victims of sexual harassment, 9 assassinations, more than 15 imprisonments, 67 death threats, kidnappings, forced displacements, the setting fire of a trade union office, all executed by paramilitaries and obliging many workers to renounce the union. [We have also suffered] the unjust termination of work contracts, the subcontracting of more than 88% of the workers and the impact that this has had on their conditions of life, besides the stigmatisation and false accusations against the trade unionists, trying to link them with terrorism and delinquency.
It is no lie to say justice is inoperative in Colombia. Government officers do not act to prevent these crimes and their authors have impunity.

We continue in the search for truth, justice and reparations, initiating a claim in the Florida District Court in the USA against Coca Cola's bottlers. On 31st March 2003, judge José E. Martínez concluded that the cases taken out under the Alien Tort Claims Act (“ATCA”) concerning violations of human rights can go forward because, amongst other reasons, there exists a simbiotic relationship between the paramilitaries and the Colombian state.

But now, as a mechanism of impunity where the victimisers cast themselves as victims, in an attempt to criminalise our right to claim justice by taking a case to a US court, Coca Cola's Colombian bottling companies PANAMCO Colombia S. A. and Embotelladora de Santander S. A., (now Coca Cola Femsa S.A.) have through Mr. JAIME BERNAL CUELLAR who acts as lawyer for the Coca Cola multinational, demanded a warrant against us who have entered the case in the US. They are accusing us with the crimes [under Colombian law] of slander and calumny. And so Public Attorney 61, Juan Carlos Losada Perdomo proferred a charge against LUIS JAVIER CORREA SUAREZ, JORGE HUMBERTO LEAL, JUAN CARLOS GALVIS, LUIS EDUARDO GARCÍA, ÁLVARO GONZÁLEZ, JOSÉ DOMINGO FLÓREZ and EDGAR ALBERTO PÁEZ MELO, all members of the leadership of Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Industria de Alimentos “SINALTRAINAL”. Paradoxically, JAIME BERNAL CUELLAR was Prosecutor General of the Nation at the time when several crimes were committed against the workers and SINALTRAINAL. We protested and sought his intervention but he never acted.

The efforts that have been made to protect trade unionists have, firstly, been insufficient. Secondly, they are a duty of the employer and the state. Thirdly, the few measures are a result of our struggle and protests, as are the gains we have achieved in collective agreements to try and minimise risks. But since the corporation has wanted to portray these gains as the fruit of its benevolence and not its duty, it is neccessary to explain that the majority of the measures have been put in place by the Colombian state as a result of all the national and international pressure, and because the Political Constitution of our country establishes [this duty]. But the attacks have not stopped, so what does it serve to try and show that trade unionists are being protected when we continue to be criminalised, persecuted and assassinated for our trade union activity.

Coca Cola's bottling companies say that they deplore any act of violence against any trade union leader, but it as been they themselves who falsely accused us of being guerrillas or terrorists, it is they who are carrrying out anti-union campaigns to avoid workers joining the union, or pressurising union members to resign. It is not sufficient that they condemn violence theoretically, they have to adopt a respectful conduct towards our human rights and repare the damages suffered by the victims.

For some years SINALTRAINAL did not dare make public denouncements because it waited trustingly for Colombia's justice to work, but this did not happen. And so we are now seeking justice, trurth and reparations and above all we count on international solidarity. The facts are there. Yet on each and every occasion we give our evidence Coca Cola says that it did not happen, but we have lived through with our flesh and blood these experiences. We have realised that this is a way of maintaining impunity, to try and make people believe the opposite of things that really happened by repeating lies indefinitely.

Other trade union organisations exist inside Coca Cola's bottling plants, and they are trying to say that the events that we are denouncing did not take place. All of these organisations were created recently and the majority of them did not have any presence where the crimes were committed.

The International Foodworkers Union does not have the right to interpret for us and less to lie about what has occurred. They have not been present in the places where the barbarities took place. It is very easy to speak from long distance without really knowing what happened. We do not want to enter into a debate with them because this would divert attention away from the pressure we are buildning up on Coca Cola to modify its behaviour in Colombia.

It is true that the US judge removed Coca Cola [i.e. the parent company as a defendant from the civil action], but this decision is under appeal. In any case Coca Cola is directly involved as a shareholder of its subsidiary Panamco and through its control of the whole process through the franchises. This is not only a legal matter, but an ethical and moral one as well.

It is not true to say that Colombian justice has not been involved with the bottling companies. Rather it is precisely the failure of the justice system in Colombia to act that is responsible for the grave problem of impunity which allows the intellectual and material authors of crimes to remain free while committing all forms of abuse.

Yours faithfully,


Bogotá D. C. – Colombia, 18th November 2003

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