Colombia is the most dangerous place in the world to be a union organizer. In the last 17 years, more than 2,700 teachers, farmworkers, coal miners and other laborers have paid with their lives for seeking rights that Americans have long taken for granted, such as safe working conditions. During that same period, there were more than 4,000 reported death threats against labor leaders, 350 disappearances and kidnappings, and 75 cases of torture.
Under international pressure, President Alvaro Uribe has made strides in addressing the problem. In 2007, the office of the attorney general created a special unit to focus on anti-union crimes, and it is working its way through the backlog of thousands of unsolved cases. More progress has been made in the last two years than in the previous 10, which is encouraging. It is troubling, however, that when a defendant is convicted, it is generally a hit man or low-level thug and almost never the mastermind or shot-caller who ordered a labor leader's murder.