Colombian trade unionist addresses young members

Guest speaker Daniella Vega Sotelo, a member of the peasant farmer’s union FENSUAGRO, spoke of being a trade unionist in Colombia

Daniella Vega Sotelo, a member of the peasant farmer’s union FENSUAGRO, speaks to young members conference delegates from Colombia.

On Saturday afternoon at young members’ conference in Bournemouth, Daniella Vega Sotelo, a member of the peasant farmer’s union FENSUAGRO, spoke to delegates via video link from Colombia.

She spoke of the dangers, the progress and the hopes of being a trade unionist in that country.

“This is a very important time nationally in the history of Colombia. We have recently elected a new government which received the backing of the trade union movement.

“On issues such as agrarian reform, we feel for the first time that we have a government that supports our issues as trade unionists and peasant farmers.”

She added that they think that, under this government, they might finally make some progress in addressing human rights issues in the country.

Ms Sotelo went on to speak of the experiences of trade unionists in the country over the past decades. “For the trade union movement in Colombia, we’ve gone through a very long period where trade unionists were stigmatised, persecuted and subjected to violence.

“There have been human rights violations against trade unionists for many years and we continue to face a very high level of human rights abuses today. From 2016 until today, FENSUAGRO has documented 96 cases of human rights abuses against our members.

“Violence has been a constant reality for people in Colombia since 1930, which has led to a mass migration of young people from the country to the cities which is one of the main issues we face today.”

She was speaking via an online call from a national peasant farmer convention in Colombia where she said FENSUAGRO was “collaborating with the government on its national plan of development, which will provide a blueprint for the next four years in its development of rural areas.

“One of the most important demands for our movement is implementation of the 2016 peace agreement Another demand is to reach new agreements with the many active armed groups still within Colombia to help with the violence in Colombia.”

Moving on, she spoke of the importance of international support for FENSUAGRO and other unions in Colombia, saying: “International support and lobbying of all sides in those agreements is critical. We have worked closely with and receive support from lots of international political organisation.

“It is really important to have these strategic allies such as UNISON, who we give thanks to, and Justice for Colombia who are very important for us.

“On behalf of FENSUAGRO and particularly our young members, I would like to express our solidarity and thank you for your support and ask that it continues and that you give your support with joy and enthusiasm.

“Your support and solidarity is of course vital to us, and I just want to say to you as trade unionists, you can count on our solidarity, we see you as a strategic ally. And as we know it’s so important that, internationally, we support each other.”

She then answered questions from delegates.

Solidarity with Cuba

On the theme of international solidarity, delegates also debated a motion calling on the national young members’ forum to encourage branches to affiliate to Cuba Solidarity and to lobby regional international committees to send delegates on the Young Trade Unionists May Day Brigade to Cuba.

Micaela Tracey-Ramos, from the North West region, spoke about her personal experiences of attending the march, calling it a “life changing experience for me”.

The motion highlighted that the US has imposed an economic blockade on Cuba since 1962, six decades, and has had many negative and inhumane effects on the country, particularly during the COVID pandemic, when the country struggled to access the right equipment to treat its patients.

She continued: “While I was there, I was lucky enough to attend May Day in Havana. We saw one million people march in Havana at the first May Day since the pandemic, with over five million people marching across Cuba – a huge proportion of the country when compared against UK rallies and marches”.

Before the motion carried, she emphasised that the march wasn’t a protest, but a celebration of workers and encouraged regions to send delegates from across the country rather than a select few regions who currently send delegates.