Dark Aftermath Of The U.S./Colombia Free Trade Agreement

A week ago William Mendoza, President of the Colombian food and beverage workers’ union, SINALTRAINAL, in Barrancabermeja (“Barranca” to the locals) was in a life and death dilemma. His dilemma has deepened.

Mendoza says, “Now that they’ve finalized the Free Trade Agreement they want to finish off Sinaltrainal.” It would seem so. He and his co-worker, Juan Carlos Galvis, Vice President of Sinaltrainal are falsely accused of taking part in a bomb plot against the local Coca Cola plant in 1998. Their accusers are three confessed paramilitary murderers. They admitted some of their crimes during a supposed demobilizing process in 2005 in which confessions during “free testimony” were apparently traded for varying degrees of amnesty. The three men who accuse William Mendoza and Juan Carlos Galvis were the chain of paramilitary command from a foot soldier in Barranca, up to the Commander in Barranca, and up to the Commander of the regional “Central Bolivar Bloc”.

Each of them are now serving time for murder. In return for their accusation against the two labor leaders they very likely hope for time off for good behavior and to get the two labor leaders delivered into their organization’s bloody grip in prison. “Free testimony” revealed that the “Central Bolivar Bloc,” covering the Medio Magdalena area, was accountable for 20,868 victims. With Mendoza and Galvis in prison they would boost that figure to 20,870!

It is clear to union leaders and human rights advocates in Barrancabermeja that paramilitary leaders behind bars now rule the roost in prison. Their power also extends to the newly minted paramilitaries, “Los Rastrojos”.

The “Magdalena Medio Bloc” of Los Rastrojos distributed a leaflet on Saturday August 17,2012 in Barrancabermeja which says:

“This is our second communication and we are not playing around. It is our last warning to guerrilla organizations that hide behind the rhetoric of defenders of human rights” 

The leaflet identifies four human rights organizations and SINALTRAINAL that “should not be allowed to reside in the city…These decisions for the Medio Magdalena Region and Barrancabermeja were made by the Central Command. We will eliminate the leaders in question without any warning… We declare our objective to be a death sentence… We have William Mendoza, the guerrilla leader, well identified… We speak seriously. From now on it will not be a threat, it will become a fact… We are going to be direct and will give no more warnings.. We will eliminate the leaders in question without any warning.” 



William Mendoza responds to the situation in a truly extraordinary manner. The following is a faithful rendition by Alan Benjamin, a professional interpreter, of a letter William Mendoza sent to me on August 19, 2012 after receiving the above described threat to his life:

               Hello Fred,
                  Los Rastrojos was the name taken by the paramilitary after their alleged 
                   demobilization by the Uribe Government. They are all over the 
                   Middle Magdaleno region and Barrancabermeja, trafficking in
                   cocaine, and murdering and extorting people who are not in 
                   agreement with them.

I don't know their numbers, but their structure is all over the country, and the government calls them BACRIM — that is, criminal gangs — because according to the official government version, these paramilitary outfits were demobilized and no longer exist. But the truth is that the police are with them, providing arms and support. The government and the police deny this, of course, but we know this is clearly the case. They exist and function.

We don't know if the Coca Cola bosses have ties to them. Juan Carlos and I worked for Coca Cola in Barrancabermeja loading and unloading trucks. Now it's a distribution center in Barrancabermeja, and the company is called INDUSTRIA NACIONAL DE GASEOSAS, There is no longer a Coca Cola plant as such; it was closed in 2003 and the workers were thrown out and offered "voluntary agreements" — or buyouts — in exchange for their jobs and their union affiliations. Today we are only 38 workers here in Barrancabermeja, 25 of whom are members of the national union. The new company has 8,200 employees, out of which 250 are members of SINALTRAINAL. There are other unions as well, but together we are still a minority. The company succeeded in dividing us, and the company hates SINALTRAINAL since we are the ones who protested the most and pissed them off the most. The other unions were more willing to accommodate to the bosses.

Of course our families are at risk! Last November 9, 2011, the family of Juan Carlos was assaulted in their home. They were robbed. His wife was beaten and her body was spray-painted with red lettering that spelled out the words: "Where is the son of a bitch Juan Carlos?" And they left spray-painted messages on the walls with the same message.

Juan Carlos and his family had to flee Barrancabermeja to another city, and we had to place Juan Carlos on union leave so that he could keep his job given that Coca Cola has refused to transfer him to the city where they now live. But Juan Carlos comes occasionally to coordinate with us in Barrancabermeja. This has meant that I am now in even greater danger, as is my family. We know that we're in danger because of the political positions that we have taken as SINALTRAINAL and because of our work in Barranca and the region.

Juan Carlos and I have protection arrangements, and our homes are like prisons, with cross-bars on all sides. The CUT (the largest union federation in Colombia F.H.) has taken a stand and demanded greater protections for us, which is good. Still, the State will not listen to anything, and the attacks have continued in the aftermath of the government's decision to sign the free trade agreement with Gringolandia. (common Latin American slang for the United States  F.H.)

As to the leaders of the Rastrojos, we don't know who they are, where they live, or how they operate, but what we do know is that the trafficking here of cocaine has increased a lot.

What I ask you, dear old friend, is that letters be sent to the Colombian State, if possible by members of Congress from your country, as well as from trade union organizations, the AFL-CIO and others, demanding higher levels of protection for us. Also, the letters should call on the Colombian government to investigate the continued threats on our lives and to punish those responsible for the violence. The letters should demand an immediate halt to the violence against trade unionists in Colombia.

The letters should also call on Coca Cola management to stop its violence against the workers and to safeguard the physical integrity of its employees and their families.

This is vital, because, as you know, they either kill us or they mount all sorts of phony charges against us to lock us up in their jails. Because we have opposed this bloody, mafioso State, we have been declared and treated as enemies. This is the fate that Juan Carlos and I have had to endure.

Whatever happens, my dear old friend, you must keep fighting on our behalf. It appears that my time may be running out. My family is deeply anguished, but I am not scared even though I am greatly worried about my family and the overall situation, which is still very heated.

Well, Fred, this is pretty much what I have to say at this time. I send you a warm embrace, hoping that we can remain in touch. I will keep doing what I love to do: defend workers and the people as a whole, and I am leaving Barranca for now. I will continue in the struggle with faith in God and the help of all of you. 

An abrazo, my dearest friend, comrade and compañero.

                  ¡HASTA LA VICTORIA SIEMPRE!

His letter is presented above only with his explicit permission.

Today, August 22, William Mendoza did a television interview describing the present situation and the threats against trade union leaders and people who organize and speak out for human rights. His interview can be seen at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=15vv6jWXVvc&feature=player_embedded   

I believe this interview puts him at greater risk than ever before and he knows it. Every letter I have received from him until today ends with the slogan “Hasta la victoria siempre!,” in English (Until the final victory). Today’s letter ends with a slogan that is brand new for him, “Vive todos los dias como si fuera el ultimo!”, (Live every day as if it were the last!) and he writes it twice. 

We must demand that the government give William Mendoza and Juan Carlos Galvis the full protection they need and that they stop the judicial process against them. It is a frameup by murderers who would assassinate them.

There is a list of officials and addresses below. Please write to them all or as many as you can. Sending your messages by regular mail or by Fax is best. Email messages to these officials often bounce back. And, please, write to your member of Congress and ask them to do the same.
As William Mendoza says in every letter until today, “HASTA LA VICTORIA SIEMPRE!”  We might add, VENCEREMOS! – WE SHALL OVERCOME! THEY SHALL NOT DIE!


Presidente de la República de Colombia
Carrera 8 No. 7 -26 Palacio de Nariño Bogotá
Fax: (+57 1) 566.20.71
E-mail: [email protected] <mailto:[email protected]>

Ambassador P. Michael Mckinley
The United States Embassy Bogota Calle 24 Bis No. 48-50 
Bogotá, D.C. Colombia. 
Mailing address: Carrera 45 No. 24B-27 
Bogotá, D.C. Colombia
Email [email protected] 

Tina Huang, Foreign Affairs Officer  
Office of Western Hemisphere Affairs
U.S. Department of State2201 C Street N.W.
Washington, DC 20520  
Tel.             202-647-8301      . <[email protected]

Eduardo Montealegre 
Fiscalía General de la Nación
Diagonal 22B No. 52-01 – Bogotá, D.C.
Teléfonos: 570 20 00 – 414 90 00
[email protected][email protected]

Vicepresidente de la República de Colombia
Carrera 8 No.7-57 Bogotá D.C.
Teléfonos (57 1) 444 2120 – 444 2122
(57 1) 596 0651
E-mail: [email protected]   <mailto:[email protected]>  
Twitter: @angelino_garzon  

Ministra de Justicia y del Derecho de Colombia
Carrera 9a. No. 14-10 – Bogotá, D.C.
e-mail: [email protected][email protected]
PBX (+57) 444 31 00 Ext. 1820 

 Procurador General de la Nación
 Fax: (+571) 3429723 - 2847949 Fax: (+571) 3429723
 Carrera 5 #. 15-80 – Bogotá, D.C., Colombia
[email protected][email protected]<mailto:[email protected]> ; [email protected]<mailto:[email protected]>   
Defensor Nacional del Pueblo
(+571) 640.04.91
Calle 55 # 10-32, Bogotá.
[email protected] <mailto:[email protected]> ; [email protected] <mailto:[email protected]>    

Calle 114 No. 9-45 Torre B Oficina 1101
Edificio Teleport Bussines Park – Bogotá, Colombia
Teléfono PBX (57-1) 629 3636 (57-1) 629 3636 Fax (57-1) 629 3637
E-mail: [email protected]  

The Coca-Cola Company
P.O. Box 1734
Atlanta, GA 30301, USA 
            1.800.GET COKE       (            800.438.2653      )

NOTE—For those sending emails, you can copy and paste in the following emails as a group)   [email protected][email protected][email protected][email protected],[email protected][email protected],[email protected][email protected],  [email protected][email protected],[email protected][email protected]


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