Pacific in USLEAP Newsletter

Article posted with the permission of ILRF and USLEAP. See original version in the USLEAP Fall 2015 Newsletter HERE.

By Caitrin McKee and Catherine Cain

Petroleum Company Blocks Union Vote Despite “Equitable” Certification

In Puerto Gaitan, Meta, Colombia, petroleum workers who joined the Unión Sindical Obrera (USO) in June are fighting for the union’s recognition by long-time labor rights abuser Pacific Exploration and Production Corp (formerly known as Pacific Rubiales, or “Pacific”), Colombia’s fifth largest corporation.

Since then, the company’s local subsidiary has refused to engage in contract negotiations, which gave workers the legal right to vote on a strike in August. But the company prevented workers from assembling for the vote during the 20-day period allowed. The workers’ fate is now in the hands of the Colombian Ministry of Labor, but the USO is not optimistic given the Ministry’s history of favoring business interests over workers’ rights.

Pacific claims to honor workers’ freedom of association, emphasizing that over 50% of its workers belong to an organization called the Unión de Trabajadores de la Industria Energética Nacional (UTEN). Indeed, the UTEN’s high membership enabled Pacific to be certified as “socially responsible” by an organization called Equitable Origins (EO) in late 2014. But it’s worth examining just how “free” workers’ association to the UTEN really is.

USLEAP sent a letter of protest to Equitable Origins in December 2014, in coordination with a formal AFL-CIO complaint citing Pacific’s well-documented history of repressing workers’ rights. In fact, the USO was forced out of Pacific’s oil fields at gunpoint in 2011, after it negotiated a collective bargaining agreement for workers. Over 3,000 USO members were fired and blacklisted, and many received death threats (a criminal complaint filed by USO against Pacific is still ongoing).

Following USO’s exile, Pacific forced workers to join the UTEN (or lose their jobs), a tactic designed to protect company interests and prevent independent union organizing. In early 2015, the USO was able to re-open an office in Puerto Gaitan with support from international accompaniment organizations like USLEAP ally, PASO International. But in July 2015, police and military officials visited USO’s regional office at midnight – in vans marked with the Pacific logo. Meanwhile, 17 direct employees who had joined the USO have left due to company threats and dismissals, and the USO estimates that Pacific’s workforce has plummeted from its 2013 peak of 14,000 to only 3,150.


Repression of Rights Defenders Continues

Community activist and former Pacific worker, Hector Sanchez Gomez, has repeatedly suffered retaliation for his continued advocacy on behalf of Pacific workers. Since 2011, Hector has been falsely accused of criminal activities in an attempt to smear and neutralize him. Even more disturbing, Hector received a call on June 1, 2015 informing him that an assassin had been paid roughly USD $3,600 to kill him. (Colombia saw 34 human rights defenders assassinated in the first six months of 2015.)

While the Ministry of Labor did push Pacific to agree to a meeting with the USO in August, the company continues to cite a lack of formal censure by the Ministry as evidence that it complies with the law. In October, the USO announced that it was filing an additional complaint with the Ministry, which is obligated to oversee an arbitration panel, and called for international solidarity with their cause. The Ministry of Labor, however, absolved Pacific of wrongdoing following past complaints, and it has since neglected to fulfill its promises to improve labor law enforcement as part of the U.S.- Colombian Free Trade Agreement signed in 2011.


Equitable Origins and the Ministry of Labor Must Act

Pacific’s union-busting clearly violates both Colombian law and the criteria of its certification by Equitable Origins. Since last year’s complaint, EO has conducted an internal review, published the company’s and auditor’s responses to its allegations, pledged stronger auditor training, and modified its standards to emphasize non-interference of employers in their workers’ union affiliation decisions. But in April 2015 it announced that a decision on de-certification would be delayed until after a verification audit could be completed over the summer.

Following an inquiry from USLEAP and PASO on September 3rd, EO stated that the audit occurred in August and promised to share results “in the coming weeks,” but it had not provided information as of early November. EO’s slow response to complaints calls into question how reliable these social certification bodies can be in upholding workers’ rights. And USO workers are not optimistic that they will prevail over the company through the arbitration panel process.

Equitable Origins must not serve as a smokescreen for Pacific’s anti-union behavior. While EO delays publicizing results of its audit, and the Ministry of Labor fails to hold Pacific accountable, Pacific continues to tout its “social responsibility” and further undermine legitimate union organizing. USLEAP will continue to follow the situation and support efforts to pressure EO and the Ministry of Labor to meet their obligations to workers.


This article exclusively reflects the point-of-view of the authors and does not reflect the opinions of PASO

Environmentalist Murdered in Casanare

Daniel Abril NM

Photo: Nadege Mazars

Daniel Abril was murdered on Friday, November 13 at 6:40 p.m. in the La Virgen sector of Trinidad, Casanare. The father of a 12-year old, Abril was a charismatic and a well-respected local environmental activist and outspoken critic of oil companies that operate in the region, large landowners responsible for forcible displacement, and State corruption.

In 2014, Abril was an active participant in a massive public hearing organized by Congressman Ivan Cepeda in Trinidad to gather testimony regarding environmental and human rights violations at the hands of private enterprises in the oil industry. He had also presented numerous official complaints regarding the negligence of Corporinoquia (the regional agency responsible for oversight of environmental regulations and licenses) and its director Martha Plazas.

Abril had been the target of ongoing persecution; human rights organization COSPACC has denounced unfounded prosecutions and previous attempts on Abril’s life at the hands of State agents.

Two months prior to his death he was involved in an incident involving the XVI Brigade of the Colombian National Armed Forces.

CIAMSA Refuses to Negotiate, Threatens Workers


Union Portuaria is asking CIAMSA to stop breaking Colombian labor laws and consider its workers’ concerns.  CIAMSA has responded by threatening its workers with dismissal, suspending three employees who participated in protests and attempting to bribe others.  The company has refused to negotiate and continues to intimidate union members.

Union Portuaria Statement

Contact: Jhon Jhairo Castro (español)-                                           Nate Pacho Miller (English)-

Colombian Sugar Exporter Denies Freedom of Association to Afro-Colombian Workers, Unleashes a Campaign of Intimidation

On August 14, a group of employees at CIAMSA , a company that loads sugar  in the Port Society of Buenaventura, affiliated with Union Portuaria and presented a list of demands  to the company addressing dangerously long shifts, racial discrimination in hiring practices , poverty wages, and the illegal outsourcing of hundreds of workers.

In violation of Colombian law and international agreements, CIAMSA has refused to negotiate with its employees. Instead, the company has unleashed a campaign of intimidation and persecution targeting the workers who decided to unionize. Recently the company has taken retaliatory measures that punish, suspend, and pressure workers into disaffiliating from our organization. These actions contrast starkly with the company’s ethical commitments and have come at a time when Colombian sugar exports are earning record profits due to the growing value of the dollar.

Union Portuaria respectfully invites CIAMSA to sit down at the negotiating table. Our union is absolutely certainty that, through dialogue, we can find common ground and advance an agenda that supports dignified work, community development, democratic participation and safety (to borrow the words of the Director of the National Center for Historical Memory, Gonzalo Sanchez).

We call on the national government, the labor movement, human rights coalitions, and social/racial justice-oriented organizations to join us in this important fight to help put an end to our precarious social and labor conditions. .

Pacific Rubiales Workers to Vote on Strike

IMG_9246Translated and reposted with permission of Union Sindical Obrera (USO)



Today, August 31, 2015, marks the end of a 20-day period established to ‘negotiate’ the list of demands USO recently presented to Meta Petroleum Corp – Pacific Rubiales.  During these 20 calendar days, only seven meetings were held, all characterized by the company’s continued refusal to negotiate.  USO has brought this to the attention of the Labor Ministry, in order to facilitate direct negotiations.

The list of demands submitted by employees affiliated with USO aims to establish a collective bargaining agreement in Meta Petroleum Corp, in order to improve the quality of life for direct and subcontracted employees throughout the country.

The list of demands seek basic protections for workers and their families: job stability, the direct hiring of workers who perform activities relating to the mission of the company (maintenance, operations, transportation, treatment, etc.); continuity in the case of  the company’s sale or delivery of the fields it currently operates; the establishment of a set pay rate for workers and career development opportunities within the company; technical training and certifications; occupational health and work place safety protections; educational aid for workers and their families; premiums and additional benefits included in workers’ wages/income, among others.

Meta Petroleum Corp., has prevented the negotiation of a collective labor agreement at every step of the process.  They claim that due to the decline in oil prices, they are not willing to consider the possibility of making changes to employees’ salaries.  

What’s Next?

Colombian law establishes that once the negotiation period ends with no agreement, workers have ten (10) business days to determine whether they will proceed by means of a general strike or through a Tribunal of Compulsory Arbitration. A general assembly of all workers of Meta Petroleum Corp, including those affiliated to Union Sindical Obrera as well as those unaffiliated, must vote by secret written ballot and decide if they choose to strike or participate in arbitration.

If, as has historically happened, workers chose the option of a strike, the company must allow them to suspend their activities and close facilities, until the parties can sit down and negotiate an agreement for the workers. It should be noted that the armed forces may not intervene in a labor dispute and must comply with their constitutional functions. We seek the accompaniment of the Labor Ministry and other entities in guaranteeing our right to conduct a General Assembly and respective strike vote.

In the event that workers opt for arbitration, each party shall appoint one arbitrator and agree on a third.  More often than not, the two sides do not come to an agreement and the third arbitrator is appointed by the Ministry of Labor. Workers have been very skeptical of the results of such arbitration tribunals, due to the huge influence companies exert in the Labor Ministry.  In addition, as the process drags on, the company may simply refuse to renew a contract of employment to USO affiliates, as in this case they already have done, openly violating their workers’ right to a union and freedom of association.

Many eyes are turned towards this process. A collective bargaining agreement would protect thousands of employees at Metapetroleum Corp – Pacific Rubiales Energy, who would benefit from a new, stable work environment in which there would be substantial improvement in labor conditions and amenities, established through collective bargaining and not through the ‘good-will’ of an employer who has offered its employees practically nothing.

We call on the Ministry of Labour, the International Labour Organization (ILO), our sisters unions and human rights organizations to accompany this process in order to prevent the obstruction of freedom of association and help us overcome the aggressive anti-union policies that Canadian multinational Pacific Rubiales attempts to spread throughout our country.  

Therefore, we invite all workers who provide service for Meta Petroleum Corp. to vote to approve a general strike. We believe this is the best choice for workers, through unity and organized struggle, and the best tool that we have to confront the unwillingness of your employer to negotiate and sign a collective bargaining agreement

 USO Bargaining Committee. Bogota, D.C. August 31, 2015.

Watch video of USO speaking to workers in Campo Rubiales:

USO Addresses Workers in Rubiales from PASO International on Vimeo.  #UnionSindicalObrera #USO #PacificRubiales  Union Sindical Obrera Uso Pacific Rubiales Colombia Labor Human RIghts

First Collective Bargaining Agreement With the Port Society of Buenaventura in 25 Years


After several rounds of negotiations, the first collective bargaining agreement between a Colombian  port society and a union have been signed in Buenaventura.

Translated statement via Union Portuaria:


The National Board of Directors of the Port Workers Union of Colombia (Union Portuaria) and the Negotiators Commission informs about the list of demands presented to the companies SPRBUN and TECSA:

  1. A collective bargaining agreement was signed on Wednesday, June 24 with SPRBUN and on Thursday, June 25 with TECSA.
  2. TECSA is the main port operator of Buenaventura and SPRBUN maintains a situation of control over this operator with 99.9% shareholding.
  3. Of the 34 listed demands, 29 were agreed upon in the collective bargaining agreements.
  4. SPRBUN has personnel in their plant of 376 workers and TECSA has 523 workers.
  5. The conversations about the demands were carried out in the city of Buenaventura and were developed with the utmost respect between the two parties.
  6. We highlight the attentive attitude and participation of the workers regarding the development of the conversations, as well as the constant information and updates about what was happening at the negotiating table.

The most important aspects agreed upon are the following:

  1. Indefinite contract for all personnel who have a fixed term contract of one year or more.
  2. Port crane operators and mobile crane operators will have 8 hour shifts, with two shifts off for every two shifts worked.
  3. For each container moved, bonuses of $350 pesos ($0.13 USD) will be paid to port equipment operators and bonuses of $169 pesos ($0.06 USD) will be paid to crane overseers.
  4. In the case of a SPRBUN worker being transferred to another company still controlled by SPRBUN, the worker will keep all of his or her rights.
  5. After the third extension of a fixed term contract, these contracts will become indefinite contracts.
  6. The disciplinary system will coincide with the principles established in the court ruling C-593 of 2014.
  7. Complimentary meals will be given to workers halfway through every shift, with 30 minutes to eat in quality and sanitary conditions as established in decree 3075 of 1997. In the case of overtime, workers have the right to another meal.
  8. Prohibition of collective pacts which seek to undermine the already-agreed-upon collective bargaining agreement with the Portworkers Union of Colombia.  The companies may offer benefits to their workers without discrimination.
  9. Assistance to the Buenaventura branch of the Portworkers Union of Colombia for $6,000,000 pesos (approximately $2200 USD) for the duration of the collective bargaining agreement; transport for attending national Portworkers Union of Colombia assemblies and expense allowances of $100,000 pesos (approximately $37 USD) per day for delegates, 208 days of permission for leaders per year, 108 days of permission for union courses for associates and expense allowances of $60,000 pesos (approximately $22 USD).
  10. Educational assistance for workers’ children who are in preschool, primary school, high school, and higher education; life insurance for workers.
  11. Respect for salaries, an issue that the Portworkers Union of Colombia presented a request for standardizing, keeping in mind that the port companies had contracted a study for the general improvement of all positions, it was agreed that in a maximum time period of 45 days after the collective bargaining agreements were signed, the companies will present a general proposal for improving salaries.
  12. Within a maximum time period of 45 days, the company will give a response to the petition regarding standardization and naming of maintenance personnel.
  13. The duration of the collective bargaining agreements will be two years beginning on July 1, 2015.
  14. It was agreed additionally to pay vacation compensations which have been owed since 2010 to operators, crane overseers and security supervisors, in individual quantities that vary between 3 and 7 million pesos (approximately $1120 to $2615 USD).
  15. It was agreed to name 10 more crane directors, 4 mobile crane operators, and 14 port crane operators.
  16. The companies will recognize through the Employee Fund 100% of what each worker owes each two weeks, up to 10% of his or her salary.

Watch our video on conditions for port workers in Buenaventura:

Buenaventura’s Port Workers from PASO International on Vimeo.

Union Sindical Obrera (USO) Enters Negotiations with Pacific Rubiales Energy

Download Press Release in PDF HERE.

For info in Spanish contact Hector Vaca (Col) 316 279 0673;

For information in English: Neil Martin (US) 513 302 5492;

Earlier this month, a group of direct employees at Meta Petroleum Corp. – a subsidiary of Pacific Rubiales Energy (PRE) in Puerto Gatian, Meta – joined Colombian oil sector union USO. On June 16, a list of demands was formally presented and on June, 30 a negotiating committee initiated discussions with Meta Petroleum. Delay tactics employed by the company prevented a productive first session and dates for resumed dialogues are pending.

These are the first negotiations between USO and a PRE subsidiary since controversial labor conflicts in 2011, when USO bargained for dramatically improved labor conditions at subcontracting firms but was subsequently forced to leave Puerto Gaitan as a result of violence, the introduction of a company union, and the blacklisting of USO’s approximately 3,000 members. USO’s new members are also its first at a PRE subsidiary since 2011.

A 2013 criminal complaint filed by USO, which documents PRE’s systematic violation of its workers’ freedom of association, was transferred in May to the human rights branch of the Prosecutor General’s Office. As a result of several such reassignments, this investigation has failed to move forward for the past year.

Some 150 workers joined USO several months ago at the Caño Sur field, adjacent to Rubiales, which is operated by Colombia’s national oil company Ecopetrol. USO signed a collective bargaining agreement with Ecopetrol in August, 2014 which covers approximately 2,500 direct employees and approximately 20,000 (of 37,109) workers outsourced to intermediary firms. Ecopetrol is among the world’s largest 50 oil companies; PRE does not figure within the top 200.

Earlier this year USO led a coalition of unions and members of congress, successfully lobbying Ecopetrol to assume full control of the Rubiales concession in 2016 (where it currently contracts operations to PRE). Rubiales is Colombia’s most lucrative oil field, producing 162,000 barrels daily. PRE will maintain exclusive rights to the neighboring Quifa field through 2031, and has discovered significant reserves in its CP0-1, CP0-12, and CP0-14 concessions, also in Puerto Gaitan. Subcontracting firms under PRE employ an estimated 15,000 workers in the region.

Multinational Alfa and US-based Harbor Energy Ltd. offered to buy PRE in May, but a group representing 17% of the company’s shareholders has attempted to block the sale, claiming the price is deflated.

USO represents approximately 30,000 members in Colombia’s oil and energy sector, and has worked for 92 years to improve the lives of working families and defend the public administration of the country’s national resources.


Concerning Situation in Rubiales


PASO is gravely concerned about the current situation in parts of rural Puerto Gaitan, Meta, where community members are protesting in response to hiring policies at Pacific Rubiaes Energy (PRE) and the non-compliance with regional agreements on the part of the company and several of its subsidiaries/partners.

On the morning of May 19, 2105 approximately 600 residents of Puerto Gaitan’s rural settlements Puerto Triunfo, Santa Helena and Rubiales initiated a protest in response to PRE’s failure to comply with agreements made during preceding months. Read specifics here (Spanish only).

At the onset, protests were peaceful and participants engaged in dialogue with Colombia’s National Police. However, at 7:00 am on May 19 approximately 70 agents of ESMAD (the Colombian armed forces’ Mobile Anti-Disturbances Squadron) arrived at the scene and abruptly began shooting teargas at protestors seated near the main road in Puerto Triunfo, at which point the majority of the protestors sought refuge in nearby houses or businesses. ESMAD agents at no point engaged with community members or communicated clearly as to their desires or intentions.

Afterwards community delegates described the following events:

  1. When community members sought refuge in the house of Ms. Luz Dari Tello, which was being used to provide childcare during the protests, the ESMAD shot tear gas into her home, affecting both children and adults and resulting in the death of her pet dog.
  2. ESMAD agents entered the homes of a number of residents without permission.
  3. On the morning of May 19, 2015, local residents Jesid Monsalve and Luis Gomez Caceres were arrested in private residences by SIJIN (the criminal investigation division of the Colombian Police). According to authorities Mr. Monsalve and Mr. Gomez are being held at the prosecutors’ office (Fiscalia) in Puerto Gaitan.
  4. SIJIN agents also indicated they were looking for Hector Sanchez, an elected member of the Community Action Board in Rubiales, and a subject protected by Colombia’s National Protection Unit. SIJIN agents entered private residences without permission to this end.
  5. Community delegates from local communities have been informed by SIJIN that they will be prosecuted as a result of property damage that occurred during the protests. Nesler Gonzales, an elected member of the Puerto Triunfo Community Action Board, was communicated this information by a representative of PRE.

PASO has accompanied Mr. Sánchez on a permanent basis since May 17 and our staff can attest to his non-involvement in illegal activities. PASO has observed both Mr. Sánchez and Mr. Nesler González repeatedly urging protestors not to engage in violent or destructive behavior.

PASO urges the Colombian authorities to ensure that the rights of its citizens are respected and that due process is employed during arrests or legal procedures.

USO’s Vice President Fired on the Heels of Win in Rubiales

Since last year, a broad coalition led by Colombian oil sector union USO has been advocating for the non-extension of Canadian multinational Pacific Rubiales’ operating contract in Rubiales, the country’s most productive oil concession. In March national oil company Ecopetrol announced that it would not extend the contract, instead assuming control of Rubiales’ operations in 2016, which produce approximately 200,000 barrels of oil daily. USO sees this decision as a major victory due to the vast amounts of revenue that will be generated for the nation as a result, and criticizes Pacific Rubiales’ labor and environmental policies.

Rubiales es nuestro2

However, relations between USO and Ecopetrol deteriorated on March 27 when the company fired the union’s national Vice President Edwin Palma. The notice indicated that Palma’s having published the salaries earned by its top executives amounted to a breach of their privacy.

The dismissal, and its motive, have been called into question by Colombian policymakers and the international community. US and Canada-based union United Steelworkers stated that the action is a clear attempt to silence union activists, and violates ILO conventions and Colombia’s commitments to labor rights.

This event has added to an already tense relationship between union and employer in the context of mass dismissals of workers as part of Ecopetrol’s plans to cut investment by 25% in 2015. USO has indicated the possibility of a national strike, fearing Ecopetrol will attempt to gut its collective bargaining agreement with the union. Some 600 ICP workers were fired in Bucaramanga last month.

USO’s collective bargaining agreements with Ecopetrol have long set the standard for labor conditions in Colombia’s oil industry. Ecopetrol was founded when USO organized a national strike to demand the creation of a publically managed oil company in 1948. The company is 85% owned by the state and the Colombian government recently appointed Juan Carlos Echeverry, a close ally of President Santos, to be its new president.

Buenaventura’s Humanitarian and Social Crisis, One Year Later

Community Groups Gather in Buenaventura, Mark One Year Anniversary of Historic Peace March


On the heels of 187 murders, 39 reported forced disappearances and 4,745 inter-urban displaced people in the municipality of Buenaventura in 2013 alone, residents had reached a boiling point.  Leaders representing congregations of faith, unions, students and Buenaventura’s diverse communities released a manifesto calling on the national government to respond to the humanitarian and social crisis in Buenaventura. On February 19th, 2014 over 30,000 residents of Buenaventura, dressed in white, flooded the streets of their city in an unprecedented demonstration of unity.  People came together under a unified banner: “End violence and live with dignity in Buenaventura.”

The manifesto highlighted the alarming rates of violence as a result of the national government’s failure to comply with its constitutional obligation to ensure the population’s safety and welfare. Demands included an emergency response to the current crisis by the government and long term strategies for social investment and development. Protestors call for significant investment in healthcare, education, job development and access to vital infrastructure such as clean water and insist that the armed forces protect the citizens of Buenaventura.

A new coalition was formed in the wake of this massive mobilization, known as The March Committee, to push for proposed reforms.  Today, one year since the march took place, community stakeholders gathered in efforts to keep pressure on the national government, celebrate limited victories and refocus public attention on key issues.  A press conference, rally and cultural event was held in front of Buenaventura’s Mayoral offices.  Diocese Héctor Epalza Quintero, the coalition’s most prominent leader, voiced the widely-felt sentiment that “one year after 30,000 residents marched in the streets of Buenaventura, the magic we have created here is embodied in the hope and solidarity that people have shown. The people have said ‘no’ to violence and fear.  They say ‘yes’ to a different Buenaventura.  It is a ray of hope and commitment on the part of the citizenry.”

Developments and Unfulfilled Promises

Murders in Buenaventura reportedly decreased by 38% in 2014, in relation to statistics for 2013.  Many attribute this drop to a significant number of military agents temporarily deployed in the city.  One community leader said that “the crisis in Buenaventura created a problem for President Santos’ re-election hopes.  Unfortunately, once he was re-elected the military disappeared.’  Others have suggested that neo-paramilitary group Urabeños consolidated control of strategic neighborhoods, resulting in a temporary lull in its turf war with rival group La Empresa.  In January, 2015 four clandestine graves were discovered in Barrio El Progresso, in Buenaventura’s Comuna 12, an area that local residents say has become a clandestine cemetery.  Community leaders expressed hope that the decline in murders would continue in a downward trend, while also noting a need to investigate the relationship between higher rates of violence, displacement and murder in areas where new development projects are proposed or underway.  Though eight prosecutors have been added in Buenaventura, rates of impunity remain alarmingly high.

Members of Buenaventura’s two largest healthcare unions (ANTHOC and SINTRAHOSPLAP) conducted a mock funeral to call attention to their failing system.

Buenaventura’s healthcare network has shown signs of significant deterioration over the past year, underlined by the liquidation of its only public hospital. The closest full service hospital for the city’s 400,000 residents is now a three hour drive away in Cali.  While the national government provided six new ambulances for the city in the past year, currently only 62 hospital beds are in operation for the city’s entire population.  This week it was announced that plans for a refurbished hospital opening in April have been pushed back until at least November.

Private enterprise Hidropacífico assumed responsibility of Buenaventura’s water distribution in 2002, replacing public company Acuavalle, with the promise to bring fresh water to residents’ homes 24 hours a day . Thirteen years later service has declined notably, as a result of corruption, absentee political leadership and lack of oversight. The majority of the city’s residents have access to running water in their homes for no more than a few hours every other day.  Community leader Narcilo Rosero Castillo explains that last year the government agreed to repair the water system in four key areas, and ensure potable water service to Buenaventura’s homes on a permanent basis by the end of October, 2015.  While progress has been made to repair the intake system, nothing has been done to address deteriorating pipes, purify water or improve distribution.  Residents demanded access to running water today, pouring buckets of water over their heads and chanting ‘Hidropacífico needs to go.’


Unemployment in Buenaventura continues to hover at a staggering 63%. The national government has proposed setting 5 billion pesos (roughly $2 million USD) aside for the artisanal and informal sectors of the Buenaventuran workforce, but according to Manuel Bedoya, president of the Artisanal Fisherman Association, the money has yet to materialize.  Plans also exist to redevelop a small port for independent fishermen but, likewise, there is no evidence of advancements.

Moreover, little oversight is applied to ensure that legal standards are applied in the city’s existing jobs. Jhon Jhairo Castro, president of Buenaventura’s port workers union announced that a study conducted by the union to be published in March, examining labor conditions in the nation’s five largest ports revealed a widespread disregard for national labor laws and international conventions across the board. In Buenaventura, illegal subcontracting is so prevalent that workers often have four levels of separation between themselves and their employer.   The average wage for a port worker in Buenaventura is a meager 646,000 pesos ($262 USD) a month, less than half of a port worker in Cartagena.

Humberto Hurtado, local representative of Colombian labor federation CUT, expressed concern regarding the Santos administration’s recent announcement of a 17 trillion peso (7 billion dollar) cut to social development nationally. Hurtado does not think government will be able to follow through on many of its commitments in Buenaventura.

In 2014, the Colombian government received over $2 billion USD in tax revenues from Buenaventura’s port-based commerce. The city’s residents feel this wealth is not being reinvested in the community.  President Santo’s recent appointment of Luis Gilberto Murillo to oversee a new program called The Pacific Initiative is one promising sign, but this year residents of Buenaventura will look to the Colombian government to produce results by fulfilling recent commitments.  As Epalza Quintero said today, “the government has turned its back on Buenaventura.  Now is the time to extend a generous hand to our city in order to lift us out of our social and humanitarian crisis.”

USO: We are in Campo Rubiales to Stay

On January 21st, a delegation of 150 national USO leaders, current and former workers Campo Rubiales workers, students, community members and environmentalists officially launched the new USO office in rural Puerto Gaitan.

Watch national USO leader, Fredy Pulecio speaking to workers:

USO Addresses Workers in Rubiales from PASO International on Vimeo.

The establishment of this new headquarters is a significant step for USO, which has not been able to maintain a permanent presence in the region since 2012 when it was forced to close its office due to death threats against its leaders and the murder of USO activist Milton Rivas. Norlay Acevedo, a former worker subcontracted by Pacific Rubiale was one of the leaders who received death threats, forcing him into exile in Chile in 2012. With the accompaniment of PASO, USO and the international labor movement, he has now returned to Campo Rubiales and is organizing workers.

Norlay Acevedo, Returns to Rubiales After 2 Years Living In Exile from PASO International on Vimeo.