The Coca-Cola Killings

The Coca-Cola killings in Colombia continue. Last week union activist Adolfo de Jesus Munera was murdered shortly after he received notice that a law suit filed by him against Coca-Cola was accepted by Colombia’s Constitutional Court.

Adolfo de Jesus Munera was a regional leader of the Sinaltrainal food industry workers’ union and a former employee of the Coca-Cola plant Embotelladora Roman in the town of Barranquilla. Before Munera, seven other union leaders from Coca-Cola plants in Colombia have been murdered and others have been abducted and tortured. The attacks against the union activists are usually accompanied by threats to all Coca-Cola employees to quit their union.

Coca-Cola had a long history of controversy with Adolfo de Jesus Munera. In April 1997 the company’s plant chief Emilio Hernandez secretly requested the Colombian authorities to take action against Munera accusing him of being a rebel sympathizer. After an army unit raided Munera’s home in Barranquilla, he fled out of town afraid of being targeted by right-wing death squads. The following month he received a letter from Coca-Cola saying that he was dismissed for not showing up at his workplace.

Supported by his union Munera filed a law suit against Coca-Cola demanding to be reinstated in his job. Munera won in the first instance, but at a higher level the company’s arguments were accepted by the judge. Munera, however, appealed and on August 22nd he received a letter from the Colombian Constitutional Court saying that his case had been accepted. On August 31st. unknown gunmen where waiting for him outside his mother’s house and shot him dead on the doorsteps.

Sinaltrainal leadership blamed the Colombian state for the killing of Munera and was backed up by the Director of the Human Rights department of the national union federation CUT, Domingo Tovar. In a statement received by ANNCOL, Tovar said that the killing of Munera once again illustrates “the price that union leaders are paying for demanding social justice”.

Almost 4.000 CUT union activists have been assassinated since 1986, without the Colombian authorities taking serious steps to prosecute the killers.

The Sinaltrainal union has previously filed another law suit in Atlanta, USA against Coca-Cola saying that the company has contracted death squads to carry out a campaign to destroy the union. The Sinaltrainal leadership says that there is no possibility to bring those responsible for the killings to justice in Colombia, because the death squads are being run by powerful members of the elite and senior police and army commanders.

Earlier this year, Sinaltrainal attorney Pedro Mahecha Avila told US media that: “the evidence of state complicity includes not only the impunity with which crimes are committed, but also the use of the military and courts to harass the union with unwarranted searches and false charges.”

Maria Engqvist lives in Stockholm, where she writes for ANNCOL.