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From "Andy Higginbottom" <ahigginbottom@blueyonder.co.uk>
Date Tue, 29 Oct 2002 10:03:32 -0500 (EST)

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

After 12 years of neoliberalism and 'economic opening' the
results have been disastrous for the national economy and
for the Colombian people. Those responsible for this
tragedy try to hide its causes behind the fire of war, the
current government continues the policy of accepting
violation of national sovereignty, and applies with
discipline the orders of North American imperialism and
the multilateral organisations, such as the IMF and World
Bank. The nation has in the process lost all that was
created since the bicentenary of independence from
Spain's yoke.

In this short period 61% of the 44 million Colombians have
fallen into absolute poverty, 11 million of us live in
destitution, 60% of the economically active population are
either unemployed or in informal employment, which
means that around 8 million men and women who have
the capacity to work are marginalised from the productive
process  and those that have work have had their
conditions of life degraded  by the reductions in wages and
services with each new government reform, bringing the
workers incomes down to the minimum wage or into

Today each Colombian owes the World Bank 2, 545,000
pesos (£591), a debt that consumes a million pesos for
every two that are produced. All this bears witness that the
immense majority of Colombians are suffering a disaster
while a spurious minority, that only represents  0.003% of
the population, receives three quarters of all financial
credits. The national means of production disappear in the
same measure that imports of commodities, goods and
services are increasing, 1% controls 53% of the land; a
palace circle rotates power every 4 years and hands its
account of the devastation to the empire, it then receives
posts in the multilateral banks, or becomes representatives
of private investment banks, to prop up their policies in the
international organisations of the Organisation of
American States, the United Nations or the World Trade
Organisation. It is a typical oligarchy which in association
with imperialism plunders our nation; and now they are
going to intensify this plunder .

The labour and pension reforms, a new form of slavery

And now they are coming for the few rights and services
that the people and workers still have. The all powerful
international finance capitalists who monopolise trade,
capital, arms and technology with an insatiable appetite,
continue in their voracity until they have squeezed out the
last drop of sweat from the national workforce, suffering
blood, tears and misery on the population to subject them
to this savage exploitation. The reforms passing through
Congress carry the indelible stamp of this miserable policy
designed by Washington and welcomed with pleasure by
the Uribe Vélez government, to fulfil its mission as the
guardian of these interests so remote from the needs of the

The sad experience of reforms to the 1990 system of
payments which destroyed the workers' incomes; law 100
that has done away with healthcare, hospitals and the
medical profession; the change in the regimes for licences
and import duties increasing the fiscal deficit as fast as the
national debt has grown; the control of inflation by the
Banco de la República central bank which has shot up
unemployment, reduced demand and increased interest
rates -  these measures have been adopted with the
argument that they will lead a way out of the crisis, but
each neoliberal measure has sharpened the effects of the
crisis, while those responsible continue with their
disastrous performance.

With the labour and pension reforms that the government
presented to Congress, it is trying to enslave the workers
with lower wages and services, and greater requirements to
get a pension, at the same time a labour code was
elaborated to impose on any workers that might protest.
The pension funds of Ecopetrol [state oil corporation], the
teachers and the armed forces are a prize for the financial
sector, which wants to eliminate the exceptionality that
these have, so that finance will take control of these funds
making millionaires of the fund managers while paying out
a smaller proportion to the future surviving beneficiaries of
the pension system.

In the case of Ecopetrol, the Pension Fund set up 3 years
ago, already has 3 billion 640 thousand million pesos
[£847million - in Colombia a billion pesos is a thousand,
thousand million pesos]. These savings comprise 46,9% of
the pension liabilites to all the corporation's workers, and
with expected yields and annual provisions by 2007 this
fund guarantees to cover the whole liability . The
arguments wielded by the neoliberal bullies within and
outside the corporation are that these pensions are too
high, that they are not correctly valued and the workers
will retire very early. It must be pointed out that wages in
Ecopetrol are not the highest in the oil industry, that is why
we are not disposed to give up the medical and education
services we receive as wages in kind.

The pensions paid to Ecopetrol workers do not affect the
corporation's finances, as the following table of pension
payments demonstrates:

  a.. 483 pensioners receive less than the legal monthly
minimum salary (mmw)                        [which is £73 at
current exchange rate]
  b.. 3,419 pensioners receive twice the mmw
  c.. 1,929 pensionaders get four times the mmw.
The above shows that 60% of all Ecopetrol pensioners will
get between less than one and up to four times the
monthly minimum wage, while 30% get between 5 and 8
times the minimum wage and the remaining 10% (senior
management) receive a pension close to the upper legal

These arguments support our determination to maintain
the exception allowed for in article 279 of Law 100 passed
in 1993, as well as decree 2153 of 1999 that created the
Ecopetrol pension fund and decree 941 of 2002 that
defined the taxation aspects and confirmed the destination
of the payments. These rights cost us hard battles and we
are determined to defend them with equal vehemence
against the attempt by Uribe's government to stop our
claims and those of all Colombain workers.

Ecopetrol as a Corporation is under threat by government

As soon as Uribe and his cabinet were installed they
appointed a new Ecopetrol president who proceeded to:

  a.. adjust fuel prices up to international prices, with the
sophism of dismantling subsidies
  b.. put a hold on devleopment of the Cartagena Master
  c.. facilitate letting out Ecoptrol's pipelines and supply
system to the multinationals
  d.. try to stop drilling at exploratory wells at Guarumo and
1625-K, whose development should be directly managed
by the corporation at provincial and central levels
  e.. suspend Ecopetrol's exploration activities in search of
crude oil.
These measures are taken at the very moment when the
nation's hydrocarbon reserves are descending at an
alarming rate, threatening the load at the refineries and the
country's fuel supply. In the meantime  more inducements
have been handed over to the multinationals, namely:

  a.. greater participation by the multinationals in oil
distribution, thay will manage 70% and  Ecopetrol only
  b.. royalties for the regions are reduced by an average of
11%, losing 9% in comaprison with the previous regime
  c.. processes to obtain environmental licenses have been
made easier
  d.. yields on the depreciation of assets have been
improved, they are now more favourable to the associated
corporations [i.e. the multinationals].
None of these plicies have served to improve exploration
activity in Colombia. And the multinationals demand more
reforms, to the point that they want to return to the hated
concession system under which Tropical Oil Company
operated as a colonial enclave in the 1920s.
The situation that Ecopetrol is currently experiencing does
not go well with the great efforts that it has made in its
economic activity and the enormous funds that it has
transferred to the nation. In the last two years the
corporation has generated income of 17 billion 913
thousand million pesos [£4.1billion], an extraordinary
amount that is equivalent to 4% the Gross Domestic
Product over the period. The income from  Ecopetrol has
incomensurate value given the country's economic crisis.
The best demonstration of what Ecopetrol signifies is that
the government has received 10 billion 550 thousand
million pesos [£2.5 billion], that is  60% of the
corporation's income. Notwithstanding the above the
corporation has reported profits of 3 billion 756 thousand
pesos [£873 million] over the same period.

USO is Criminalised

In the last 12 years a hundred USO leaders and activists
have been assassinated by paramilitary groups and private
'justice', 2 have been disappeared, 10 have been
kidnapped, more than 200 displaced from their place of
work and several forced into exile.  31 of our members
have been unjustly accused of supposed crimes of
rebellion, terrorism,  kidnapping, murder and damage to
another's goods, with all the frame-ups and manipulation
of the Attorney General and the state's intelligence
organisations. Our comrades' innocence has been
demonstrated in the court cases, obliging the judges to find
in their favour. Currently, through the use of inquisitional
power and political manipulation, our comrades FREDY
PULECIO and ALVARO SOLANO were unjustly

5 comrades who are former USO leaders are deprived of
their liberty, because the Attorney General has made
accusations against them. And one of our workers is in the
maximum security jail in Bogotá. Persecution against the
union has extended to our lawyers, and cost the life of
Eduardo Umaña Mendoza in 1998.

The persecution and labelling of the union is more serious
today. It has become the victim of accusations and
frame-ups by state informers, as against comrade
HERNANDO HERNÁNDEZ, made as they tried to pin
the policy of hostage taking on the union. The cost of
union organisation and opposition is very high in this

Colombia needs a negotiated solution to the internal
conflict. Ecopetrol as a pillar of the economy needs stability
and strengthening of the economy to develop its strategic
activities: the exploration, production, transport, marketing
and refining of oil and petrochemicals, and thereby with
careful management position itself as a state oil

The referendum is a trick to snatch away the rights of the

Uribe will use the referendum as an instrument, like the
worst of dictators. His aim is to freeze social public
spending and wages for state workers for the next 4 years,
and to eliminate the special pensions regimes. At the same
time he plans to cut Congress, changing its composition to
make it more docile, as one more step in the weakening of
national sovereignty and the degradation of the people so
that we serve the dictates of Yankee imperialism in its plan
to economically and politically recolonise the country.

The labour, pension, tax, and fiscal responsibility reforms;
the referendum; the decrees under the State of Unrest;
decree 1919 that eliminates rights acquired by public sector
employees and others announced by Uribe Vélez are all
clearly against the nation and against the people. This is
sufficient reason for the people - the workers, the students,
the peasants, the intellectuals and the sectors of
production  affected by these policies to advance together
in firm resistance at the attempted despotism and
enslavement of our Nation.

We, the oil workers organised in USO, are ready to add our
efforts in this national battle. We will participate in the
NATIONAL STOPPAGE on 30th October and we will
prepare to confront the labour conflict that the government
measures and  Ecopetrol's management have brought
upon us.


RODOLFO GUTIERREZ  President, ID No.13.806.526

GABRIEL ALVIS  Vice-President, ID No. 19.360.219

HERNANDO HERNANDEZ Secretary Internacional
Relations, ID No. 13.885.380

JUAN RAMON RIOS  Secretary General, ID No.

FABIO DIAZ Secretary, ID No.13.885.380

28th October 2002


We invite you to add you and/or your organisation's name
to this Open Letter which has been circulated by the José
Alvear Restrepo human rights lawyers collective in
Colombia. The Colombia Solidarity Campaign will be
handing this letter with a list of UK signatories to the
Colombian Embassy. To include your name on the list
please get back to me by 12 noon on 30th.


Wednesday 30th October 4.00 - 6.00pm
3 Hans Crescent, London SW1 (back of Harrods,
Knightsbridge tube)
No to Criminalisation and Repression!  End the State of
Internal Unrest!
For the Right of Social Protest!

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