In June of this year the then EIS General Secretary, Larry Flanagan, was part of an international delegation to Colombia at the time of the first round of the Presidential elections. Colombia is often cited as being the most dangerous place in the world to be a trade unionist, with over 300 assassinations having taken place in recent years as a combination of military repression, drug cartel illegal operations, and corrupt international business interests such as in mining and deforestation, sought to ensure that local civic leaderships and operations were beheaded.

Larry commented, “I met with the leader of FECODE, the main teachers’ union, who had to have four bodyguards with him, at all times. He explained that even local teacher representatives needed protection as they were often community leaders as well. It seemed to me a nightmarish scenario to live and work in.”

“One of the key messages I picked up was the importance of international solidarity visits, such as the Justice for Colombia mission I was a part of. Everywhere we went, Colombians were thanking us for being there and letting the Government know that the world was watching.”

As it turned out these were historical elections with the Historic Pact, a people’s coalition, winning the Presidential and Vice Presidential, setting the country on a new path.

In the remote communes, the children’s future was a major concern

The delegation were accredited observers at the ballot count, for round 1 of Presidential election

The EIS co-signed a letter of congratulations from the TUC, pledging continuing solidarity with the people of Colombia.

Dear President Petro and Vice-President Márquez

As trade union organisations that jointly represent over 6.5 million workers across Britain and Ireland, we congratulate the Historic Pact on its victory in Colombia’s presidential election. We have long campaigned in support of labour rights, human rights and peace in Colombia through our campaign organisation, Justice for Colombia, and welcome the commitments of your government to advance in these key areas. We particularly welcome the commitment to focus policies on those who have been most marginalised through Colombia’s history.

While we recognise that tackling Colombia’s long history of inequality and violence will be an enormous task, we are inspired and hugely encouraged by the government programme published prior to taking office. For two decades, Justice for Colombia has taken international delegations of trade unionists and parliamentarians to witness the reality in Colombia and to build international support for those working towards peace and social justice in the country – our most recent visit was in June of this year. In meetings with social organisations, trade unions, human rights defenders, conflict victims and signatories to the peace process, among others, the delegates witnessed the broad support for the Historic Pact and the excitement at the potential for change that could see significant steps away from the violence and deep-rooted inequality that has affected Colombia for so long.

Through conference motions, advocacy and in meetings with Colombian colleagues, our trade union organisations have formalised and maintained our commitment to the rights of Colombian trade unionists, social activists and rural communities, among others. We have repeatedly reaffirmed our unconditional support for full implementation of the 2016 peace agreement and the search for peace more broadly. We strongly welcome your willingness to seek a negotiated settlement with armed groups that remain active in Colombia and you can be assured of our full support for all efforts towards the construction of a paz grande.

The British and Irish trade union movements will continue to stand with the Colombian people. We wish your government success in implementing its political programme and we look forward to working with you to strengthen peace, human rights and social justice in Colombia.