Former paramilitary convicted of Colombian union leader´s assassination raises important questions
The 20-year prison sentence a former paramilitary received this week for murdering a Colombian union leader begs some important questions: Was Máximo Cuesta Valencia working for someone else when he murdered Gustavo Soler Mora? If so for whom?
A Bogotá judge sentenced Cuesta Valencia to the lengthy prison term this week after finding him guilty of aggravated homicide for the 2001 murder of Soler Mora, a union president representing workers at Drummond Company Ltd. Alabama-based Drummond is Colombia´s second largest coal producer.
Soler Moler was removed from his vehicle in October 2001 by a group of armed men including Cuesta Valencia while travelling in the northcoast department of Cesar. He was then killed.
It was established that Cuesta Valencia was one of tens of thousands of paramilitaries supposedly demobilized in the early 1990s. Paramilitaries and their successor groups, organized crime gangs, have murdered many Colombian union leaders. Paramilitary assassinations are often contract killings on behalf of someone who wants a person eliminated.
Killing a Colombian union leader is about as close as anyone can get to receiving a guarantee they will get away with murder, as the conviction rate is only about five percent. That is one of the reasons why Colombia has long been considered the most dangerous place in the world to be a union leader.
Ending the impunity enjoyed by assassins of labour leader requires more than convicting the occasional assassin. It will require finding out if the killer was working for someone else. It would be unfair too start pointing fingers at possible suspects without solid evidence. Many possibilities exist: friction with employers, inter-union conflicts, or as two experts on violence against Colombian union leaders recently revealed, political activity by the union leader.
Political or social activism is the most common denominator in the deaths of thousands of assassinated union leaders, according to an exhaustive study by authors León Valencia and Juan Carlos Celis Ospina published in their book Sindicalismo Asesinado.
“The case studies and an overview of the numbers of murders and assaults allowed us to see that over the 25 years covered by the investigation, the unions that bore the brunt of victimization were the most active in the political struggle, Valencia and Celis Ospina wrote.
The investigation documented 2,870 assassinations, 283 attacks, 210 disappearances, 658 forced detentions, 169 kidnappings and 89 cases of torture of Colombian union leaders from 1977 to 2011.
So, it´s great to see a paramilitary convicted of killing a union leader. Now, more such convictions are needed. And investigators must take that next great step and investigate whether Cuesta Valencia was the intellectual author of the crime or merely a hired gunman.
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