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Chicago Protest Against Coca-Cola Death Squads in Colombia

by staff |
May 5, 2003
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Chicago, IL - More than one hundred people marched here, May 3, to protest the killing of Colombian trade unionists by Coca-Cola's death squads. Marching through the mostly Mexican neighborhood of Pilsen, many people on the streets chanted with the protesters or stood and applauded in solidarity with Colombian trade unionists.

The spirited march went to the Coca-Cola distribution plant, where a rally took place. Colombian Coca-Cola trade unionist, Luis Adolfo Cardona, told the crowd, "I am happy to be here with you at the first protest against Coca-Cola in Chicago and the largest protest in the U.S. in our campaign against Killer Coke! Coca-Cola is getting the message that workers and students in the U.S. are organizing towards the worldwide boycott on July 22. This commemorates the day the first Coca-Cola trade unionist was murdered by a paramilitary death squad. I escaped the clutches of the death squads who, earlier that day, right inside the plant, shot dead my friend and our union negotiator, Isidro Gil. I came to Chicago under the protection of the AFL-CIO and their Solidarity Program. Now I am applying for political asylum so my family and I are not murdered by corporate-sponsored death squads in Colombia. My union in Colombia, SINALTRAINAL, still receives death threats against me even though everyone knows I am in the United States."

Vicki Cervantes, a prominent activist, musician and film maker of the Pilsen/Little Village neighborhoods, stood in front of Coca-Cola's shuttered plant doors and introduced the speakers from the Colombia Solidarity Committee, La Voz de Abajo, Jobs with Justice, SEIU Local 73-Public, SEIU Local 73-Health Care, Nicaragua Solidarity and the Pilsen/Little Village Green Party. Cervantes said, "The students on campus, the unions in the workplaces, and the solidarity groups in the communities can reach millions of people to put an end to Coca-Cola's supporting death squads that kill workers and to stop Plan Colombia, the U.S. government's $2.1 billion dirty war in Colombia."

Speaking on behalf of the Colombia Solidarity Committee, which helps lead the campaign against Coca-Cola death squads, Tom Burke said, "The campaign against Killer Coke is growing quickly. Students on six campuses in or near Chicago have campaigns to boycott Coke and are seeking to end contracts with Coke. Luis Adolfo has spoken to thousands of union members at their general meetings and met with many union presidents and officials. Coca-Cola denies all responsibility for the human rights of their workers in Colombia, but Coke's Atlanta based headquarters is always happy to count the profits they receive from the blood of the workers in Colombia."

Burke continued, "The Atlanta Coke headquarters denies corporate ties, but is the largest shareholder in the Colombian bottler. They know what is happening in Colombia and the blood is glistening on their hands. Every week three Colombian trade unionists are murdered by death squads that are part of the Colombian military. George Bush, and before him Clinton and Gore, funds these murderers through Plan Colombia. Down with Plan Colombia!"

Al Pieper, downstate vice-president of SEIU Local 73-Public and President of the Springfield Federation of Labor, spoke out against Coca-Cola saying, "I am contacting Sangamon College students to start a campaign. Two weeks ago Luis Adolfo Cardona and the president of his union, Javier Correa from Bogota, Colombia, met with all the SEIU presidents and officials in the Illinois region, who represent more than 80,000 workers. We fully support their campaign against Coca-Cola and we are bringing the Coca-Cola campaign to the international union so we can reach more than 1.5 million members with a message of solidarity! Solidarity!"

Jerry Mead from Jobs with Justice pointed out, "Coca-Cola's management knew we were coming, so they closed the plant early that morning and sent the union workers home." At that point a delegation attempted to deliver a letter calling on Coca-Cola to stop the killings in Colombia, to put the union back in the plants and to bring justice to the Coca-Cola Managers who collude with the death squads. Since Coke managers in Chicago were hiding from the protest, a decision was made to slide the letter under the front door.

The next day, despite Coca-Cola's efforts to hide from the growing movement to stop 'Killer Coke' and to boycott their products, determined protesters successfully delivered a letter to a Coca-Cola executive at the Chicago McCormick Place trade show. Leaders from the Chicago Religious Leadership Network, Jobs with Justice and the Colombia Solidarity Committee snuck Luis Adolfo Cardona into the international corporate food trade show and discussed the Coca-Cola boycott campaign with a vice-president of marketing for twenty minutes.

The 'Stop Killer Coke' campaign has recently picked up steam in Chicago and other cities. Four new poster designs from Corporate Campaign, Inc. add a very striking message to public demonstrations. The United Steel Workers of America's continuing court case against Coke and their death squads garners a lot of attention. Campus student groups, like the ones that organized against NIKE and GAP sweatshop labor, are springing up all over. The unions under the AFL-CIO are speaking out about stopping the killing of trade unionists in Colombia. The Colombia solidarity groups are forging people-to-people ties and sending delegations to investigate human and political rights, as the protesters sing "Hey Coke! We say no! Killing workers has got to go!"

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