Chicago, Il - In a spectacular development, Colombian trade unionist Luis Adolfo Cardona can breathe easy again after winning political asylum in the U.S. Cardona escaped kidnapping and execution by Coca-Cola’s death squads in 1996. On Dec. 5, 1996, the day before union negotiations were to begin, a Coca-Cola death squad came to the bottling plant where Cardona worked and shot dead the lead union negotiator Isidro Gil. The same paramilitary gang kidnapped Luis Adolfo Cardona that afternoon, but he escaped using his skills as a semi-professional soccer player to tear away and dodge their attempts to shoot him down. Later that night, the paramilitaries, who work in collusion with the Colombian military, looted and burned down the union hall. A week later the paramilitaries appeared inside the Coca-Cola bottling plant while managers distributed resignation letters for all the union members to sign.
Since that time, Luis Adolfo and his family have been hounded by Coca-Cola’s death squads. Forced to move twice within Colombia, Luis Adolfo Cardona eventually came to the U.S. through an AFL-CIO protection program for Colombian trade unionists. While Luis was living in Washington D.C. and Chicago, his wife and young daughter lived in Bogotá and continued to receive death threats from the paramilitaries. Luis says, “When the Colombian government heard that I was in the U.S. talking about corruption and all the social problems, my family was threatened with death.” At that point, Luis Adolfo Cardona decided to bring his wife and daughter to the U.S. and apply for asylum.
When asked how he feels about winning asylum, Luis says, “I and my family, we feel very happy now that there is no longer the phantom of a possible deportation back to our country. Our return there is not possible because of the imminent danger of losing my life.”
The Coca-Cola corporation refuses to take responsibility for the murder of the nine trade unionists. Coca-Cola continues to receive big profits from its operations in Colombia, but rejects any responsibility for the conduct of its bottlers or management. When asked what the political asylum victory will mean for the Campaign to Boycott Coca-Cola, Luis responded, “I think it is important to continue the campaign of resistance against the politics of the Coca-Cola corporation and to continue the campaign at the international level against the Colombian government’s assassinations of trade unionists; also to boycott Coca-Cola’s products and to force the multinational to stop their political assassinations against the workers, against the community and against a normal life.”
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s granting of political asylum to Luis Adolfo Cardona exposes Coca-Cola and their violations of union and human rights in Colombia. Dan Parry, a Colombia Action Network activist, says, “The process for political asylum includes a very detailed investigation of Luis and his family, including investigations by the FBI in Colombia and the U.S. The only conclusion that can be reached is that Luis Adolfo Cardona’s story and the experiences of his union are true.” When asked why he thinks Homeland Security granted his application, Luis said, “I think the U.S. government was able to verify how dangerous it is for me to return to my country, where the death squads would assassinate me and possibly my family also. The U.S. government is also conscious of the social problems and was able to verify the situation in terms of us living in Colombia at this time.”
The granting of political asylum to Luis Adolfo Cardona follows another huge blow against the Coca-Cola corporation. In June, the largest trade union in the U.S., the Service Employees International Union, passed a resolution at their convention calling for the support of the Colombian trade unionists and the Coca-Cola boycott. With 1.7 million members, the SEIU resolution takes a firm stance against corporate murder of Colombian trade unionists and the continuing U.S. government funding of war and chemical fumigation called Plan Colombia. Luis Adolfo Cardona, a guest at the SEIU Convention, was warmly received with applause by the 4000 delegates.
On July 22, an International Day of Action to Boycott Coca-Cola is being organized, with the help of the Colombia Action Network (CAN) in the U.S. Seven students and solidarity activists from the CAN recently returned from a two-week trip to Colombia to investigate human and labor rights in Bogotá, Barrancabermeja and Arauca. While in Colombia, they met with SINALTRAINAL, the food and beverage union that Coca-Cola is trying to break. The CAN activists are asking people to call Coca-Cola and demand that the remaining members of the union in Colombia not be fired or dismissed.