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COCA COLA FOR COLOMBIA: It’s Cheaper Than Water!

Colombian Javier Correa Suarez spoke at the Progressive Action Center about the repression of workers in his country and direct actions Americans can take to support the labor union activists, social activists and others being brutalized and assassinated by multinational corporations.

Javier Correa Suarez, President of SINALTRAINAL, the national food and beverage workers union of Colombia, spoke at the Progressive Action Center on Wednesday, March 18 to a small, but interested audience. The event was co-sponsored by Coalition Against Global Exploitation and Left Turn.

Suarez’ talk focused on Coca Colas involvement with paramilitaries and attacks by multinationals and the government on social movements and unions. A former Coca Cola employee, Suarez himself has survived several death threats and two murder attempts on his life. He was wrongfully imprisoned for supposed terrorist activity and then found innocent. Despite the intimidation he has faced, Suarez co-founded “Colombia Clama Justicia: Contra La Impunidad. Through public tribunals, the organization exposes the impunity of the government, paramilitaries and companies from responsibility in the assassination of workers and union leaders. As Suarez told the audience, "All of this (killing and repression) is under the knowledge of the judicial systems when it happened. But there are no nvestigations today. Nobody has been punished. They haven’t been repaid of the damage.”

While many in the US see the millions of dollars of support to Colombia as a response to the drug trade and “terrorism”, Suarez says that this assumption must be countered with a very different reality.

The reality of Colombia is the fight for autonomy and justice in opposition to the role of multinational corporation’s in plundering Colombia. Colombia itself has a wealth of resources, including large oil reserves and incredible biodiversity. This natural wealth is a target for corporations in search for new investments.

According to Suarez, the corrupt government of Colombian President Uribe is in the pocket of the transnationals, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

The country has even been divided into “special zones of export” where “megaprojects will be exploited by transnationals.” The export zones are overseen by paramilitaries and U.S. advisors. In these zones, he stated, “More than 2,000 people have been detained. Many people are beaten. The population cannot move freely--and can only do so when the military says so…And any person can be detained without judicial order--be put in jail and military barracks. And all that for the sole purpose of protecting multinational interests.”

According to Suarez, “They need to break down all resistance to develop the Free Trade Area of the Americas,” a trade agreement that will enforce neo-liberal restrictions and restructuring on the economy of Colombia. The clearest indication of the intent to bleed Colombia of its natural resources is “Plan Colombia” drawn up in 2000 by the US military, US government and Bogota.

Disguised as a plan to attack the drug trade, Plan Colombia is really much more of a plan to break the resistance of the country’s companeros, cut wages, lay off workers, and privatize corporations, including banking, mining and oil industries. To see a copy of Plan Colombia go to It was on the basis of Plan Colombia that the US gave $1.6 bn to Colombia.

Most recently and connected to the struggle for hegemony in the region, military troops of Colombia dressed as paramilitaries and invaded Venezuela. President Lula of Venezuela countered the invasion with bombs. Suarez conjectured that such fighting will result in a U.S. invasion of Colombia and Venezuela.

In this context, the case of Coca Cola Panamco illustrates the unchecked rule of the multinationals in developing countries.


Americans are accustomed to a harmless consumers’ view of Coca Cola, the delightful, thirst-quenching drink we all grew up with and loved. But in Colombia, according to Suarez, Coca Cola kills and coerces.

The history of the Coke’s involvement in Colombia has included assassination of workers and union leaders and their families by paramilitaries, kidnapping of workers and detention of activists falsely accused as terrorists. Suarez has an intimate understanding of the tactics of Coke as he worked in their Bucaramanga bottling company.

Suarez stated that in November, 1996 the union inititated negotiations in Cahaba. On December 5, Sinaltrainal official, Isidro Segundo Gil was assassinated. “Nineteen of the workers have been murdered since then, eight of them work for Coca Cola.” Further violence resulted in the death of Isidro’s wife in 2000. Suarez stated that altogether, 67 workers have received death threats and 48 employees have been displaced from their places of work and their families.

The deadly partnership between the Uribe government, military and Coca Cola shows in the connections between the government and Coca Cola management. The former Attorney General of Colombia is now a Coca Cola lawyer suing Colombian workers. And a former lawyer of Coca Cola is now in the Ministry of the Interior of Colombia. Company managers have become military advisors. It is not only the sharing of employment opportunities between the company and the government, that reveals the mutual objectives of the government and Coca Cola. According to Suarez, Colombia actually subsidizes the water that Coca Cola uses to produce Coke. As a result, Suarez says that “poor people pay more for water than they do for Coca Cola.” Coca Cola has a history of such dealings in India, with similar attacks upon people resisting corporate control.

After many years of terror aimed at the workers, enough evidence was gathered by the workers to take Coca Cola to court. These issues have been ignored by Colombian courts. On behalf of Sinaltrainal, the United States Steel Workers and the International Labor Rights Fund brought suit against Coca Cola in US Federal District courts.


To support the campaign against Coca Cola, the Sinaltrainal President asked the audeince to get out the message and to do the following:

Send resolutions and letters to Coca Cola.

Press the U.S. government stop military aid to Colombia.

Demand the U.S. government to ask for a change of conduct on the part of Coca Cola.

Boycott Coca Cola products.

Join an international tour to Colombia to campaign for human rights.

In conclusion, Suarez talked about the necessity for international attention to state terror of Colombia. He said, “My last word is that in spite of all that we have suffered there is still hope and struggling going on in Colombia. We need international solidarity. If not we will bet isolated and history will leave us behind. Our struggle is for democracy and life. And against the poverty that more than 60% of the population suffers. Those are the real conflicts and we need your help with solidarity.” (An example of the “megaprojects” can be found in Northwestern Colombia where economic interests plan to replace the outdated Panama Canal with a dry canal of trains and roads. People living in these areas are being moved off the land. One million people in the zone were moved between 1995 and 1999. A total of 1.7 million people have been moved.)

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