-**10UNSPANSISIWOONNIONONSOMMONK’ LAS AMERICAS When the Right Hand Finds Out What the Left is Doing BY GABRIELA BOCAGRANDE n May 7th of this year, at 0 10:15 at night, unknown gunmen blasted out the bedroom windows of Adriana Margarita Moreno Baquero in downtown Bogota. The attack was not entirely unexpected: Adriana is the daughter of Maria Clara Baquero Sarmiento, President ofASODEFENSA, the union of civilian workers in the Colombian Ministry of Defense. Maria Clara founded the union to oppose the ongoing labor abuses in the Ministry, where employees often work mandatory 12-hour days and 7-day weeks; when convenient, they are forced to wear military uniforms and work in conflict zones as if they were combatants. If they protest, they are transferred permanently to conflict zones, where many have been killed. On any ordinary day, Maria Clara is under more stress and pressure than an inner city high school substitute math teacher, which is quite a lot. Since establishing the union six years ago, she has suffered two attempts on her life, not counting the evening blowout this past May. She has been driven off the road, shot in the knees, and routinely threatened by phone. The callers identify themselves as members of MASIN, a catchy acronym for “Muerte a Sindicalistas,” or “Death to Trade Unionists.” These are not your average telephone creeps, although they do call her at impolite hours and mutter obscenities. But they have quasi-sophisticated electronic voice-altering technology, and occasionally, they threaten to kill her son. How quaint. Here in the United States, the anti-labor elements got this sort of thing out of their system with the Haymarket episode, but it’s still going strong in Colombia. Fortunately for her, Maria Clara is a beneficiary of a physical protection program funded by USAID that is designed to provide security to labor leaders and human rights workers who have been threatened by death squads. Unfortunately, the program is not especially effective. On the evening of the last assault, Maria Clara, although not at home, was notified immediately by cell phone. Using her high-tech USAID AVANTEL communication system, she repeatedly called the protection program’s emergency number for the Security Network at the Ministry of the Interior to request help for her daughter. One of her bodyguards also called, but no one answered. Probably on break. Subsequently, the regular police showed up at the house but refused to go in for fear that they might get hurt. From afar, they determined that the house had been hit by bullets, probably from a .32, possibly with a silencer, and that the bedroom windows had been the targQt. To date, no protection has been provided for the home or the children of Maria Clara. Nor has anyone been arrested. There are no signs that any investigation is underway. Odd. Judging from the forensic experience accumulated by those of us who watch Law and Order every other night, once the police have some bullets, tire tracks, suspects, and motives, they can usually come up with a responsible party. Not in Colombia, though, despite the expert protection assistance of USAID. Here’s how the Agency describes its protection program: USAID works with the Ministry of the Interior, Attorney General’s Office, national and municipal Ombudsmen, the human rights unit of the Prosecutor General, and other Colombian government agencies on human rights abuse detection and prevention, protection of human rights workers, and the provision of effective responses to violations. USA ID and the National Ombudsman have developed an early warning system as a means of preventing massacres by paramilitary forces and guerrillas. You know your country is a living hell when you need bilateral aid to provide you with an early warning system for massacres, don’t we agree? Also: USAID assists the mixed Ministry of Interior-NGO committee for protection of NGO human rights workers, journalists, and labor leaders. Radios, bulletproof vests and other commodities as well as security remodeling of offices for NGOs and union leaders are being purchased by USAID and the Ministry of Interior. Despite this largesse, lumbering about in your bullet-proof vest with a pocket full of walkie-talkies will not help you when your daughter is shot while reading in bed or your son is picked off riding his bicycle to school. To be honest, Maria Clara’s family 16 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 8/29/03
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