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Colombia: Two FECODE teacher trade unionists killed in separate attacks on New Year’s Day

Thanks to Justice for Colombia for this news article.

After 2020 was the bloodiest year since the signing of Colombia’s peace agreement, with 309 social activists and 64 former guerrillas murdered during the twelve months, according to the human rights organisation INDEPAZ, the violence has continued into 2021.

On the first day of the year, two members of the FECODE teachers union, the largest trade union in the country, were killed in separate attacks. In the first case, Gerardo León was murdered in Puerto Gaitán, department of Meta, alongside 16-year-old Esneider Amaya León. The attack took place in the Sikuani indigenous community of El Tigre.

The second incident saw Diego Betancourt Higuera killed in Yopal, department of Casanare. Diego was a primary teacher at the college El Triunfo Tacarimena, where the attack reportedly was carried out.

The two latest cases come just days after yet another teacher was killed. On 27 December, teacher and human rights defender Luis Alberto Anay Ruiz was found murdered in Tumaco, Nariño. He had been missing since going fishing five days earlier. Luis organised education programmes for children in rural communities.

Trade unionists continue to be violently targeted in Colombia, with teachers particularly affected. The international trade union Education Internationa, which represents more than 400 unions in 170 countries, recently adopted a resolution condemning violence against teachers in Colombia and holding the government accountable for the insecurity.

A number of politicians in President Iván Duque’s Democratic Centre party have verbally attacked teachers in public. In a letter to the British and Irish embassies in Colombia, Unite the Union said ‘we condemn in absolute terms these reprehensible actions and call on President Duque to publicly reject the dangerous discourse being promoted by sections of his party.’

Following the murders in November of two FECODE members, Byron Revelo Insuasty and Douglas Cortés Mosquera, the northern division of the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) wrote to British foreign secretary Dominic Raab over the situation facing trade unionists in Colombia. ‘The INTO strongly condemns these barbaric murders and we pay tribute to the values these brave men stood for – showing the courage to stand up for their nation’s failing public education system in the face of extreme adversity, intimidation, threats and violence, which ultimately resulted in these tragic, heinous killings’, said the INTO letter.

Earlier in November, the NASUWT teachers union wrote to Britain’s Minister for the Americas, Wendy Morton MP, over threats sent to members of FECODE’s executive committee and to the president of the CUT trade union confederation, Diogenes Orjuela. ‘The NASUWT believes the Colombian government is responsible for ensuring the safety and the physical integrity of all members of the FECODE executive committee,’ the union said.

At least 30 teachers were killed between the start of 2018 and the end of 2020 in Colombia. The new year has continued that horrifying trend.