The Colombian paramilitary groups were spawned in the conflict between the state and revolutionary guerrillas. In 1982, officers under General Landazábal, the defence minister, worked with multinationals and cattle ranchers to organise and fund "defence groups". Ostensibly they were to fight leftwing insurgent groups, but increasingly the paras, as they are known, became entwined with the drug cartels and the army. They formed death squads, attacking and killing anyone considered to support the leftwing guerrillas - basically anyone working in human rights or trade unions. It is a common refrain among the establishment and security forces that the guerrillas and trade unionists are one and the same.
Carlos Castaño, leader of the paras, claimed that 70% of his organisation's funding came from the cocaine industry. But he was also an ardent supporter of neoliberal economic policies and of multinational investment in Colombia - so why shouldn't national and international companies support them? In a newspaper interview, Castaño maintained there was always a reason for the paras' attacks. "Trade unionists, for example. They stop the people from working. That's why we kill them."
What was the Coca-Cola Company's response? Its website displays the only public audit by the Coca-Cola Company into their bottlers in Colombia. This was conducted in spring 2005, more than eight years after Isidro Gil was shot dead. Intriguingly, the audit conducted by the Cal Safety Compliance Corporation focuses on compliance issues: the report notes several health and safety breaches, including the absence of a protective guard on a syrup container at one plant, the incorrect number of fire extinguishers at two plants, and incorrect documentation for an employee at one plant. I am happy to report that the appropriate remedial action has been taken to comply with health and safety regulations. To this day the Coca-Cola Company itself has not investigated the alleged links of Colombian bottling plant managers with the paramilitaries.
September 20, 2008
To balance out the anti-Chavez post below, here's an anti-capitalist article in The Guardian, on the literally life-and-death struggle to unionise workers in the Coca-Cola bottling plants in Colombia: