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Is Nestle Involved in Murder Of Colombian Union Leader?

Luciano Romero's homicide is now taking center stage in a legal battle to define corporate responsibility in conflict zones.

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While Jorge 40 and the AUC have now demobilized, paramilitary successor groups, often led by former mid-level commanders, continue to terrorize unionists working at Nestle today.

In 2011, Roberto Gonzalez became the 13th Nestle unionist to be murdered when he was shot in the back in Valledupar. In 2012, 23 SINALTRAINAL members who are current or former Nestle workers received death threats.

“Every time there is a labor dispute, there is a leap in paramilitarism,” said Paez. “The threats come, people are followed, there are some really difficult security situations.”

Some of the threats received last year directly referenced protests SINALTRAINAL had led against Nestle, including one promising to “exterminate” the union for their campaign at Nestlé’s Bugalagrande factory. The tone of the threats has changed little since the paramilitary heyday and recipients remain, as in one threat sent by neo-paramilitary group the Urabeños, “guerrilla sons of bitches disguised as unionists.”

Paez believes the links between paramilitarism and the landowning elite who supply DPA-CICOLAC with milk have also changed little. “DPA is still buying milk and they buy this milk from these men, who in some way have connections to paramilitarism,” he said.

While the struggle to hold corporations accountable for their role in Colombia’s dirty war continues, those on the front lines of that war have little doubt as to who it has benefited from the violence. “In Luciano’s case who won?” said Baron. “The state won because there is one man less in the struggle, the company won because they benefited directly and above all, the bosses won because they managed to show that with violence you can bring an end to unionism.”

James Bargent is a freelance journalist based in Colombia.
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