For over 1,200 days, former workers of General Motors’ Colmotores plant in Bogotá, Colombia, have maintained an encampment outside the U.S. Embassy. Asotrecol (the association of injured workers and ex-workers of GM Colmotores) began the action on Aug. 1, 2011, to protest being fired after being injured on the job and subsequently having their medical documents falsified to prevent them from collecting a disability pension. GM refuses to meet with Asotrecol to negotiate a settlement.
Asotrecol members have taken dramatic actions like hunger strikes with their lips sewn shut, simulated crucifixions and burying themselves up to their necks to draw attention to their struggle. On Nov. 18, after trying for weeks to meet with U.S. Ambassador Kevin Whitaker, they chained themselves to the embassy structure, but without interfering with embassy business. Shortly thereafter embassy police cut the chains and beat the workers.
Manuel Ospina, who has been in the encampment from day one but was not chained, was hospitalized with a fractured kneecap from the beating and is immobilized; prior to the attack he used a cane.
The following day, after chaining himself to the embassy again, Asotrecol President Jorge Parra was arrested and jailed for nearly 36 hours. Supporters, inside and outside the country, demanded his release. “We are smiling in India,” a representative of fired injured workers in that country said upon hearing of Parra’s release, as told to WW.
While this action was taking place, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos met with Ambassador Whitaker at the embassy. Asotrecol members believe a decision was made at this meeting to tear down the encampment, but that Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro — illegally removed from office this year and reinstated after mass protest — would not permit the eviction.
The chaining protest coincided with the filing of a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice, charging GM with violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by bribing the Colombian officials who repeatedly denied justice to workers that the company had fired.
Asotrecol is not alone. Injured workers in various sectors of the Colombian economy, many fired from U.S. companies, are standing up to demand justice.