On 16 May 2014, two unknown men attempted to kill human rights defender and trade union leader Mr Luis Plaza Velez in Cartagena. Luis Plaza Velez is Secretary General of the Bolívar Department of the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores – CUT (The Central Trade Union), the trade union with the greatest number of members in Colombia.
At approximately 2:30pm, a short distance away from the tent of the Colombian teachers’ strike on Avenida Pedro de Heredia, two men on a motorbike attempted to kill Luis Plaza Velez. One of the attackers shot at the human rights defender’s vehicle, but Luis Plaza Velez was not injured.
Luis Plaza Velez has been the victim of other attempted murders in the past, and has received death threats forcing him to leave Colombia twice (on one of these occasions, the human rights defender’s departure was arranged through the Asturian protection programme, the ‘Programa Asturiano de Atención a Víctimas de Violaciones de los Derechos Humanos en Colombia’). In April 2014, Luis Plaza Velez was assigned an escort and a vehicle to be shared with Manuel de Jesus Fernandez Leguía, the President of Sindicato Unitaro de Trabajadores de la Industria de Materiales para Construcción – SUTIMAC (Trade Union of Workers in the Construction Materials Industry).
The attempt to kill Luis Plaza Velez follows the killing of the banana trade unionist affiliated to Sintrainagro, Mr Tomas Rodríguez Cantillo, on 9 May 2014 in Ciénaga. According to CUT in its most recent report published on 7 April 2014, ‘Report on three years of non-compliance with the Obama – Santos Action Plan‘, “while in 2011 and 2012 the number of killings of trade unionists decreased, in 2013 they began to increase again. In addition, during this period, the number of threats and displacements of workers also increased.” The report records rates of impunity over 95% in crimes committed against members of trade unions.
Front Line Defenders expresses its concern for the physical and psychological integrity and security of Luis Plaza Velez, as well as his colleagues, since the recent threats and attacks against trade union leaders are solely related to their legitimate and peaceful human rights work.