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  • Roman Acosta the leader of sugar cane cutters in Valle del Cauca who was killed by gunmen on Saturday, July 1, 2017

    Roman Acosta the leader of sugar cane cutters in Valle del Cauca who was killed by gunmen on Saturday, July 1, 2017 | Photo: @MiltonteleSUR

Published 1 July 2017

South American nation remains one of the deadliest in the world for union leaders and members.

The President of the National Union of Agricultural Workers, Alberto Roman Acosta, has been killed in the central Colombian town of Guacari.

Roman Acosta, the leader of sugar cane cutters in Valle del Cauca, was shot dead as he watched his son play a soccer match in the district of El Cerrito at 11:00 am local time.

Two gunmen drove up to him on a motorbike and opened fire.

Another person was also injured in the attack.

The union leader was transferred to San Rafael hospital in El Cerrito and later died from his injuries.

Police have arrested one man in connection with the incident.

Roman Acosta's union offered their condolences to his family.

Sugarcane development is a thriving business in the mainly Afro-Colombian province of Valle del Cauca, one of Colombia's Pacific regions most affected by the armed conflict. 

Nearly half of its cultivated area is devoted to sugarcane production as either raw sugar or ethanol, about one-third of it for export.

Sugarcane cutters work as long as 14 hours per day and make as little as US$200 a month.

Because they are largely subcontracted, they receive no health care or pensions and must provide their own safety equipment — and have no recourse if they are injured on the job.

Colombia remains one of the deadliest countries for union leaders and members.

In its June report, the International Trade Union Confederation Global Rights Index, said the nation has made progress in some regards, but there’s still a long way to go.

“It should not be forgotten that Colombia remains one of the worst violators of trade union rights with a horrendous record for impunity regarding the murders of trade unionists,” the study noted.

It says an organization called Postobon is also running an “aggressive” anti-union policy in the country, and as of August 2016, had dismissed more than 3,000 unionized workers from their posts.

In the first four months of 2017, at least 41 social leaders have reportedly been killed according to the United Nations, a record figure in comparison to past years that lays bare a continuation of violence despite an historic agreement between the government and the country's largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, last year.

According to official statistics, 156 social leaders were killed in the 14 months between January 1, 2016 and March 1, 2017.

Rights groups have urged the Colombian government to prioritize tackling the paramilitary violence that often targets campesinos, Indigenous activists and other human rights defenders.

According to the U.S. State Department, paramilitary forces are responsible for up to 80 percent of the human rights abuses committed in Colombia’s 52-year civil war that has claimed the lives of some 260,000 people and victimized millions more.

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