Near Colombia’s border with Panama, just east of Uraba Bay, is the small Coca-Cola bottling plant in Carepa. Unlike the other Coke plants we saw, this one is not owned by FEMSA but by Miami businessman Richard Kirby.
In the mid-1990s, during a period of heavy violence when the right-wing paramilitaries and leftwing guerillas were battling for control of this important banana-growing region, five SINALTRAINAL workers from the Carepa bottling plant were shot and killed. One of the slain men, local union president Isidro Segundo Gil, was gunned down inside the bottling plant fence on the morning of December 6, 1996. “It is very unlikely that Coca-Cola didn’t know about the presence of paramilitaries in their own factory,” says Pedro Mahecha, one of the lawyers for the murdered union men.
After an armed group forced the Coke plant workers at gunpoint to resign from the union, SINALTRAINAL left the area and has never returned.
Although the plant is still owned by Kirby, who is named in the lawsuit against Coke, the plant is under new management. Those in charge when Gil was murdered have been replaced. And for the first and only time during our trip to Colombia, we were allowed inside a Coca-Cola bottling plant to see the production line, talk with the new managers and speak to workers who had endured the worst period of anti-union violence.