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1 2018: From Protest to Progress (December 13, 2018)

December 2018: On December 4, the “Ana Cecilia Nio law,” which would ban asbestos nationwide, was approved by the Colombian Senate; companies will have five years to make the transition to asbestos-free technologies if this legislation is approved by the House of Representatives.26 On December 6, Dr.

26 Senado aprobó ley que elimina el uso de asbesto en Colombia [Senate passes law that eliminates the use of asbestos in Colombia]. December 4, 2018.


2 LKA Blog (April 3, 2018)

On April 18, ban asbestos activists in Colombia staged a dramatic demonstration calling on Congress to shut-down the asbestos industry;1

As if by a fortuitous alignment of the planets, between November 21 and 28, 2017, the actions of a British campaigner, a Brazilian engineer, a Colombian Senator, an Australian physician and an Indian school teacher highlighted multiple facets of the global struggle for asbestos justice at places as diverse as the British Parliament, universities in Rio de Janeiro and Bogota, a monastery in the West Australian capital of Perth and a United Nations hearing in Geneva.

Giannasi’s knowledge, another asbestos information session was taking place in Bogota, Colombia. The public hearing was addressed by medical and scientific experts including: Luis Ernesto Gómez, Deputy Minister of the Interior, Dr. Adriana Estrada from the Ministry of Health, Dr. Fabián Méndez Paz, Director of the School of Public Health, Associate Professor Dr. Juan Pablo Ramos of the Department of Civil Engineering, Silvia Gómez, Director of Greenpeace Colombia and Cecilia Riao, sufferer of an asbestos disease.

Although the six developments reported are but fragments of a global jigsaw puzzle seen together they reinforce the feelings of public revulsion at the ongoing damage caused by historic and continuing asbestos use. The October 27, 2017 verdict by the Tokyo High Court should put national governments on notice that they will be held to account for the damage done by their failures to act on the asbestos hazard. The Indian Parliament, the Colombian Congress and the People’s Consultative Assembly of Indonesia might do well to consider how they will afford to pay compensation to thousands of future victims whose lives will have been sacrificed for the profits of the asbestos industry.

3 The Fall of the Asbestos Empire (September 17, 2017)

Support for the ban asbestos movement has reached new civil society sectors and geographical locations this summer with important asbestos awareness initiatives held by asbestos victims’ associations, health and safety activists, trade unionists and politicians in Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Colombia, Myanmar and Nepal.8 While the repercussions of activities such as these take some while to become manifest, significant media coverage of asbestos issues has already been generated.9

4 LKA Blog (August 8, 2016)

Today (June 9, 2016), I saw the photo below which was taken on June 7th moments after vested interests blocked an attempt by the Senate to ban the “production, marketing, export, import and distribution of any variety of asbestos in Colombia.” The people in the photograph include politicians and workers from the asbestos mine in Capamento who are clearly jubilant that they succeeded in protecting their financial interests.

Although the veto orchestrated by Eternit Colombiana S.A., Eternit Pacifico S.A., Eternit Atlántico S.A and other commercial and governmental asbestos stakeholders was not unexpected, the news of these developments reminded me once again about the complex dynamics involved in progressing the campaign to protect human beings from the asbestos hazard.

When Colombia eventually bans asbestos, and it will, those people who celebrated the June 7th vote will be left high and dry and, more likely than not, sick and abandoned by the industry’s supporters who are pictured alongside them in the photo above. Politicians, trade unionists, workers and residents of Campamento would be better served in seeking to attract alternative industries and safer employment to the region rather than supporting this out-dated and deadly technology.

5 Columbian Senate Debates Ban Asbestos Bill (April 8, 2016)

On Tuesday, April 5, 2016 the Colombian Senate had its first debate on Bill 97 which seeks to introduce a comprehensive ban on the production, marketing, export, import and distribution of all forms of asbestos and products containing it.

The next speaker was the Mayor of Campamento, in the Department of Antioquia – where Colombia’s main asbestos mine is located. The Mayor exhibited a document issued by the manager of the Campamento Hospital which stated that there were no medical records showing any asbestos-related diseases amongst patients.

Mr. Daniel Pineda, whose wife Ana Cecilia Nio has mesothelioma, presented a petition signed by 22,000 Colombians via the platform change.org calling for a national asbestos ban.

Subsequently, artist and campaigner Guillermo Villamizar, speaking on behalf of the foundation Free Colombia of Asbestos rebutted the arguments of the Ascolfibras representative highlighting the current positions of the WHO and IARC (The International Agency for Research on Cancer) which categorically agree that exposure to all types of asbestos can cause cancer and that there is no safe threshold of exposure.

Former President of Colombia Senator Alvaro Uribe Velez, expressing concern about the fate of the town should a ban be introduced, highlighted the need for a just transition whereby the government would provide financial and practical support to help the town create new employment for residents.

The Colombian political spectrum is fairly conservative and this initiative faces a tough challenge to win votes in the current political climate. Former President of Colombia Senator Alvaro Uribe Velez has three members of his party in the coalition, and although two of them support the ban bill, Mr.

In a debate dominated by Colombia’s powerful asbestos vested interests, the fact that there is no epidemiological data documenting the incidence of deadly asbestos diseases is used to good advantage by those supporting the status quo. The Government must actively engage with the injured to quantify the asbestos challenges and provide assistance to those people suffering.

6 Challenging Colombia’s Asbestos Status Quo (September 7, 2015)

In August 2015, campaigners in Colombia took the ban asbestos fight into new forums and destinations; raising the profile of the country’s asbestos scandal at academic conferences and art exhibitions, and in public spaces. On Thursday, August 20, a conference investigating the relationships between art, politics and economics – entitled: Heterodoxy: Reflection on Aesthetics – was held at Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Cali, Colombia. During his presentation artist Guillermo Villamizar considered the case of asbestos entrepreneur, billionaire, art collector and “philanthropist” Stephen Schmidheiny, formerly head of one of the world’s largest global asbestos conglomerates.

medical students who have a particular interest in the capacity of asbestos, still widely used in Colombia, to cause deadly cancers and debilitating diseases. The installation at the exhibition by Guillermo Villamizar entitled ASBESTOS: Lungs of capitalism1 is accompanied by a range of resources from the UK, Italy, Spain and the U.

On August 31, asbestos was also on the agenda of a Labour Studies Congress for Colombia and Latin America – Results and Challenges – which was hosted at the National University of Colombia, Bogotá by the Network for Labor Studies of Colombia. This event was a pre-cursor to the VIII Latin American Congress of Labour Studies that will be held next year in Buenos Aires.

“Until very recently, vested interests dictated Colombia’s national asbestos dialogue. The result of their dominance has been a total disregard for the hazards of living and working with asbestos as a result of which many Colombians are suffering from asbestos cancers and diseases. As an artist and a citizen, I have a part to play in ridding my country of the asbestos scourge. There is a growing public commitment to end the use of asbestos in Colombia and expose the crimes of those who have profited from this deadly trade.”

7 Report from the Asbestos Frontline: Update from Geneva (May 13, 2015)

Those with vested interests attending COP7 come from Russia, India, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Canada, Vietnam, Mexico, Colombia and Brazil.2 The propaganda they have brought with them to the meeting is available in English, Russian and Portuguese and comes under such headings as: People for Chrysotile, No Chrysotile Ban, Chrysotile Forever and Science – Basic Facts.

8 Asbestos in Colombia 2014 (February 1, 2015)

When in the near future Colombians finally prohibit the industrial use of asbestos, we will remember 2014 as a year that marked the turning point in the perception of this dangerous mineral by industry, government and civil society stakeholders.

Activities started very early last year, when the Institute of Public Health from the Faculty of Medicine of the National University (directed by well known doctor Carlos Agudelo), the Istituto Superiore di Sanità from Italy and the University of the Andes held a meeting entitled INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON ENVIRONMENTAL AND OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH on February 19 and 20 in León de Greiff auditorium (2nd Floor) at the National University of Colombia, Bogotá.

Professor Jairo E. Luna (National University of Colombia) has been an indisputable ally in issues related to asbestos and worked closely with me on the research and text for the next paper presented at the symposium; our text summarized the current

asbestos situation in Colombia.

In Colombia, October is celebrated as the month of art with the Chamber of Commerce funding the art fair in Bogotá ArtBo. Parallel events have sprung up within the city’s cultural calendar to provide the space for public engagement with other issues not covered by ArtBo.

In addition to displaying pieces about the deadly impact asbestos has had on populations in the UK and the US, I was able to speak directly with Colombians on the subject of asbestos. Although nearly 50% of people that came to the stand had some knowledge of this subject, most were unaware that our country was still using asbestos and the different ways in which it was being used – i.

The possibility of combining art, science and policy in the campaign to raise asbestos awareness in Colombia was a result of the research I had done on the subject. During these investigations, I had consulted the British artist Conrad Atkinson who donated the image for the conference poster.

The artist and art critic Lucas Ospina, director of the Art Department at the University of the Andes, made a presentation about: Colombian and international

That day ended with Colombian asbestos victims telling the audience about their asbestos related diseases.

The discussion focused on scientific research in Colombia and legal requirements for asbestos-processing and using workplaces which are, according to industrial engineer Dr. Juan Pablo Ramos Bonilla from Andes University, routinely flouted; Bonilla reported the identification of asbestos-related diseases amongst people employed in workshops repairing brakes for passenger and heavy duty vehicles in Bogotá.

Just a few days prior to the conference, El Tiempo (the most popular daily newspaper in Colombia) published an interview with Dr. Jorge Enrique Estrada, President of Colombia’s asbestos trade association, in which he noted that the type of asbestos used in Colombia (chrysotile) was regulated and was safe.

The interview with the President of Ascolfibras (Colombian Association of Fibers), Mr. Jorge H. Estrada, demonstrates the efficient propaganda machine of the asbestos industry, which says “the type of asbestos in Colombia is regulated and is safe.”

Chrysotile asbestos used in Colombia (and in any other country in the world) is unsafe and causes cancer, as do all types of asbestos. It is important to note that more than 95% of the asbestos used throughout the world, is chrysotile or “white” asbestos.

Our International guests are writing to ask you to publish our letter, to properly inform readers about the dangers of asbestos for workers, consumers and Colombian society in general.

Guillermo Villamizar, Artist, Colombia

Jairo Ernesto Luna Garcia, PhD Public Health. Associate Professor National University of Colombia.

Guillermo Obando Valencia. Representative of the Confederation of Workers of Colombia.

It is important to acknowledge the role that the media has played in publicizing the asbestos problem in Colombia. In December 2014, a primetime TV program for the first time aired a program dicussing the country’s asbestos tragedy.

Another important development is a legal action brought by several citizens against state agencies and companies manufacturing asbestos products in Colombia. The litigation is calling for a ban on asbestos and is currently being considered by an administrative judge in Bogotá.

the media are beginning to record legal actions by asbestos victims against companies that have been using this mineral for more than 70 years in Colombia.

Eduardo Fernandez (Argentina), who, before a large panel of industry representatives, made the case for Colombia to end the use of asbestos. It is hoped that during 2015 more meetings will take place, so that the debate which began in Colombia in 2014 will produce results in 2015.

The road to banning asbestos in our country is still long, but we are convinced that all the actions described above will help Colombia become the next country in Latin America to end the asbestos slaughter by prohibiting future use. An asbestos-free world is possible.

9 November’s Asbestos Revolution (December 16, 2014)

Support for a global asbestos ban escalated with key events taking place in Colombia, Thailand and Vietnam, countries where the asbestos agenda had, until very recently, been dictated by vested interests. While the sizes of these markets vary, their strategic and political importance to the asbestos industry remains paramount.

Colombia is Latin America’s second biggest asbestos consumer having used an average of 20,000+ tonnes/year over the last three years. According to local experts: “Colombian industry continues to ignore the known biological and environmental risks posed by the use of asbestos.” The status quo which permits asbestos consumption to continue is supported by a government with ties to the industry lobby.

The discussions which ensued challenged the “accepted local wisdom” that the asbestos used in Colombia was safe. Eminent speakers included Brazilian Labor Inspector (retired) and veteran ban asbestos campaigner, Fernanda Giannasi who examined the global health catastrophe caused by asbestos; Dr.

More than ten thousand miles away, ban asbestos campaigners in Bangkok were finalizing arrangements for the international conference entitled “Expedite Asia to be Free from Asbestos Hazard: Global Scientific and Social Evidence” as the Colombian activities drew to a close. A coalition of Thai civil society groups including the: Social Research Institute, Health Consumer Protection Program, Chula Global Network, Thailand Ban Asbestos Network and the Asian Ban Asbestos Network and others organized the deliberations on November 24-25, 2014 to:

10 Latest Global Asbestos Data (November 5, 2014)

In 2011-2013 the proportion of global asbestos consumption for this region reached 72%; even more remarkably, around 90% of all exported asbestos ended up in Asia, with another ~9% being imported by just five countries: Ukraine, Belarus, Mexico, Cuba and Colombia.

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