What is happening in Colombia makes me feel infantile and disrespectful towards President Bush

Some people believe that the absence of street parties to celebrate the Queen's Golden Jubilee is a sign that Britain has no spontaneity or joie de vivre, but I would wait until Margaret Thatcher dies before passing that judgement. The day she goes, there will be wall-to-wall bunting; tankards of ale will be served from wooden kegs at every street corner; Spitfires will do victory rolls; flags will hang from lamp-posts - as will, if we're lucky, the odd former Tory cabinet minister. No joie de vivre?! The day she dies, they will be queuing up the M1 to dance on her grave.

So Thatcher suffering a minor stroke, while it didn't have me throwing a hat in the air, definitely did put a spring in my step. Apparently, the alarm was raised when she developed co-ordination problems and slurred her speech - which is slightly baffling. Surely, changes in her state of health would be signalled by moments of coherence? Or at least glimmers of remorse?

Maybe celebrating her misfortune is not politically righteous schadenfreude, but a sign of powerlessness. Bombed-out civilians in Afghanistan probably laughed long and loud when President Bush passed out on a pretzel. I certainly did, and I hope others will join me in sending a bag of pretzels to the White House as a present next Christmas. It might be worth sending the odd bottle of Jack Daniel's as well, just to see if we can get him drinking again. The image of George W Bush drunk, naked and rolling on a mountain of pretzels on Christmas Day might be only a dream, but if it happened, it should be enough to stop Vice- President Dick Cheney's already weak heart, and we might bag him into the bargain.

There will be some readers who find this infantile and distasteful, so let me tell you what sits in front of me as I write this. An invitation to a funeral. Big deal, you might think, there's nothing special about that. But this particular invitation is special because it is a death threat, sent to Jose Luis Cortez. It is an invitation to his own funeral. Cortez is the general secretary of the Yumbo Municipal Workers' Union in Colombia. The death threat was sent by the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), a paramilitary death squad that was originally set up by the country's big landowners. The AUC is a major contributor to Colombia's appalling human rights record, which is currently the worst in the southern hemisphere. The funeral card is not to be taken lightly: in 2000, 136 trade unionists in Colombia were assassinated; last year, 160 were murdered.

On Christmas Day, in the southern city of Cali, around 800 members of the public sector union Sintraemcali began an indefinite occupation of the 17-storey headquarters of Emcali, which supplies drinking water, drainage, electricity and telephones. The workers are still there, and this struggle against privatisation has become hugely significant, not just in Colombia, but in the whole region - so much so that Colombian government ministers have taken part in talks to end the dispute.

About half of Colombia's public utilities have been sold off to private companies. As a result of globalisation, about four million children in Colombia do not attend school because they can't afford to pay the fees charged by state schools. Mass demonstrations are held to protest against the privatisation of water and the huge price rises incurred. In such a climate, it is not surprising that union members have come to symbolise the last stand against globalisation. It is for this reason that they will be made to pay.

The death squads will want revenge and, as their name suggests, they get it by killing people. A death squad that doesn't kill is just a group of blokes moaning about communists, liberals and foreigners - and, frankly, you can find that in every other pub in Kent. The president of the Sintraemcali union, Alexander Lopez, has survived three assassination attempts; and amid the current wave of threats, the attacks have started. Two weeks ago, a bomb exploded outside the family home of Sigilfredo Grueso, a union activist who has been organising food for those inside the occupied tower.

The military presence in Cali is the 3rd Brigade of the Colombian army, which should uphold law and order. But it is unlikely to catch the bombers and assassins, because many of the soldiers are themselves members of the death squads. An eyewitness testimony in a Human Rights Watch report of October 2001, about collusion between the army and the death squads, in part singles out the 3rd Brigade, explaining how it shares equipment, information and personnel with the AUC.

America's recent gift to Colombia of $1.3bn in military aid makes Bush a supporter of terrorism. His targets are those who oppose his rolling programme of globalisation. He is the Mullah Omar of the southern hemisphere, glad-handing those who ignore human rights abuses, and funding those who commit them.

More than 3,000 trade unionists have been assassinated in Colombia since 1987; at a recent demonstration in Bogota, one placard read: "One-minute silence for the victims of the World Trade Center and 59 minutes of silence for the victims of US policies".

Pretzels! It is a wonder that more of us aren't taking up flying lessons. As we went to press, the Colombian president, Andres Pastrana, had cancelled talks with the union; public meetings and demonstrations were banned in Cali; and workers in Bogota had also occupied a tower - one belonging to the government - in solidarity.

Colombia Solidarity Campaign: 07950 923 448; colombia_sc@hotmail.com

This article first appeared in the 04 February 2002 issue of the New Statesman, Revealed: how Labour sees women