The following is an action alert I recieved from the Colombia Action Network email newsletter. To subscribe to the newsletter, go the Colombia Action Network website or send an email to email@example.com.
Please read carefully the information from our friends in Canada who work in solidarity with Colombia’s trade unions. We need to demand freedom for Liliani Obando of the Colombian Peasants Union FENSUAGRO, who a few years ago spoke in U.S. cities where the Colombia Action Network has active chapters. We are working towards Liliani’s freedom in opposition to Bush’s Empire and the White House support for the corrupt, narco-trafficking, death squad government of President Uribe.
We need to turn the world upside down!
Colombia Action Network (colombiasolidarity.org)
Update #1 on the National Campaign in Defence of Liliana Patricia Obando Villota and the Rights of Colombian Workers
The following is an update from the Canadian campaign concerning Liliany’s condition and current situation. For a brief review of the campaign please refer to In Defence of Liliana Patricia Obando Villota and the Rights of Colombian Workers: National Campaign (Canada) – as attached.
As you all know, Liliany is currently incarcerated under the broadly-defined charges of “rebellion” and “managing resources related to terrorist activities”. Since her detention the Office of the Attorney General of Colombia (La Fiscalía General de la Nación) publicly announced that the information related to the arrest was on the basis that Liliany worked for a non-governmental organization (NGO) entitled FENSUAGRO and indirectly rallied funds for the FARC-EP through said association. Such state-based intelligence is incredibly misinformed in the fact that FENSUAGRO is not an NGO but rather the largest rural-based labour organization in Colombia. In its 32nd year of formation, FENSUAGRO is specifically structured to organize and consolidate the many unions, labour associations, and voices of those in the countryside. If the state cannot obtain intelligence of this simplistic nature than what assurances are there that any intelligence related to the charges against Liliany are less erroneous (For additional information on the state’s tampering of information as it relates to this case please refer to the aforementioned document In Defence of Liliana).
Retrieving information related to Liliany’s condition and the case at hand has been very difficult. Nevertheless, delegates from the Canadian campaign have been able to get in contact with Liliany’s legal council and have indirectly heard from Liliany herself. Through her lawyers, Liliany has managed to receive messages of solidarity from those involved in the National and International campaigns across Australia, Canada, the European Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Concerned citizens from all over the world have joined in support of Liliany while denouncing the state’s coercive strategy of targeting citizens critical of the Uribe administration, anti-labour practices and neoliberal policies, and the continuation of a civil war at the social expense of Colombian citizens. Her legal council forwarded to us a statement of how emotionally touched and tremendously encouraged Liliany is that such a broad mass are in support of her and all Colombians subjugated to such treatment at this troubling time.
From a legal standpoint the situation is as follows;
1) The state has continued to incarcerate Liliany within a “Prosecutor Bunker” even though a case and evidence related to her detention has not been fully established. We have been told that this is where Liliany will remain until the state has been able to compile, analyze, and evaluate evidence related to the case. If the case becomes formally ratified by a judge than a “measure of assurance” related to Liliany’s well-being will be issued.
2) Following the inquiry last week, there has been no need for “security measures” to be taken against Liliany.
3) If the state deems “security measures” are needed, Liliany will be immediately transported to a women’s jail.
The Canadian National Campaign in Defence of Liliana Patricia Obando Villota and the Rights of Colombian Workers strongly urges any and all individuals, unions, community and civil society groups, development agencies, members of faith communities and religious organizations, academics, students, and concerned citizens to forward letters of solidarity for Liliany as soon as possible. It is an important moment and sending your support may help Liliany from the dregs and insecurity of prison. Please forward your signed letters to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In Defence of Liliana Patricia Obando Villota and the Rights of Colombian Workers: National Campaign (Canada)
On August 8th, 2008 academic, film-maker, unionist, and women’s rights proponent Liliana Patricia Obando Villota was arrested and detained by a special wing of the Anti-Terrorism Unit (Unidad Antiterrorismo) of the Colombian National Police and the Criminal Investigation Directorate (Dirección de Investigación Criminal, DINJIN) under the direction of the National Prosecutors Office (Fiscalía General de la Nación). She has been charged with “rebellion” and “managing resources related to terrorist activities”.
The primary grounds for Liliana’s incarceration is that she allegedly worked to obtain funding earmarked for Colombia’s largest rural-based labour organization (FENSUAGRO ) but utilized the collected finances for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias Colombianas-Ejército del Pueblo, FARC-EP) – a movement listed as a foreign terrorist organization in the United States and Canada. Such accusations are suspect due to the fact that no material evidence has been found to support the charge. The only ‘proof’ presented by the state against Liliana is purely speculative as it was retrieved solely from FARC-EP computers captured following an illegal air-raid and ground assault against an insurgent encampment on March 1st, 2008 in Ecuador. Interpol confirmed that the Colombian state’s Anti-Terrorism Unit manipulated tens of thousands of files from these seized FARC-EP databases. This is the same unit which arrested Liliana. In its report, Interpol published that
using their forensic tools, specialists found a total of 48,055 files for which the timestamps indicated that they had either been created, accessed, modified or deleted as a result of the direct access to the eight seized exhibits by Colombian authorities between the time of their seizure on 1 March 2008 and 3 March 2008 at 11:45 a.m.
The Colombian state has greatly manipulated the facts. Over the past several years Liliana has visited Canada many times to speak with various civil society groups, development agencies, members of faith communities and religious organizations, unionists, and university students on issues of human rights abuses and anti-labour activities under the Presidency of Álvaro Uribe Vélez and Vice-Presidency Francisco Santos Calderón. During this period Liliana worked for FENSUAGRO’s international relations commission and was heavily involved in fundraising in Canada, the European Union, and Australia. As a direct result of her efforts, funding was acquired from some of Canada’s most important unions (such as UFCW, OSSTF, PSAC (UTE), CUPE, and so on). Finances obtained trough Liliana’s work were then utilized in a number of projects across Colombia ranging from the creation of socioeconomic infrastructure for small and medium agricultural producers, human rights education and data collection, and the development of an important experimental farming and educational facility called La Esmeralda, which assists displaced rural families in areas of agriculture, gender equity, reading, and writing. All this begs the question as to why the state has targeted Liliana (and FENSUAGRO).
For the past two years the Uribe administration has been embroiled in a devastating parapolitica scandal. Approximately eighty governors, mayors, Congressional politicians, and close allies of the President have been alleged or found guilty of having direct connections, meetings, and/or contracts with Colombia’s most notorious paramilitary organization, the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, AUC). During said collaborations hundreds if not thousands of oppositional political opponents, trade-unionists, community organizers, and civilians were targeted for assassination, threatened, and/or disappeared. As a result of testimony from former paramilitary leaders, who admitted links with said politicians, numerous civilians have been found in mass-graves reminiscent of those discovered in Germany during the twentieth century. Included in this scandal are Colombia’s Vice-President Francisco Santos Calderón, his cousin Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos, President Uribe’s brother Santiago and their cousin former-Senator Mario Uribe, three brothers and the step-son of Colombia’s Attorney General Eduardo Maya Villazón, Senator Carlos García the president of Uribe’s political party, and the list goes on. It has also been stated that secret meetings of paramilitary forces took place at the President’s own personal farm ‘Guacharacas’. When links between the AUC and the President became ever clearer in mid-2008, Uribe had the leaders (and whistle blowers) of the AUC extradited to solitary confinement in the United States where interviews (and confessions) would be virtually impossible to access. Alongside these actions, Uribe recently proposed constitutional amendments that would greatly restrict the Supreme Court’s ability to investigate sitting politicians who have been fingered in the scandal. In short, the Uribe administration is targeting state opponents, unionists, and researchers with the intention of dissuading analyses from the structural realities of a state that refuses to address Colombia’s failing socioeconomic conditions, rapid internal displacement, and the devastating consequences of a half-century of civil war.
It has been cited that more members of FENSUAGRO have been assassinated than any other union in Colombia. Since its inception, over five hundred persons within FENSUAGRO have been assassinated or disappeared by right-wing paramilitaries or state forces, while five thousand members have experienced some form of state-based abuse or human rights violation. In 2007, twenty percent of all known unionists murdered in Colombia belonged to FENSUAGRO. While Colombia’s disturbing history of systemic human rights abuses against organized labour is not new, the Uribe administration is clearly trying to draw attention away from the state’s links to paramilitarism, corruption, and social absence. As witnessed in the example of Liliana, the state is systemically masking Uribe’s reactionary military, political, and economic policy by going after those that can reveal the truth. Amidst a bilateral free-trade agreement with Canada, it is imperative that the Colombian state silence any and all attempts at international solidarity amongst unionists, researchers, and concerned citizens. Liliana was one of FENSUAGRO’s most important contacts to social movements, religious institutions, human rights groups, academics, and unions outside Colombia. Her work as a film maker and a scholar within the National University of Colombia has been widely recognized for it’s incite. Her analysis on Colombia’s political economy and social movements has been heard and applauded at conferences throughout the Americas, the United Kingdom, the European Union, and Australia. It is clear that the state is making attempts to silence this important proponent for social justice. In silencing her activities, so too does the state hope to silence the capacity for increased understanding of the violations being committed against activists, civilians, the poor, and workers in Colombia and Canadian unions from supporting the struggle for peace and social justice.
The following is a call to all labour councils and organizations, unionists, members of faith communities, students, academics, and concerned citizens to express their opposition to the unjust detention of an important Colombian activist, scholar, and worker. Please demand that Liliana Patricia Obando Villota be released, have charges withdrawn, and be treated as a democratic citizen.
An Overview of Liliana Patricia Obando Villota
– Rising (and accomplished) academic within the National University of Colombia
– Film Maker
– Former International Delegate of FENSUAGRO
o A brief list of where and for whom Liliana has spoken while in Canada;
ß Acadia University
ß Atlantic Regional Solidarity Campaign
ß Canadian Union of Public Employees, CUPE
ß Canadian Union of Postal Workers, CUPW
ß Cape Breton University
ß King’s University College
ß Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation, OSSTF
ß Public Service Alliance of Canada, PSAC
ß Roman Catholic Diocese of Saint John
ß Saint Mary’s University
ß Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception
ß University of New Brunswick (Saint John)
ß University of New Brunswick (Fredericton)
ß United Food and Commercial Workers, UFCW
ß World Peace Conference
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