September 15, 2011

Liliany`s three years in jail

By Kimball Cariou

     A Colombian trade union activist well-known to many Canadians has passed the three-year mark in a Bogota prison. Liliany Obando, who has toured several countries to speak out against human rights abuses in her homeland, has yet to face trial, and the "evidence" against her is utterly discredited. But she and 7500 other political prisoners remain jailed by a regime with close ties to Canada's Conservative government.

     In a powerful statement released on August 8, the third anniversary of her imprisonment, Liliany Obando vividly describes her ordeal: "I am a woman among more than 7,500 Colombian political prisoners, both men and women, who suffer and resist with dignity the harshness of a judicial system, prisons and a state that denies us and disqualifies us, calling us `terrorists' and which seeks to annul us as individuals and break us as social and political activists."

     Obando is one target of the so-called "FARC-politics" legal assault, which accused a wide range of democratic and labour activists of being supporters of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

     "This personal nightmare", as Obando describes it, began on March 1, 2008, when the armed forces of Colombia unleashed Operation Phoenix on Ecuadorian territory. This operation, in violation of international law and the sovereignty of Ecuador, massacred insurgents including a leading FARC member, Raul Reyes, as well as several Mexican students.

     Computers, removable hard drives and USB sticks were seized by the Colombian soldiers. These materials were turned over to prosecutors, but only after thousands of electronic files were manipulated. The files became the basis for the "FARC-politics" charges.

     As Obando writes, "To my surprise, I heard my name on the lips of prosecutor Iguaron next to those of renowned personalities from politics, academia and journalism. Among those mentioned were Polo Democratico Alternativo [Democratic Pole] congress members Gloria Ines Ramirez and Wilson Borja, Liberal Party Senator Piedad Cordoba, former minister Alvaro Leyva Duran, journalists Carlos Lozano Guillen, William Parra and Lazaro Viveros, the American academic James Jones and the Venezuelan parliamentarian Amilcar Figueroa... The common factor among those who were included in this line was the commitment taken up in the different areas of work of each one of us, some of us from the political opposition, to the defence of human rights, the search for scenarios of peace and humanitarian accords.

     "...My life until then had passed between my professional work as a sociologist, my commitment to defending human rights, women's and labour rights, my membership in the left as a political option; my academic pursuits in the Masters in Political Studies at the National University of Colombia (I was preparing my graduate thesis), and raising my children (4 and 15 years) as a single mother...

     "On August 8, 2008, while reading news online one item caught my complete attention ‑ it was regarding the arrest warrant issued against me. Hours later my home was raided and I was led into the cells of the DIJIN and then to the Women's Prison in Bogota where I remain still, 36 months later, with the status of CHARGED, waiting for justice to be done in my case and a clear abuse of pre‑trial detention.

     "In the raid, heavily armed police (DIJIN) succeeded in intimidating my elderly mother and my little children. At the site, they seized documents, including some belonging to my mother and children, which are among the evidence being used against me.

     "Leading the raid was the same captain of the DIJIN, Ronald Hayden Coy Ortiz, who had participated in Operation Phoenix. He sarcastically said to me among other things, it would make me famous, nationally and internationally, while other police filmed everything around me, including my family members and myself from all angles...

     "The prosecutor laid charges of rebellion and managing resources for terrorist purposes against me, based on the alleged information obtained from the computing devices of the late leader of FARC, Raul Reyes. Charges I did not accept and consciously I prepared to subject myself to a trial to prove my innocence. The prosecutor then decided to issue a security measure against me by placing me in a prison facility. I was denied the benefit of home detention despite having fully demonstrated my status as a single mother. Later I would be denied the benefit a further nine times, being considered a `danger to society' ‑ something that does not happen to white collar criminals who are granted this benefit without any obstacle..."

     On May 18, 2011, Colombia's Supreme Court of Justice (Criminal Division) issued a writ in the case against former congressman Wilson Borja, declaring that the physical evidence obtained in Operation Phoenix has no legal validity in any of these cases. On August 1, the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice unanimously upheld the May 18 ruling.

     Based on the ruling, Prof. Miguel Angel Beltran was released on June 3, and the extradition to Colombia of communist leader Manuel Olate was stopped. But judges have rejected applications for Obando's release.

     As she writes, "Fortunately, since many people unfairly linked to this process have been acquitted, only Joaquin Becerra and I are still deprived of our freedom. Meanwhile my days are spent in a high security cell isolated from the rest of my fellow political prisoners, but with dignity, high morale and standing tall. We continue to fight for the freedom of all Colombian political prisoners. Someday it will be possible, and I will continue working freely once more for a truly democratic country enjoying political inclusion, social justice and peace."

     She concludes by thanking "each and every one" of her supporters and members of her family, signing off as "Liliany Obando, political prisoner; survivor of the genocide against the Patriotic Union."

     (To read the full text of Liliany Obando's statement, visit the website of the International Network in Solidarity with Colombian Political Prisoners,

(The above article is from the September 1-15, 2011, issue of People's Voice, Canada's leading communist newspaper. Articles can be reprinted free if the source is credited. Subscription rates in Canada: $30/year, or $15 low income rate; for U.S. readers - $45 US per year; other overseas readers - $45 US or $50 CDN per year. Send to People's Voice, c/o PV Business Manager, 706 Clark Drive, Vancouver, BC, V5L 3J1.)

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