November 16, 2011

News from Colombian political prisioner

We have reported several times on the situation of Liliany Obando, the most prominent political prisoner in Colombia. Well-known in Canada as a labour and solidarity activist, Liliany remains in the "Buen Pastor" women's prison in Bogota, still awaiting trial on bogus charges. Arrested in 2008, she is the last of the accused in the "farc-politica" trials; other defendants have been released after the government's case fell apart under closer scrutiny. Kevin Neish of Victoria, B.C., has visited Liliany several times during her incarceration. Here is his latest first hand report:

     I got in to see Liliany in the high security women's prison "Buen Pastor" last Saturday (Oct. 24). Liliany's son Camilo accompanied me. He is now 18 so he can visit every Saturday. Unfortunately her 8-year-old daughter Laura can only visit once a month, which is a very sore point with all the prisoners and is a rather cruel punishment. Children under three stay with their mothers in prison, and then are taken away and get only one four-hour visit a month until they are 18.

     The guards were cooperative and friendly. During my last visit in March 2010, the guards threw me out because they had suddenly changed the rules on the documents I needed. This time I breezed through the entry process but as usual I was x‑rayed, scanned, gone over with a wand, frisked, fingerprinted twice, had my shoes disassembled and sniffed by a drug dog. I almost didn't get in as the authorities once again changed the rules and now require a specific photo, but fortunately the local lawyers group LAZO quickly obtained this for me.

     Liliany seems to be in very good spirits even though she is now in an even higher security cell block. It has no daylight, even the yard is enclosed. At one point I commented that the heavy rain they are having is terrible. She replied that she enjoyed it when it rained hard, as then she can hear it falling on her cell block roof, giving her contact with the outdoors. Not being able to see the sun, feel the rain or even a breeze is a terrible added punishment.

     There are only 27 other prisoners in her new cell block, which measures about 60 by 30 feet, so it is less crowded. But she is now in with very dangerous common criminals, right-wing paramilitary prisoners and rich drug dealing prisoners, who despise her and would likely kill her if they had a chance. This might be the authorities' plan, but she thinks she is safe. She has only one companera in the cell block and so spends almost all of her time in her cell. She is trying to politically organise these new fellow prisoners, as she did in patio 6, which is why they moved her, but it appears to be a hard job. Since she left cell block 6, the new warden has clamped down on her friends and taken away rights Liliany had successfully won there. Most of the prisoners in her new cell block 7 want to cooperate with the guards to make their own lives easier.

     Her accommodations are better then in Patio 6, as she has a bit bigger room with a tv, a bathroom and only one roommate, but now the bunks are concrete slabs with a thin foam mattress. The patio 7 cells are locked down at 7 pm so it really limits her political organising.

     Typically for Liliany, she challenged the "head" prisoner in charge of the cell block, because she was cooperating with the guards too much. So Liliany has lost her TV privileges controlled by this prisoner overseer.

     Like my last visits, it appears that Colombian unions and activists, other than the brave LAZO lawyers, are scared to come close to Liliany due to fears of right wing retaliation. She has almost run out of legal options. A final Supreme Court appeal is coming soon, and if lost, that could leave just waiting for her trial to end. Everyone else who was arrested using the "magic" FARC computer information has had their trials thrown out due to this evidence being compromised or bogus, except for Liliany.

     It appears that the government knows the evidence will not convict Liliany, so they are simply delaying by not holding any trial dates. She has been in prison for over 40 months so they are simply punishing her without a trial. Political pressure would seem to be the only hope. I will hopefully get in to visit her these next two Saturdays.

     Her kids, Camilo and Laura, appear to be doing better than the last time I saw them. Camilo is in university studying to be a journalist and Laura is in grade two and has opened up and made many new friends and is primed and ready for Halloween. When I accompanied her to buy a costume, she initially wanted to get a striped prisoner costume, but eventually got a princess outfit.

     The letters and phone calls Liliany gets from us on the outside are extremely important, and she thanks us for them (but would like more please).

     PS: Regarding the Canada Colombia Free Trade deal. On the plane here, a fellow passenger was bragging loudly that his Canadian‑Colombian company's stock had increased in value over 60% in the last four days, making him and many friends instantly wealthy. At that same moment a Canadian company named Pacific Rubiales Energy in Puerto Gaitan is violently suppressing the Colombian oil workers union, just one of numerous Canadian companies doing this. Union leaders are being shot and disappeared every few days. Colombia is another classic case of Western countries getting wealthy stealing resources and cheap labour to support our first world economy. It is obvious who is benefiting from the Free Trade deal.

Letters can be sent to Liliany Obando, TD-065593, Patio 7, Reclusion de Mujeres, Buena Pastor, Cra. 47, No. 84‑25, Bogota, Colombia. The direct number for her cell block yard phone is 011-57-1-5300702; just ask for Liliany Obando, "por favor".

(The above article is from the November 16-30, 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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