The previous issue of People's Voice reported that Colombian filmmaker, women's rights proponent, labour solidarity activist, and sociologist Liliany Patricia Obando Villota was arrested on August 8 by a special wing of the Anti-Terrorism Unit (Unidad Antiterrorismo) of the Colombian National Police and the Criminal Investigation Directorate, under the direction of the National Prosecutors Office, on charges of "rebellion" and "managing resources related to terrorist Activities". The arrest severs long established relations between the Colombian labour movement and Canadian unions, faith-based communities, Latin American solidarity networks, and social justice organizations.
The primary grounds for Liliany'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 (FARC-EP) - a movement listed as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. and Canadian governments.
The Office of the Attorney General of Colombia has announced that the reason for the arrest was that Liliany worked for a non-governmental organization entitled FENSUAGRO and indirectly rallied funds for the FARC-EP through said association. In actual fact, FENSUAGRO is not an NGO, but a structured labour organization in its 32nd year of existence, which organizes and consolidates the many unions, labour associations, and voices of those in the countryside. If the state cannot obtain intelligence of this simplistic nature, any information related to the charges against Liliany are likely erroneous.
In addition, no material evidence has been found to support the charge against Liliany. The only "proof" presented by the state is purely speculative, as it was allegedly retrieved from FARC-EP computers captured following an illegal raid at an insurgent encampment on March 1, 2008 in Ecuador. Interpol has confirmed that agents connected to the Anti-Terrorism Unit manipulated tens of thousands of files from the seized FARC-EP databases. In their 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 am."
Over the past several years, Liliany has visited Canada many times to speak with various civil society groups, development agencies, members of religious organizations, unionists, and university students on issues of human rights abuses and anti-labour activities under the Presidency of Alvaro Uribe Velez. During this period Liliany also worked for FENSUAGRO's international relations commission, and was heavily involved in fundraising in Canada, the European Union, the UK, and Australia.
As a direct result of her efforts, some of Canada's most important unions provided funding to projects across Colombia: the creation of socioeconomic infrastructure for small and medium agricultural producers, human rights education and data collection, and an experimental farming and educational facility called La Esmeralda, which assists displaced rural families in areas of agriculture, gender equity, reading, and writing.
Why has the Colombian state targeted Liliany Obando and FENSUAGRO?
Since its inception, as many as 1500 persons associated with FENSUAGRO have been killed 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 this one labour organization. It is clear that the Colombian state is attempting to silence any and all measures of international solidarity with Colombian labour and social movements.
Liliany was one of FENSUAGRO's most important contacts outside Colombia. Her work as a filmmaker and a scholar within the National University of Colombia has been widely recognized for its insight. Her analysis on Colombia's political economy has been heard and applauded at countless conferences. Her achievements in raising awareness of the trials and tribulations of Colombia have spanned many countries. It is clear that the state is taking steps to silence this important proponent for social justice, and to block the important efforts made by Canadians to support the struggle of Colombia's rural and urban working classes.
Retrieving information related to Liliany's condition and the case at hand has been very difficult. Nevertheless, contact has been made with Liliany's legal counsel, who say that she has received messages of solidarity from all over the world. Her legal counsel has forwarded a statement of how emotionally touched and tremendously encouraged Liliany is by such broad support for her and all Colombians subjugated to such treatment at this troubling time.
It was hoped that Liliany would be able to obtain a reprieve from her formal incarceration at the women's prison (Buen Pastor) in Bogota. Her legal counsel applied for home detention so that she could care for her two children. The Australian-based Peace and Justice for Colombia (PJFC) has argued that Liliany's detention is a negation of her two young children's basic human rights, as she is a single mother and principal provider for the family. However, the court denied this request. The PJFC also reported that during the August 8 raid on Liliany's residence in Modelia, Bogota state forces "seized passports, photos and other personal belongings of her children and Mother". Arguing that such items have nothing to due with the formal allegations, the legal counsel requested that the family's possessions be returned. The courts also refused this request.
Targeting Liliany and other social justice activists is a structured tactic on the part of the Colombian state. Canada is in the final stages of a controversial bilateral free-trade agreement with Colombia, where the administration is embroiled in a scandal involving links between top politicians and the paramilitary forces. Liliany was on the cusp of finalizing a significant solidarity project involving several Canadian unions and FENSUAGRO. In conjunction with labour, agronomists, farmers, and researchers, she was working on an expanded development program to further assist rural workers at La Esmeralda.
It is critical for individuals, unions, community and civil society groups, development agencies, members of faith communities, academics, students, and concerned citizens to show their solidarity for Liliany. We must express our opposition to the unjust detention of this important Colombian activist, scholar, and worker. Please demand that Liliany Patricia Obando Villota be released, have all charges withdrawn, and be treated as a democratic citizen.
Free Liliany Obando! Libre Liliany Obando!
(The following article is from the September 16-30, 2008, issue of People's Voice, Canada's leading communist newspaper. Articles can be reprinted free if the source is credited. Subscription rates in Canada: $25/year, or $12 low income rate; for U.S. readers - $25 US per year; other overseas readers - $25 US or $35 CDN per year. Send to: People's Voice, c/o PV Business Manager, 133 Herkimer St., Unit 502, Hamilton, ON, L8P 2H3.)