Liliany Obando: A Political Prisoner – Release them All!

What does Colombian political prisoner Liliany Obando have in common with Mumia Abu-Jamal, Lynne Stewart and the Cuban Five? All of them are incarcerated in prisons built by the U.S. government. Since the mid-1990s, seven new military bases and a rash of state-of-the-art prisons have been built in Colombia. Under the pretext of the “war on drugs and/or terrorism,” the U.S. has funnelled billions of dollars into Colombia’s efforts to crush dissent.

The U.S. government has been intervening in the affairs of Colombia since the 1950s, providing military training and economic aid to combat primarily two armed reformist organizations — the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN).

Liliany Obando, a sociologist and independent filmmaker, was arrested in 2008 and charged with “rebellion” against the government and aiding the forces of FARC, which has been declared a “terrorist” organization.

As the Human Rights Director of the peasant union FENSUAGRO, the Federation of National Agricultural Workers Unions, Obando has travelled to Australia and Canada to expose Colombia as the world’s most lethal country for trade unionists. More than 1,500 FENSUAGRO members have been killed the last 30 years. She raised funds for her union and educated supporters about the widespread theft of land and resources by the Colombian government, which employs paramilitaries and drug thugs to do its dirty work.

Liliany Obando, the sole support of her mother and two sons, was brutally arrested in front of them during the same week that her exposé of the murders of Colombian unionists was published.

Witch-Hunt

This witch-hunt is part of a campaign to neutralize dissent and pave the way for a corporate grab of Colombian natural resources. To date, more than four million rural citizens have been displaced in Colombia’s civil war, at least 50,000 murdered or disappeared, and 25 million acres of land seized from peasants and farmers by U.S.-backed right wing paramilitaries and the Colombian Army.

Liliany Obando’s arrest was based on bogus evidence, allegedly found during an illegal army air assault on a FARC camp located in Ecuador. In clear violation of international law, the raiders killed FARC commander Raul Reyes and seized his computer. This computer then disappeared for three days, to re-emerge with “incriminating” emails supposedly showing that Obando funneled money she raised for her union to FARC. In fact, even Interpol has stated that the emails cannot be authenticated.

Obando’s trial has been repeatedly postponed since her arrest two years ago. She has been denied home detention, which would allow her to care for her family, though it is frequently offered to those convicted of violent crimes, even those accused of working as paramilitaries.

Organizing behind bars

From her cell at the Buen Pastor Women’s Prison in Bogotá, Obando has continued the struggle. She has exposed the brutal conditions of the prison, where eighty-five women are jailed in the isolated political prisoner cellblock. Of these, 90 percent have young children, most are the sole support of their families.

In Colombian prisons, children can stay with their mothers until the age of four, and then are taken away to relatives or the state. Obando has been an outspoken critic of separating the children from mothers, and of the brutal treatment of prisoners, where proper heat and air conditioning are non-existent and inmates are regularly exposed to raw sewage. Obando has stated, “for us, the women political prisoners … it is clear that this vengeful treatment makes us pay with the grief of our children for our option to think distinctly and to struggle for a country with social justice.”

International outrage most potent weapon.

‘For Obando and others like her, worldwide solidarity and protest is critical to their struggle for justice, even their lives. Mumia Abu-Jamal has acknowledged the key role of the international movement in keeping him alive. And Obando has said, “the level of political persecution and violations of human rights is so gross that only international pressure has served to curb … so much abuse.”

Freedom Socialist Party

November 25, 2010

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