[Pnews] Criminalization of Social Movements and the Political Opposition in Colombia

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Apr 15 12:06:29 EDT 2014

April 15, 2014

*From Massive to Selective Detentions*

  Criminalization of Social Movements and the Political Opposition in


    */Translator' note:/* Liliany Obando is a sociologist, documentary
    film maker, and single mother of two children.  She was serving as
    human rights director for Fensuagro,Colombia's largest agricultural
    workers' union, when, on August 8, 2008, Colombian authorities
    arrested her. A week previously, Obando had issued a report
    documenting the murders of 1500 Fensuagro union members over 32
    years.  Prosecutors accused her of terrorism and belonging to the
    Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)

    After 43 months, Obando left prison on March 1^st 2012. She remained
    under court jurisdiction, because she had not been sentenced or
    convicted. Eventually, in 2013, a judge, accusing Obando of serving
    on the FARC's International Commission, convicted her of
    "rebellion." She was sentenced to five years, eight months of house
    arrest and fined 707 million pesos, ($368,347 USD). The charge
    against Obando of handling "resources relating to terrorist
    activities" was dropped.

    On April 3, 2014, Obando learned that the Supreme Court had rejected
    her appeal. Her fine stands.  She must serve one more year of house
    arrest. The government's case against Obando and other prisoners
    rests on files taken from computers of FARC leaders seized during a
    military attack on a FARC encampment in Ecuador on March 1, 2008. In
    2011 the Colombian Supreme Court invalidated the legal standing of
    such material.  Obando and her family continue to experience police
    surveillance, harassment, and media slander.  -- /Translated by W.
    T. Whitney Jr./

Although we Colombians, especially those of us who belong to social, 
human rights, and political organizations and labor unions, are used to 
carrying out our work in risky situations, sometimes things get worse. 
This is one of those unlucky times. It coincides with the pre-election 

In a cycle that repeatedly sends us back to a repressive past -- one 
they don't want to close down -- we are witness to a perverse return to 
obscurantism and forced unanimity, to dissident thinking being 
considered subversive, to social protest having to be silenced at 
whatever cost, and where opposition guarantees are only a chimera.  
These are practices far removed from the duty of a state, especially one 
proclaiming itself as the continent's oldest, most solid "democracy."

Many years ago, and in tune with the U. S. obsession for transforming 
the idea of security into state policy, one outcome being 
anti-terrorism, the government of Álvaro Uribe Vélez during his first 
term (2002-2006) instituted in Colombia the politics of "Democratic 
Security." That gave rise to a series of actions damaging to the right 
to liberty, to guarantees like equality, legality, and judicial norms, 
and, generally, to an international framework for human rights.

The strategy of arbitrary detentions imposed under the pretext of 
maintaining security of the state, and for "good citizens," has its 
origins there. The modalities used were illegal interceptions, the 
network of informants, the Law of Justice and Peace and its accusers, 
and intelligence reports -- or battlefield reports.  They fueled 
judicial set-ups.

During 2002-2004, this strategy of the Uribe government entailed the 
practice of massive incarcerations carried out nearly always within the 
context of military operations or joint operations involving the 
attorney general, the police, and military forces. Primary backing came 
from Decree 2002 of 2002 relating to internal upheaval and also from an 
attempt at constitutional reform. In the beginning, these incarcerations 
were confined to supposed "zones of rehabilitation and consolidation." 
Their boundaries were set through Decree 2929 of December 3, 2002. Then 
they spread the length and breadth of the national territory.

Later, from 2004 on, in a change of strategy, massive detentions were 
converted into selective detentions against specified sectors of the 
population: unionists, defenders of human rights, social and populist 
activists from academia, and/or opposition militants. These people were 
considered dangerous to the state politics of "Democratic Security" then 
being advanced as part of a return to the dark era of Turbay Ayala and 
his "Statute of Security." (1)

That's where all this recent wave of stigmatization, persecution, 
criminalization, judicial processing, and incarceration came from. It's 
directed against social, labor, and human rights organizations, and 
opposition political parties. Their members, leaders, and activists at 
the base are pointed to as being little else but the activists, 
"civilian guerrillas," or at least collaborators of the insurgencies, 
that is to say, their social base.  As regards these last, Uribe 
disregarded their political character and classified them as "terrorist" 
groups. Once more the concept of political crime was being manipulated.

Juan Manuel Santos, as defense minister in the Uribe government, first 
made his mark chiefly by implementing "Democratic Security." Now as 
president he continues it. He will be able to change its form, but not 
its essence. Indeed, Santos has turned to acknowledging that armed 
conflict does exist in Colombia and also, on that account, that the 
insurgencies have a political character, although he doesn't say it 
openly. If it were otherwise, the current process of peace negotiations 
in Havana would have been inconceivable.  Yet he has not altered the 
treatment of politically -- oriented persons facing prosecution, nor 
does he accept the very existence of political prisoners.

In 2012, Santos, mocking his given word, blocked international oversight 
of prisons and verification of the situation of political prisoners as 
called for by the group PeaceWomen Across the Globe.  The government had 
agreed to accept the FARC's handing over the last prisoners of war they 
were holding in return for that group's good offices. (2)  The 
opportunity ended once more with an official denial that political 
prisoners exist in Colombia.

Judicial handling of persons criminalized under the strategy of 
"security" and anti-terrorism changed substantially, much to the 
disadvantage of people being porosecuted. Indeed, a person being 
investigated for supposed ties with insurgents used to be processed for 
the political "crime" of rebellion. Beginning with Uribe and then 
Santos, however, they are now being handled under the logic of 
anti-terrorist struggle. As a result, members of the social and 
political organizations who face prosecution are now being blamed for 
one or more NON -- political crimes having to do with terrorist 
activities. That's over and above their being judged as rebels. This 
signifies, primarily, that for persons being prosecuted under this 
approach, guarantees like due process, legitimate defense, technical 
defense, and presumption of innocence -- among others -- amount to very 

Consequently, we attend audiences of our comrade detainees in 
specialized courtrooms, not the ordinary ones. In these special 
sessions, investigations are carried out directed at very serious 
crimes, thereby removing the allegations from the area of "political 
crime."   And more: investigation and trial periods end up being 
extended over a long time and sentences are more onerous.

And as a matter of fact, Colombian justice applies the presumption of 
guilt, not of innocence. At the start, those involved in such processes 
are classified as "dangerous for society." Therefore, having been 
charged, they know beforehand they are going to prison for a long time 
and there have to prove their innocence. But inside prison and 
incarceration establishments, they are treated just like those who have 
already been convicted. This is contrary to international law dealing 
with prison populations, which in Colombia is a dead letter. One must 
not forget, furthermore, that Colombia is one of the countries in the 
world that most abuses preventative detention. As a result, many people 
in this situation choose to accept charges against them and thus reduce 
their time in dark Colombian prisons and not have to wait long years 
while they prove their innocence.

And as if that were not enough, the institution that, by definition, 
should keep watch on the state so it fulfills its mandate to guarantee 
respect for citizens' fundamental human rights, that is to say, the 
attorney general, acts in a perverse way. That office has switched over 
to being an inquisitorial entity that persecutes even public 
functionaries already absolved through having served their prison terms. 
Their political rights and rights as citizens are seriously affected.

By way of putting a face on this political tragedy, here are some of the 
leaders and activist members of social and political organizations who 
have recently endured judicial processes and are imprisoned: Unionists 
-- Campo Elías Ortiz, Héctor Sánchez, José Dilio, Darío Cárdenas, Huber 
Ballesteros; From the Patriotic March social and political movement -  
Wilmar Madroñero; Professors -  Francisco Tolosa, Carlo Alexander 
Carrillo, Miguel Ángel Beltrán Villegas, Fredy Julián Cortés, William 
Javier Díaz; Students -- Erika Rodríguez, Xiomara Alejandra Torres 
Jiménez, Jaime Alexis Bueno, Diego Alejandro Ortega, Cristian Leiva Omar 
Marín, Carlos Lugo, Jorge Gaitán; Human Rights defenders -- David Ravelo 
Crespo, Liliany Obando.

The number of political prisoners in Colombia -- prisoners of conscience 
and prisoners of war -- exceeds 9500.  The worst of it is that there is 
no calm after prison. The trailing, the threats, the stigmatization 
continue until many of those who are released -- if they are lucky -- 
have to leave the country. And many others remain marginalized and no 
longer part of their previous social and political organizations, which 
is regrettable. So too is that purpose of the overall strategy which is 
to weaken social organizations and the political opposition, and 
dismember them.

Such are the perverse effects of politics in Colombia centering on 
judicial processes and criminalization of critical thinking, social 
protest, and political opposition. We are called upon actively to 
confront politics like these if we want to put a check on such abuse of 

Silence is no alternative, nor is inaction.

Freedom for Colombian political prisoners!

Long life for butterflies! (3)

/*Liliany Obando*, Political prisoner,  under judgment  
(subjudice) Defender of Human Rights, Colombia, April, 2014. /


1. Julio César Turbay Ayala was the Liberal Party President of Colombia 
in 1978-1982.

2. The international women's group facilitated the unilateral freeing of 
ten soldiers and police by the FARC in 2012 through the women's promise 
they would visit political prisoners in Colombian jails.

3. The reference, used in connection with recent conferences and 
mobilizations in Colombia on behalf of political prisoners, commemorates 
a movement for freedom for political prisoners that developed in the 
Dominican Republic in 1959. The expression does honor to the Mirabel 
sisters there who were jailed and murdered.

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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