Colombian activist Liliany Obando needs your support now

A year after her arrest by Colombian police and incarceration in Bogotá’s Buen Pastor women’s prison, Liliany Obando is slated to go to trial Aug. 27. When she was arrested, the former international spokesperson for Fensuagro ― the National Federation of Unified Agricultural Unions ― was about to release her report detailing the murders or disappearances of 1,500 Fensuagro unionists over 29 years. She is the mother of two young children.

A worldwide solidarity movement backs Liliany Obando for good reasons.

One, she is a remarkable political personality ― a filmmaker, doctoral candidate in sociology, and a leader in Fensuagro’s international and human rights campaigns. In her own words, she is a “political prisoner, prisoner of conscience, communist activist, and survivor of the genocide against the Patriotic Union.” Colombian officials see her as a dangerous link between Fensuagro and human rights activists worldwide.

Two, evidence against her is misbegotten. She is accused of rebellion, a charge her lawyer characterizes as “very difficult to defend. The charge is highly political ― not really a legal matter.” She is charged with raising money for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). In fact, she spent several years traveling throughout Australia, Canada and Europe seeking donations for Fensuagro educational and human rights programs.

The allegation of FARC connections rests on e-mails supposedly found in the computers of Raul Reyes, confiscated last year after the Colombian military killed the FARC commander in Ecuador. The lead military operative confessed recently that word documents were found there, no e-mails. The International Police Agency Interpol refused to authenticate the government’s findings on grounds that such material is easily doctored.

Three, support for Obando means solidarity with Fensuagro, Colombia's second largest labor organization. Of the 80,000 people belonging to member unions, half are landless peasants, 30 percent are small landowners and 20 percent are sharecroppers. Women make up 43 percent. Fensuegro members comprised 20 percent of all Colombian unionists murdered in 2007. The army and paramilitaries have victimized over 5,000 members in one way or another.

“We are a class-conscious organization,” says the Fensuagro web site, “class conscious because we defend the peasants and struggle against the landowners, the big estate owners, the transnationals, and the regime’s anti-peasant politics.” Goals include food security for Colombia, land reform, rights for rural workers, participatory democracy, and upgrading the status of rural communities.

Four, in standing with Obando one protests the incarceration of 7,200 other political prisoners in Colombia. In a prison interview with Garry Leech (see colombiajournal.org.), Obando sheds light on their experiences, too. When she was arrested, national television covered the police ransacking of her apartment as it unfolded. Her children and mother were abused. She and 83 other women political prisoners held in her section ― unionists, guerrillas, students, peasants, and community organizers ― are all charged with “rebellion.” Three people share two beds in a cell measuring 8 feet by 5 feet. Prisoners are forced to work for no pay for outside companies.

Five, what happens to Obando may hint at the fate awaiting many other human rights activists, Communist leaders, leftist journalists, and leftist politicians targeted by the regime as FARC supporters. A judgment of innocence would serve as an impediment to the present wave of persecution. Conviction would fuel the witch hunt.

Six, Liliany Obando is a revolutionary. She told Leech that she and her fellow prisoners have the right to rebel. Now is the time for those who object to the Colombian oligarchy and its imperialist masters to lend a hand in her fight for freedom.

“The government of Alvaro Uribe has many facets of fascism,” she said. “It hates the opposition and the poor. It is a government that is fundamentally oligarchic, that serves the upper class and multinationals. It is a government that has given up our sovereignty to the United States and has given away our resources. It is a government that refuses to engage in a process for peace. It is a government of war. It is a government that lies.”

Some suggested actions:

• Contribute to the care of the children of Liliany Obando and her fellow prisoners. Send an online contribution to http://nicanet.org/?page_id=341. Or mail a check to Alliance for Global Justice, Lily Obando Fund, 1247 E Street SE, Washington, DC 20003.

• Send a handwritten letter protesting the political nature of the case to Liliany’s lawyer. Address it, “To Whom it May Concern” and send it to: Liliany Defense Letters, c/o Campaign for Labor Rights, 1247 E Street SE, Washington, DC 20003. Letters need to be received by July 23, 2009.

• Have your organization endorse a resolution to free Obando. The resolution is available at: http://www.clrlabor.org/wordpress/wp-content/lilianyresolution.pdf. Send endorsement to james@afgj.org.