A mothers letter from Colombian jail: Free political prisoners

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Liliany Obando is a mother and like Mother’s Day founder Julia Ward Howe is a peace advocate. Peace in Colombia means dealing with violence wrought by big landowners, narco traffickers, federal troops and privatized paramilitaries. She’s been in jail since last August.

Obando worked with FENSUAGRO, The National Federation of Agricultural Farming Unions, as human rights director and member of its international commission.

Now she is held in a special cell block for political prisoners at the National Penitentiary for Women.

In a Mother’s Day letter, she lets fellow prisoners tell their stories.

Rosario with four children reports, “My daughter of 14 years is the one that now cares for the baby. Why do they have to take away mothers’ rights, to be with our children and to be revolutionaries?”

Luarny, now six years in prison says, “They deny everything to us women political prisoners…. They think that someone is in jail for being bad and not for thinking differently. If others have rights, we do, too, and our children also.”

When she was jailed Helena had never before left her 17 month old baby. “I felt that the love of a mother pulls more than anything else.” She then asks, “What fault is it that one has different ideals.”

Nora complained of her family being far away. Her daughter had to travel for 24 hours for a 20-minute visit.

Obando describes herself as a “communist political prisoner, prisoner of conscience, and survivor of genocide against the Patriotic Union” referring to the massacre of leftist electoral candidates beginning in the late 1980s. She recalls: “I was detained by heavily armed men in front of my two children of 15 and 5 years.” She was not in prison, she told her daughter, “because she had done something bad, but because she wanted a better country for her children and for others.”

“Hi, Lili, how are you?” wrote her son. “I am very proud to be your son and to be passing through these moments, because it doesn’t make me sad, it gives my force and courage.”

Obando puts the total of political prisoners in Colombia at 7,200. She and 85 others held at the Buen Pastor Prison in Bogota miss out on privileges granted white-collar prisoners and “mafiosos.” Prison authorities regularly turn down applications for finishing sentences at home where mothers could care for their children.

Obando sees her arrest as part of a “new witch-hunt against the political opposition.” The government alleges communications from her and other prominent opposition figures were found in computer files of Raul Reyes, killed March 1, 2008 in a U.S. assisted air attack in Ecuador. Only Obando was jailed. She is accused, without evidence, of diverting money raised abroad for FENSUAGRO to FARC guerrillas. No trial date has been set.

The Reyes computer material is widely regarded as bogus. Last December police Captain Ronald Hayden Coy revealed the laptops contained no emails.

FENSUAGRO used money raised by Obando on speaking tours through Australia, Canada and the European Union for human rights advocacy, data collection and development of its Esmeralda Center for education and experimental agriculture. A professor of modern languages at Antonio Nariño University, Obando was carrying out a study based on the FENSUAGRO experience called “Dissident Memories and Peasant Resistance.”

That federation of unions, indigenous collectives and rural cooperatives is Colombia’s largest rural- based labor organization. According to Canadian - based FENSUAGRO scholar James Brittain, no other labor group in Colombia has been hit harder – 1,500 members killed or disappeared in its 33-year existence.

In a letter from February, Liliany Obando asked for the world community for solidarity. “In Colombia the level of political persecution and violation of human rights is so excessive that only international pressure has worked to hold back in any way so much abuse.”

For a copy resolution go to Campaign for Labor Rights

For information updates on Liliany Obando, go to www.colombiasolidarity.net (in Australia), www.freeliliany.net, and www.colombiajournal.org.

E-mail addresses for Colombian authorities are: Attorney General’s office,and President Álvaro Uribe. auribe@presidencia.gov.co.

To express concerns, contact the Interamerican Commission for Human Rights,and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, oacnudh@hchr.org.co