Colombian trade unionist freed from jail says “See, you got me out!”
Since August 2008, Colombian trade union leader Liliany Obando has been held in Buen Pastor women’s jail in Bogota. She has never been formally charged, still less tried or convicted, but has been held with convicted right-wing paramilitaries which – given the Colombian Government’s accusation that she is a left-wing guerilla sympathiser – has exposed her to daily risks of violence, abuse and harassment. For years, trade unionists in Britain and elsewhere have been campaigning for her release – especially through the union-sponsored Justice for Colombia (JFC) campaign.
Last Wednesday, a few members of a JFC delegation to Colombia, including Prison Officers’ Association (POA) General Secretary Steve Gillan, visited Liliany in jail. She urged them to tell the world about her incarceration and keep up the campaign for her release and the release of all the other trade unionists who are held without charge in Colombia’s jails. She said the international campaign for her release had kept her strong, and she hoped to be free one day. What she didn’t know was that that day would be the day after the visit: on Thursday 1 March, Liliany was released on bail, and was greeted by the whole JFC delegation and many other supporters outside the prison. Her first words to JFC Director Mariela Kohon were “See, you got me out!”
In her first speech to supporters, Liliany paid tribute to the international campaign, which she credited with forcing the Colombian Government to let her out, and she urged us to redouble our efforts for all the other thousands of political prisoners still in jail. She later recorded a video message thanking the TUC, Thompsons Solicitors and Justice for Colombia which was shown to deafening applause and cries from South African trade unionists of “Viva Liliany!” at the TUC’s 2012 International Women’s Day event just a week later, where delegation members Frances O’Grady from the TUC and Victoria Phillips from Thompsons spoke about her release. You can read more about the delegation at the daily blog kept by Bryan Nott from Simpson Millar solicitors.
It is disgraceful that Liliany was in jail in the first place; disgraceful that she spent 42 months in captivity without being charged, tried or convicted; disgraceful that she is even now only out on bail; and doubly disgraceful and deeply disturbing that she is now under even more threat from paramilitary thugs because the Government continues to smear her as a FARC supporter or even member. JFC is organising protests to the Colombian Government to demand that Liliany is protected and the charges dropped. (PS, Justice for Colombia need your funds to carry on its fantastic work and build on the regular financing of the TUC, its landlord ASLEF and many other unions. Please give generously.)
It is repugnant that the European Commission is still planning to do business with the Colombian regime by negotiating a Free Trade Agreement with it, giving it a legitimacy it simply doesn’t deserve. And it is beyond belief that Colombian Vice President Angelino Garcon should have the cheek to stand for the position of ILO Director General.
But it is testament to the power of union campaigning and public pressure that Liliany is out of jail. But don’t take it from us. Take it from her.