Speech given by
Karen Sullivan of the Anti-War Committee
I’m going to be speaking to you today about the Colombian union, FENSUAGRO, and one of their leaders Lilian Obando, and why her situation requires solidarity. I hope to relay how her story illustrates the extreme repression many Colombians face, if they oppose the Uribe government,
First I’d like to explain exactly who and what FENSUAGRO is. FENSUAGRO, (loosely translated is the National Federation of Agricultural Farming Unions) they are Colombia’s largest peasant and farm workers federation. Their organization teaches organic growing practices, seed preservation and union organizing. Over the course of many years of struggle, FENSUAGRO has become a strong union, one that has saved communities and changed lives for the better.
To better understand this let me explain the difference between the city and countryside – it’s dramatic in Colombia. In the countryside there is often no electricity, drinkable water, or sanitation. Peasant farmers don’t have roads to transport their crops to market, and therefore cannot compete with cheap free-trade goods from US agribusiness. As a result many rural farmers cannot feed their families. Unfortunately this is not the only hardships faced by the peasants, the Colombian government, working with paramilitary death squads, and the US military has employed state terrorism against the rural farmer and the indigenous Afro-Colombian communities for over 40 years now. Free-trade agreements open Colombia’s natural resources to the US and multinational corporations, forcing the rural inhabitants from their land. In spite of the brutal repression the peasants resist, FENSUAGRO leading the struggle.
Union members consider their struggle a just and important struggle. They fight for farm workers, in defense of life, land and territory. The union fights for farmers because they have learned repeatedly that the Colombian government will prioritize the rights of multinational corporations over the rights of the Colombian farming community. Because of this kind of work, which they are very good at, FENSUAGRO has become the most targeted union by both the military and paramilitary forces in Colombia. Their members and supporters are abducted, detained, arrested, like Lily Obando, or worse, killed.
Lily Oblando is a typical Colombian. She is a single mother of two children, who grew up in rural Colombia and worked for FENSUAGRO. During her work with FENSUAGRO Lily toured the US, Australia and Canada drawing attention to Colombian human rights abuses and the plight, in particular, of the three million women and children displaced by land seizures and violence. She also campaigned against the use of chemicals defoliants by the Colombian government. Lilly represented FENSUAGRO’s international work and in that capacity came to Minneapolis and spoke at an Anti-War Committee event in 2002. As she became more and more known for her work with FENSUAGRO she started receiving death threats and eventually left Colombia for Canada.
In her work Lily also wrote papers and made films that showed the human rights abuses that were occurring. It was in fact when Lily returned to Colombia in 2008, while working on a on a documentary that she was grabbed by the Colombian government in her home.
Lilly was arrested August 8, 2008, and was charged with “rebellion” against the state, a catch-all charge that is regularly used to imprison those who speak out against the government of President Uribe, the largest recipient of US military aid in the region. Since her arrest Lily she has been denied home detention seven times, without reason, and in violation of her constitutional rights. Lily’s trial began in November 2009, but both before the trial started and since the case has been plagued with irregularities, including harassment of her family. Now that the trial has started we have seen it postponed numerous times, without the judge giving a reason, again in violation of her rights. Since Liliany’s arrest, the Colombian government along with the French, the US and the Australian governments have sought to internationalize “FARC-political.” Basically these imperialist countries are attempting to intimidate political opponents, and those critical of the Uribe government as being linked to FARC activities in Colombia.
As I’ve mentioned Lily’s case is not unique, currently in Colombia there are over 7000 political prisoners. It does not take much to be put in prison in Colombia. The Colombian government uses jail and the threat of jail as a way to intimidate and silence the people of Colombia. Jail is not used to stop the death squads, on the contrary the paramilitary death squads are given money, under the table, to carry out covert actions against the people of Colombia.
People from Canada, Australia and the US are standing in solidarity with Lily, this solidarity, is expressed in many ways, from protest of support, petition drives and letter writing campaigns, all of which mean a lot to her. The thing is even with all that Lily has gone through, her spirits, I’m told, remain strong. An activist we work with, James Jordan, of the Campaign for Labor Rights recently visited Lily in prison and reported that she continues to organize from prison and fight for the rights of all political prisoners. In the face of everything she has not backed down. She is a fighter, she is an inspiration.
Thank you so much for your time, on the back table please sign petition to help pressure the Colombian government to free Lily.
I’d like to end my comments with a quote from Lily herself, “I am honored to be an instrument by which the world may know the reality of the more than 7,200 political prisoners in the Colombian jails and of the Colombian political prisoners extradited under rough conditions to the United States. And I am honored to be an instrument by which the world learns of our fallen dead in this absurd Dirty War of the Colombian State. For our dead, not one minute of silence, but rather, a life full of struggle!”