A British human rights group, Justice for Colombia, has begun a campaign to have one of the country’s most high-profile trade unionists released from prison.
Hubert Ballesteros was arrested and detained on August 25 on charges of “rebellion” and “financing terrorism”; vague allegations that are frequently used by the Colombian government and state apparatus to apprehend people that have been involved in social movements and union activism. He is currently being held at La Picota prison in Bogota.
Justice for Colombia is claiming the charges are a ruse in order to intimidate and marginalize organized labor in Colombia. The London-based NGO is led by the General Secretary of the British Trades Union Congress (TUC), Brendan Barber, and was established in 2002 by the British trade union movement.
Trip to United Kingdom
Ballasteros was set speak at the TUC’s annual congress in England last month about the Colombian peace process and the role for civil society in achieving a viable settlement but was unable to attend due to being detained. Ballasteros was in fact arrested on the day he was scheduled to visit the British embassy in Bogota to collect his visa for entry into the United Kingdom. During his visit to Britain he was in line to have meetings with members of the British parliament as well as with leaders from the country’s labor movement.
Ballesteros is vice-president of Fensuagro, Colombia’s largest union for agricultural workers, and a member of the executive council of the United Workers Center (CUT), Colombia’s largest labor federation. He is also a leading member of the Patriotic March, a coalition of social movements committed to making social justice a central component of a peace settlement to the country’s decades long armed conflict.
During the April 9 Patriotic March-led “Mobilization for Peace”, he marched alongside Representative Hernan Hernandez and former Senator Piedad Cordoba, the controversial founder of Colombians for Peace who is also accused of FARC ties.
Ballesteros recently traveled to Cuba to call for inclusion of the social movements in the peace negotiations and is a representative from the Council of Dialogue and Agreement negotiating with the government about the national strike that spread through the country in September.
The Justice for Colombia campaign for his release forms part of a collective struggle by human rights groups and members of the international labor movement. A joint letter from the British-Irish union Workers Uniting and the U.S.-based United Steelworkers was sent to the Colombian Attorney General’s office and the Presidential Program of Human Rights in Bogota. The letter says that it wishes to express “in the strongest possible terms our outrage at the recent detention of the trade union leader Huber Ballesteros.” The letter was signed by Unite’s general secretary Len McCluskey and United Steel Workers’ International President Leo W. Gerard.
Also leading campaigns for on behalf of Ballesteros are the U.S.-based Alliance for Global Justice and the international union organization LabourStart.
- Human rights in Colombia: how bad do things have to get? (The Guardian)
- Campaign launched to free jailed Colombian trade unionist (Digital Journal)
- Colombia: Free Huber Ballesteros (Labourstartcampaign.net)
- TUC Congress speaker arrested in Colombia (Stronger Unions, TUC)
- Exijo Libertad por el Dirigente Sindical Huber Ballesteros (Alliance for Global Justice)
- Prominent Colombian Labor Leader Arrested in National Strike (PASO International)
- Justice for Colombia