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Colombian activist Liliany Obando's trial postponed again

By Angela Denio

Liliany Obando detained by Colombian police

The jailing and repeated postponement of trials of Liliany “Lily” Obando tells the story of a powerful woman. She is dealing firsthand with the extreme repression facing many Colombians who oppose the government. In Colombia there are over 7000 political prisoners. Colombian trade unionist Liliany Obando was arrested in the summer of 2008. Her arrest came during a string of attacks by the Uribe government targeting leaders of Colombia's growing struggles for social change.

Obando is a typical Colombian. She has taken up the challenge to fight for the rights of the people – the ones who don't matter to the rich in charge in Colombia and their puppeteers here in the U.S. government. Through her work with FENSUAGRO, a Colombian union, Obando championed the rights and welfare of Colombian farmers and rural wage laborers. Her work was transparent and legal under Colombian law, but Liliany Obando now sits in prison.

In Colombia dissent is dangerous. This is especially so for FENSUAGRO, as Colombia's largest peasant and farm worker federation. “We consider our struggle a just and important struggle. We fight for farm workers in defense of life, land and territory,” explains one of the union's leaders. 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 a Colombian farming community. Their organization teaches organic growing practices, seed preservation and union organizing.

In their many years of struggle FENSUAGRO became a strong union, a union that has saved communities, changed lives for the better and that brought the voice of rural workers to the ears of all of Colombia. For the work that they do, their members and supporters are abducted, detained, arrested and murdered. FENSUAGRO is the most targeted union by military and paramilitary violence in Colombia.

“Lily's trial has everything to do with her work with FENSUAGRO,” says James Jordan of the Alliance for Global Justice. “The Colombian government is trying to destroy the union. The war in Colombia is built around driving farmers off their land and of course the union is at odds with that goal.” Obando is charged with rebellion. This is a charged linked with the Colombian government's claim that she raised money for Colombia's growing insurgency, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP).

The charge of rebellion is a non-specific charge used in the country to imprison student, union and social justice leaders, often for years at a time. The government uses these long imprisonments as an attempt to cripple a growing movement. “It's a consecutive process of arrests. They can imprison 20 people in jail for two or three years and only after that length of time are the prisoners released because there is no evidence against them. By then they've already arrested another 20,” further explained the FENSUAGRO leader.

This concept is certainly clear in the Obando trial. Her trial only began after a year of imprisonment and since then she has faced constant postponements. “Basically she's dealing with a system and, in particular, a judge who has shown himself overly lenient towards the military and paramilitaries but with Lily, won't even consider routine home detention and presents a court process that is constantly delayed”, stated Jordan.

Jordan continues, “Lily spends a day or two in court and then waits weeks and weeks in prison for another session while members of the military are being released after 90 days for not yet having been brought to trial. The military officials – who everyone knows are responsible for the massacre in Mapiripan- the judge is just letting them walk.” In Obando’s most recent two-day session on Feb. 15 and 16, her trial was again postponed for another two months. This has happened repeatedly over the course of seven months since the trial was scheduled to begin. The constant rescheduling is an exhausting process to put Obando through, it makes it difficult for Obando’s supporters to attend the court sessions, and furthermore, makes home detention and ever more reasonable request.

“Of course they're not going to be fair,” stated Jeremy Miller. Miller traveled to Colombia as a representative of the Colombia Action Network this past summer and met with Obando in prison. “Lily's trial is another attempt by the Colombian government to criminalize any dissent. We have to remember too that this is also a fight for the sovereignty of Colombia. The U.S. is trying to build seven military bases in Colombia and has always intervened in Colombian affairs for their own interests. They've spent $7 billion trying to control people in Colombia. Lily is a threat to the rich because what she is doing is right. She stands for the truth and for justice. They're scared of her and the people like her because they are losing their battle.”

Supporters of Liliany Obando all over the world, including trade unionists in Canada and Australia as well as Latin America solidarity activists in the U.S., have been targeted for interrogation and harassment. This is in addition to the ongoing intimidation Obando herself deals with every day. In Colombian prison, Obando faces misrepresentation of facts, outright lies, coercion from guards, the theft and mistreatment of personal belongings, as well as the threat of being moved to another prison.

“Despite everything, Lily's spirits remain strong”, reports Jordan. “She continues to organize from the prisons and to fight for the rights of all political prisoners. In the face of everything she has not backed down, nor given in to the false claims against her. She's a fighter. She's an inspiration.”

The next session of Obando’s trial is scheduled to begin April 22 and 23. To donate to Liliany Obando’s legal defense send a check or money order made out to the “Alliance for Global Justice” to AFGJ, 1247 E Street SE, Washington, DC 2003 with “Lily Obando Defense Fund” in the memo line.

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