Monday, July 8, 2013

Colombia: For the immediate release of the leaders of ASTRACATOL-FENSUAGRO, victims of mass arrest in Tolima!
 On May 9 the Colombian Army carried out mass arrests in different villages in Tolima against agrarian leaders from the Association of Agrarian Workers of Tolima, ASTRACATOL, an agrarian union member of FENSUAGRO-CUT. These actions were ordered by the local court of Purificación, which accuses them of “aiding subversion” and “rebellion”, for alleged links to the FARC-EP guerrillas. The testimonies for these accusations have been obtained thanks to witnesses on the payroll (through the informers’ network). They are clearly being framed up, in order to repress social protest against mining and hydro-electrical megaprojects in the region

 The eight men arrested: Ramiro Bazurdo Gonzalez, Guillermo Antonio Cano Borja, Floricel Buitrago Cangrejo, Norberto García García, Gonzalo Ernesto Pastor Mora, Constantino Mayorga García, José Guillermo Pacheco Cruz and Edilberto Mayorga García, are all peasants affiliated to ASTRACATOL and they are members of the social and political movement Marcha Patriótica. Guillermo Antonio Cano Borja is the coordinator of the human rights department of ASTRACATOL. He is also in the executive committee of FENSUAGRO, in which capacity  he participated in the Forum on Political Participation organized in Bogotá by the UNDP and the National University on April 28th-30th –there, he contributed to the Peace Negotiations in Havana, Cuba, proposing that in Colombia political participation could be exercised without the risk of being criminalized, threatened, displaced or murdered by State or paramilitary agents.
The exercise of the trade union activity and the defence of agrarian workers’ rights, of life, territory, sovereignty do not constitute a crime. They are a fundamental political right, consecrated in the Constitution of Colombia.ASTRACATOL has suffered since its birth in December 2007 from State and paramilitary violence. Several of its leaders have been murdered. In November 2011 another eight leaders of ASTRACATOL were rounded up in La Marina (Chaparral) and were framed in another trial thanks to the accusations of people which have been proven to be lying. We know that the witnesses against them pose as demobilized guerrillas but there is no official record of their alleged demobilization –they are on the payroll to be used against people that whether the State or companies think are bothersome.The prisoners of La Marina are Edwin Lugo Caballero, José Norbey Lugo Caballero, Arcesio Díaz, Aycardo Morales Guzmán, Saan Maceto Marín, Fredynel Chávez Marín, Alexander Guerrero Castañeda and Armando Montilla Rey. A year and a half later, they are still in prison, suffering from inhuman conditions, while none of the accusations has been proven.These levels of criminalization and political repression against civil society organizations such as ASTRACATOL-FENSUAGRO and Marcha Patriótica demonstrate that while the Colombian government is talking about peace and demanding steps towards peace from the guerrillas, they are increasing military and paramilitary operations against the unarmed population, destroying the lives of thousands of families committed to the construction of a Colombia in peace, where social and political rights are not abused. WE DEMAND FROM THE COLOMBIAN AUTHORITIES:Immediate release of the sixteen leaders of ASTRACATOL on trial without substantial proves, based on false witnesses.To put an end to repression and persecution against ASTRACATOL, Marcha Patriótica and all forms of civilian resistance and opposition in Tolima against mining and hydro-electrical projects which threaten the mass displacement of people from the land where they have their livelihoods, added to irreparable damages to environmentTo stop military harassment against civilian population in the areas of “military consolidation”.To stop collusion with paramilitary criminal gangs that do the “dirty work”, threatening, murdering and displacing people that are a bother to economic interests or to the State.We need effective guarantees for the exercise of political and union rights, for freedom of expression, meeting and association in Colombia, according to our Constitution, so we can talk about political participation and rule of law without this sounding like a cruel joke against the population.UPDATE After this letter was written, the eight prisoners in Astracatol indicted by the Court in Purificación have been placed under house arrest. This In no way changes our protest nor does it make this judicial persecution less abominable. We demand the immediate and unconditional release of all detainees.

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