Three and a half years ago, Colombian agriculture union leader Huber Ballesteros was on his way to the British Embassy in Bogota to collect his visa to visit the UK to speak at the 2013 TUC Congress. He was arrested and detained under trumped-up charges of rebellion and financing terrorism, based on false testimony and illegally obtained and manufactured evidence. Now, after three years and four months in jail, Huber has finally been released. On 13 January the court lifted the preventive detention order against him, allowing for his release from La Picota Prison.
International campaigning has played a key role in his release – Justice for Colombia (JFC) has led a high-profile campaign for Huber’s freedom, supported by the TUC and our major trade unions, as well as numerous MPs. The British Embassy in Colombia has also been extremely helpful in monitoring his case. More than 13,000 people signed a petition calling for his release and numerous British and Irish trade unionists, like TUC Deputy General Secretary Paul Nowak, have visited Huber in his cell during JFC delegations to Colombia.
Huber was a peasant leader, one of the leaders of the pro-peace, pro-justice Patriotic March, a member of the national executive of our sister organisation in Colombia, the CUT, and vice-president of the agricultural workers’ union FENSUAGRO. When he was arrested, he was leading a national strike. His arrest and imprisonment was an attempt to undermine the strike and silence social protest in Colombia, as has been the case for so many Colombian trade union leaders.
The passage of the Amnesty Law, part of the peace agreement which covers civilian prisoners accused of rebellion, means that the Colombian state can no longer claim Huber is a danger to society and keep him behind bars. One of Colombia’s most prominent social leaders, who will have an important role in the construction of peace in the country, is now free.
The TUC welcomes his release, sends best wishes to him, his family and friends, and congratulates JFC and others on their campaigning to free Huber. There are many other trade union leaders still in prison in Colombia, and we will keep campaigning until every one of them is free.