Issue date
27 Aug 2013

H.E. Mauricio Rodriguz Munera

Ambassador

Embassy of Colombia

3 Hans Crescent

London

SW1X 0LN

Dear Ambassador

Arrest and detention of Huber Ballesteros

I am writing on behalf of the Trades Union Congress, the 6 million members of our affiliated unions and British workers to register our shock and deep concern about the recent detention of the trade union leader Huber Ballesteros, which we understand took place on 25 August.

Huber is due to be an official guest at our annual conference next month and was scheduled to address delegates on the progress with the peace process in Colombia. For the reasons outlined below we find it impossible to believe that his detention is not due to his involvement as a union leader in the current series of coordinated industrial action in Colombia. We therefore call for the necessary steps to be taken to ensure that Huber is released without delay and ask you to convey this to your government as a matter of urgency.

Huber was recently elected to the CUT Executive Committee and was arrested at the CUT headquarters in Bogotá, but he has had extensive contact with British trade unionists for many years in his position as the vice president of the agricultural workers' union FENSUAGRO. Mr. Ballesteros is also a National Organiser for the Patriotic March Social and Political Movement.

We know that since 19 August 2013 various trade unions have been engaged in strike action and that Huber, in addition to his roles in the CUT and FENSUAGRO which are both involved in the strikes, is one of ten spokespersons in the Mesa de Interlocución y Acuerdo (MIA), the body set-up to negotiate with the government.

We find it deeply alarming that despite repeated assurances that the current government in Colombia is committed to demonstrating respect for trade unionists, opposition movements, and their activities, a trade union and peasant farmer leader as respected as Huber Ballesteros has been arrested in what looks to us to be a clear effort to disrupt the work of the trade unions currently involved in organising mass industrial action in different parts of the country.

As we understand it the Fiscalia has just released a statement saying Mr Ballesteros will be charged with 'rebellion' and 'financing terrorism'. We are outraged and disappointed to see what appears to be the old tactic of imprisoning high-profile civil society leaders by alleging involvement with terrorist groups being used again. As I know we agree legitimate protest, including the right to take industrial action, is a fundamental part of any democracy.

Huber is not just a prominent figure in Colombia, he is an internationally recognised trade union leader and has met with politicians and trade union leaders in the UK on previous visits. On his visit to the UK next month alongside his address to our conference he had been invited to a series of meetings with members of the UK Parliament and we have no doubt there will be considerable interest in his case across the political spectrum here.

We urge you to do all you can to ensure that Mr. Ballesteros is released immediately and that full respect is shown to all trade unionists and social activists currently involved in the organisation of industrial action.

We will be monitoring his situation extremely closely and look forward to hearing from you, as a matter of urgency regarding the issues raised in this letter.

Yours sincerely

Frances O'Grady

General Secretary