UPDATE: Colombian Unionist Maribel Oviedo Set Free Without Charges!

Maribel Oviedo (in center) leads delegates from the Alliance for Global Justice and the National Lawyers Guild to visit peasant farmers in the village of Maracaibo in Tolima, Colombia.

We have received news from the Colombian human rights group, Lazos de Dignidad, that peasant union leader Maribel Oviedo has been released without charges.  Maribel had been threatened with extrajudicial execution and unlawfully detained by the 6th Infrantry of the Colombian Army  This human rights victory was achieved thanks to her clearheadedness and local, national and international agitation for her freedom. When Maribel was being taken away, she was able to call to community members on a phone she still had in her possession.  This touched of a storm of emails, calls and faxes to authorities calling for her freedom and safety.  This is a clear example of the good that can be accomplished with rapid mobilizations of solidarity.  Maribel was a leader of the Tolima Association of Peasant Farmers (ASTRACATOL), an affiliate of FENSUAGRO, Colombia’s largest agricultural workers union.

How would you like to meet Maribel face to face?  There is still one slot open for AfGJ’s Delegation to Colombia March 22 – April 1, 2013.

This delegation is being hosted by FENSUAGRO, Lazos de Dignidad and the Marcha Patriótica.  Part of the delegation will be spent in the Department of Tolima, where we plan to meet with striking coffee workers, political prisoners and leaders of ASTRACATOL, including Maribel.  But hurry, because the delegation will be closed soon.  If you are interested in participating, send an email to james@afgj.org or call 202-544-9355, ext. 3.  Cost for the delegation is $1,400, plus international airfare.  All meals, lodging, translation and in-country transportation are included for that price.

 

Below is the text of the alert we sent out after learning of Maribel’s unlawful detention:

Jailer Gonzalez, President of ASTRACATOL and husband of Maribel Oviedo. Jailer was unlawfully detained by members of the Colombian Armed Forces in April, 2011. One month before, two ASTRACATOL leaders had been assassinated. Swift local, national and international actions are credited with securing Jailer’s release then–and we hope it will do the same now for Maribel.

 

The Alliance for Global Justice has received distressing news regarding the unlawful detention of Colombian unionist Maribel Oviedo of the Association of Peasant Farmers of Tolima (ASTRACATOL), an affiliate of the FENSUAGRO agricultural workers union in Colombia. Maribel was apprehended by members of the Sixth Infantry of the Colombian Armed Forces on Sunday, March 3rd, 2013, while presenting a workshop to farmers in the community of Esmeralda, part of the municipality of Rovira in the Department of Tolima.

A meeting of members of ASTRACATOL after two of its leaders were assassinated in March, 2011. ASTRACATOL has been one of the most targeted of Colombia’s agricultural unions. ASTRACATOL is an affiliate of the FENSUAGRO agricultural workers union.

According to reports from the Colombian human rights group, Lazos de Dignidad (Links of Dignity), the infantry went into the area and simulated a combat with the intention of adding new victims to the number of Colombia’s “false positives”. (The term “false positives” refers to civilians who have been captured and killed by the Colombian military and later dressed in insurgent garb and claimed as “enemy combatants killed in action”. Some 3,000 victims have already been officially recognized by the Colombian government.) The military entered the area and apprehended Maribel without presenting any kind of order for her capture and threatened to execute her. Fortunately, she was able to call friends on a phone she still had in her possession and alert the community as to what was taking place. Maribel is now being held against her will and without judicial orders at the Cebastacol farm located in Esmeralda.

The Alliance for Global Justice is especially concerned not only because of the fraternal connection we have to FENSUAGRO and ASTRACATOL, and to Lazos de Dignidad, who work closely with the union, but because we have met and spent time with Maribel. Maribel accompanied the AfGJ / National Lawyers Guild joint delegation to Colombia in the summer of 2011 when we visited Tolima. Her husband, Jailer Gonzalez, who is the president of ASTRACATOL, was similarly detained in April of 2011, and it was the speedy mobilization of community, national and international solidarity that is credited with securing his quick release. (Click here to read more about this and other incidents of repression against ASTRACATOL.)

Maribel is not just a unionist, but also the mother of a four month old baby. We must not allow that child to lose or be separated from her mother, and we must not allow this union to lose or be separated from this dedicated leader. Your quick action can make a difference between life and death, freedom or detention for Maribel.