Political prisoner's supporters smuggle message to British workers at TUC Congress
Brave Colombian political prisoner Huber Ballesteros will defy his government’s sinister bid to gag him today when footage filmed secretly in his jail cell is broadcast to hundreds of British trade unionists.
A video by the farmers’ union Fensuagro vice-president was smuggled out of the country by supporters determined that he spoke at TUC Congress despite being snatched by secret police.
Prominent left-winger Mr Ballesteros was held for “rebellion” and “funding terrorism” hours before he had been set to secure a visa to travel to Britain as an international guest of honour in Bournemouth.
Prosecutors claimed his arrest on August 25 was linked to evidence “found on a laptop” of rebel group Farc — charges which solidarity activists have branded “trumped up.”
In an audio recording heard by the Morning Star he says he is “at the mercy of what they say is ‘the justice system’ in Colombia, but which in reality is nothing more than a tool used to repress, persecute and criminalise the work of trade union leaders.”
Mr Ballesteros had been heavily involved in the sweeping strikes and demonstrations that have rocked the Western-backed government over the past three weeks.
Workers in a huge swathe of sectors, from teachers and lorry drivers to farmers and miners, have joined the protests which centre on free-trade deals with the EU and US.
Despite his arrest Mr Ballesteros, who is also national organiser of the Patriotic March social justice movement, remains defiant.
“We, here in our country, in whichever conditions we find ourselves, whether on the streets, whether on strike or in my case from a prison of the Colombian state, will continue to fight tirelessly with our heads held high because we believe that our struggle is not only just but also necessary.
“To lose our freedom is one of the realities and probably one of the consequences which all of us as social leaders here know we may face.”
TUC delegates passed an emergency motion on Monday condemning his imprisonment and demanding his release.
Justice for Colombia (JfC) director Mariela Kohon told the Morning Star that immediate fears for Mr Ballesteros’s safety had reduced after intervention by MPs secured a transfer from a prison wing controlled by ruthless right-wing paramilitaries.
But she condemned charges against him which include the claim that a JfC scheme to assist his union’s members had been used to fund the Farc.
“We know that Fensuagro has carried out incredible organisational work and used funds to pay legal costs for imprisoned union members and in cases where members have been murdered,” she said.
“JfC, the TUC and the trade unions who support him are not going to be intimidated by these sort of smear tactics.”