Justice for Colombia: Day 4


The delegation split into groups, we had all hoped to visit La Picota prison to meet with trade union and opposition leader, Huber Ballesteros, and David Rabelo Crispo, human rights activist and journalist, however, the prison authority restricted visitors to just 5.

Makeshift CampHuber Ballesteros was due to travel to the UK and speak to the TUC conference when, on 25 August 2013, he was arrested and accused of 'rebellion' and 'financing terrorism'. His case has been marred by a lack of due process and his trial is yet to commence, with no date in sight.

In September 2010, David Rabelo Crispo was imprisoned, accused of 'conspiracy to commit a crime' and 'aggravated homicide'. David was convicted in 2012 and sentenced to 18 years. The evidence used to convict David was given by a paramilitary, Mario Jaimes Mejia who has been convicted of two massacres. His testimony against David, saw a reduction in his 40 year sentence to just 8 years. David is on the Executive Board of CREDHOS, the Regional Corporation for the Defence of Human Rights.

Those in the group who met with Huber and David reported them both 'strong in their resolve', notwithstanding the inhumane prison conditions. Huber, who suffers with Type 2 diabetes hasn't been receiving the necessary medical attention. He also has a bowel condition which the prison authorities have largely ignored. The authorities even tried to prevent us giving Huber and David the bags of much needed toiletries brought over from the UK, however, some dogged negotiating by Mariela from Justice for Colombia eventually persuaded them. Both sent their thanks for the continued support they receive from trades unions and human rights organisations around the globe.Makeshift Camp Worker

Part of the group unable to visit La Picota prison, met with Hollman Morris, Director of Canal Capita - Bogotá's public TV station. Hollman is one of the most threatened journalists in Colombia, who in the past, has been forced into temporary exile for his coverage of Human Rights abuses.

The remainder of the group headed to the US Embassy to lend support to 3 former production line workers of General Motors who, after suffering work-related injuries, were sacked by the company. All 3 have, for the past 3 years, lived in a makeshift camp opposite the US Embassy to expose GM's failure to retrain, redeploy and compensate them for their injuries.

In response to General Motors' refusal to accept responsibility for their injuries, in 2011 they staged a hunger strike (sewing their lips shut) which lasted 22 days. GM eventually agreed to commence negotiations, leading to a financial offer, but the sums involved did not cover the cost of medical treatment let alone an offer of redeployment. No agreement was reached.

Last year, the men buried themselves in rubble for days but still GM refused to acknowledge responsibility for their injuries.

Earlier this year they staged a mock crucifixion outside the US Embassy which once again, brought their struggle for justice to international attention. Since then, their union, ASOTRECOL, has attempted to re-open the negotiations but GM has refused to meet.

Their situation is quite desperate, one of the men, Carlos, together with his wife and four young children, had already been evicted from his house and another Manuel, has received his eviction notice. They have no income, no legal representation and experience increasing intimidation from GM including, death threats and threats of persecution.

On one occasion, 2 men thought to be employed by GM had been asked to follow them. When caught and identified, the men were indeed GM employees, paid by the company as part of what they called a 'security study'. GM has termed the men, 'gold diggers' in an attempt to publicly discredit them and their struggle.

Time seems to be running out for these disabled workers.

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