Australian Police Threaten Colombian Solidarity Campaigner

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 Police attacking a woman trade unionist in Cali, Colombia

Australian police have been aiding the repressive Colombian government by interviewing campaigners from that country and passing the information on to the Colombian police

Colombia is the most dangerous place in the world to be a trade unionist as many previous postings on this site illustrate. The article below shows how some western governments are complicit in the persecution of those trade unionists who are campaigning for international solidarity - it is from Rob Durbrudge of the Australian Educators' Union (AEU)

AUSTRALIAN   POLICE   THREATEN  COLOMBIAN  UNION  CAMPAIGN

Rob Durbridge

President, SEARCH Foundation

 

Recently I was a witness to an interview by the Australian Federal Police of Alejandro Rodriguez, a young Argentine-Australian engineer and union member. Alejandro is a friend who is involved in a campaign to raise awareness about the repression of trade unionists and peasants in Colombia. His family in Argentina was subject to repression during the military dictatorship, including relatives who were ‘disappeared’ so it is not hard to understand his motives. I first met him and his partner at a union conference where he asked me and other delegates to attend a picket of Rio Tinto which is involved in mining in Colombia and backs the military regime. 

The AFP said he was required by law to attend the interview where it was said information was required by the Colombian National Police about his relations with people in Australia and Colombia. It was a security matter prompted by the seizure of a laptop in a raid in Ecuador! He was asked whether he was a member of a trade union or a ‘conservative party’ in Victoria. I think we know what they meant.

Colombia is the worst country in the world for the political murders of trade union leaders. According to the International Trade Union Confederation, 49 unionists were killed in 2008, and 838 killed between 2000 and 2008, with 95 per cent of the cases ‘unsolved’. Campaigners for union peace and justice in Colombia deserve our support, not threats and intimidation.

Anti-terror laws a Howard legacy  

Australia’s anti-terrorist laws passed under the Howard Government and retained by the Rudd Government formally exclude prosecution of those involved only in dissent and protest.  But the scope of the activities which can be included in the definition of a “terrorist act” is breathtaking...the concepts of aiding and abetting and conspiracy have wide operation which can trap people who have no connection with terrorism whatsoever.

Nobody can condone terrorism, which is politically-motivated violence against civilians ... people were naturally frightened by the 9/11 attack and in 2003 Howard gave the AFP and the spy agencies ASIO and ASIS free rein to go after alleged terrorists in Australia. When the laws were reviewed before their 3-year ‘sunset’, many people argued that they were too draconian, including the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. Several court cases have demonstrated that this is the case.

Under the laws a person can be secretly detained for weeks without notice on suspicion that they ‘have knowledge’ about terrorism, even if they are not even a suspect. Anyone who publicly reveals detention of this kind is themselves liable for arrest. A person who does nothing but advocate support for a listed organisation or who raises funds while recklessly not knowing to whom the funds were going can be found guilty.

In my friend’s case he was advised by a lawyer experienced in these matters to say nothing except what was legally required. The lawyer had seen the way the system had operated to hold in prison Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka who denounced the government of that country.  He believed the Sri Lankan Government was behind the detentions.

It has been reported in the ‘Australian’ that the AFP travelled to Colombia in 2009 to interview Ms Liliany Obando in prison in Bogota about the people she knows in Australia. Ms Obando is a representative of the agricultural workers union who made a speaking tour sponsored by a number of unions in 2007. Ms Obando is only the most recent of a number of visitors here to draw attention the violence, imprisonment and murder of unionists in that country by militia associated with the regime. Several Australian union delegations have gone to Colombia for the same purpose in recent years.

We are all terrorists

Union and solidarity campaigners have been campaigning like this for many years. It was the armed resistance by the East Timorese and the persistence of activists supporting the independence of East Timor which eventually broke down the bipartisan support for Indonesia’s illegal annexation ... in the course of 25 years a lot of aid and campaign funds were raised for the resistance and Fretilin, the party which formed the first government of the new country, and for many other projects by churches and aid groups. All that activity could be suppressed and those involved jailed under ‘anti-terrorist laws’ today.  Until 1999, the Australian government listed Fretilin as ‘terrorist’ and banned contacts with them. Colombian workers and peasants resisting brutal repression deserve support.

Unions know that ASIO and other spy agencies have a history of selective repression and victimisation against the Left - including in the Labor Party, unions and organisations which represent workers and their communities. It seems that now the AFP is acting on behalf of the Colombian National Police to threaten those who are campaigning to make Australians aware of the repression and murderous violence in that country.

This AFP operation is a direct assault on legitimate trade union activity, and the union movement needs to respond strongly to stop it, and if possible, to orient the AFP and other security agencies to support democratic rights, especially workers rights to organise and to collectively bargain.

Australia
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