teleSUR English had the opportunity to interview Huber Ballesteros, a political prisoner in Colombia who describes himself as “a trade unionist and political leader of the Colombian Left.”
From the campesino sector, he is a member of the Executive Committee of the National Trade Union Federation of Agricultural Workers and is on the National Executive Committee of the Confederation of Colombian Workers.
He is also a survivor of the genocide against the Patriotic Union in the 1980's, where he was a spokesperson for the organization.
teleSUR: Can you tell us about your case?
Ballesteros: I am imprisoned in the high security prison of La Picota in the Colombian capital of Bogota. I was accused by the attorney general and the National Police of crimes of rebellion and terrorist financing in a legal frame-up.
I say legal frame-up because the alleged evidence was planted by the national police and the prosecutor, and they paid witnesses to testify. I was taken prisoner when I was attempting to make contact with senior government authorities as a spokesperson for the National Campesino Strike of 2013.
teleSUR: What are prison conditions like for political prisoners?
Ballesteros: Colombia has 138 prisons and 123,000 inmates, and nearly 9,000 of us are political prisoners. The conditions are deplorable: overcrowding; poor nutrition; abuse by the guards; a lack of health care, recreational spaces and work; coupled with corruption in the National Penitentiary and Prison Institute, which makes it so rights must be purchased if we want to enjoy them.
teleSUR: What has been the role of the U.S. government in the Colombian conflict?
Ballesteros: The government of the United States has had an active and ongoing role in the Colombian conflict. Their interference in our affairs dates from the time of our independence from the Spanish crown, subsequently it financed and sponsored the separation of Panama from our territory.
Plan Lazo began the aggression against farmers in Marquetalia. Its permanent government advisory included the assistance of the U.S. Southern Command in the creation of paramilitary groups in the sixties and the financing of Plan Colombia under the pretext of fighting drug-trafficking, almost 20 years ago. The U.S. government has been and is responsible for the conflict and its consequences for many decades.
teleSUR: What is the CONAP? How and why was it formed?
Ballesteros: The National Coordination of Agrarian and Popular Organizations comes at a time of booming social and popular struggle in Colombia. The two terms of the government of Alvaro Uribe were marked by great repression and anti-popular economic and political measures.
In this context, trade unions, peasant organizations, women, youth, students, displaced, Indigenous, Afro-Colombian and other sectors decided to form a national coordination with a class character, because we understood the need to confront state terrorism with organization and mobilization.
If we analyze this dark period, the popular movement always kept up its struggle for peace, democracy and social justice. CONAP began from that moment to play a unifying role among organizations with a class character, going beyond their grievances and the simple needs of the moment.
teleSUR: How do you deal with government repression in the popular movement?
Ballesteros: The Colombian oligarchy has historically made violence an instrument of its policy. As Colombians, we have not had in these nearly 200 years of republican life, one period in which state repression was not present. The criminalization of social protest and opposition have reached the degree of state terrorism.
Today when they are close to signing a peace treaty, things are not different, the collusion of government institutions with paramilitarism, not only is not over, but it has been exacerbated in recent months. The state forces have murdered 118 members of the Patriotic March, as well as 69 human rights activists and have arrested 300 leaders of social movements. These are the conditions of state repression in which we live and fight in this country.
teleSUR: How does CONAP participate in the political movement of the Patriotic March?
Ballesteros: CONAP was and remains one of the most important organization in boosting work plans and policy platforms within the Patriotic March movement. CONAP believes that the political struggle for power, requires the broadest possible unity within the popular and democratic camp.
From there, it has decided, along with other social platforms, movements and political parties of the Colombian left to stake all on this coordination, with which we hope to build a broad front or alternative power block that leads to the seizure of political power.
The Colombian Peace Process Explained
teleSUR: What are the prospects for the peace process between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP) and the Colombian government?
Ballesteros: No doubt the support and enthusiasm for ending the armed conflict in Colombia is the point of view of the majority, only a minority of the extreme right questions and opposes finally reaching what has been the dream of Colombians.
I agree so far on the agenda, it makes us optimistic, however, the existence of a powerful ultra-right with the massive media services at its disposal, makes us fear that the changes required to overcome the economic and political causes of the conflict will have, as before, violent opposition that can ruin the implementation of the agreement and therefore, the achievement of a stable, lasting peace with social justice.
Ballesteros was key in the construction of CONAP beginning in 2007. CONAP united more than 400 local organizations from all over the country and unified their struggle on a national level with an 18-point program. CONAP became part of the Patriotic March in 2010.