Saturday, November 22, 2008

March for Freedom



Dear friends,

More than 500 people participated in a mass and march in Arauquita on November 11 in protest of the mass arrest that occurred there the week before. Fourteen people were arrested for "rebellion" on November 4 including Martin Sandoval, president of the Permanent Committee for the Defense of Human Rights (CPDH).

The March for Freedom and Dignity began with a mass in the central park. The young priest that welcomed people to the event talked about the need to speak out against the unjust arrests and to overcome the fear that people are feeling now in Arauquita. "It is legitimate to resist any authority that gravely and repeatedly violates the principles of natural law," stated the other priest during the homily. He also spoke out about "the many problems that this system of brutal capitalism has caused for us."

Ingrid stepped onto the stage with her son Christian in her arms after the mass (see attached photo). Her spouse, Jose, was arrested for "rebellion" during the previous mass arrest in Arauquita on January 12. Christian was born three months later on April 21. Ingrid told me "the environment in the Arauca City prison is very oppressive" and, because of that, she has only taken Christian there twice to see his father.

Martin wrote a letter from prison that was read before the start of the march. "If having an opinion that differs with the government, and denouncing the abuses that are committed in the name of law and justice is a crime; then they should convict me. But because they don't have any valid arguments, they will continue using all their tricks to convert lies into absurd truths which not even they, themselves, believe...If we all remain silent; the next victim could be you, a family member, or a good friend."

The people then marched through the main streets of Arauquita, passing in front of the police station where the 14 people had been taken the week before. Several families carried placards with photos of their loved ones, calling for their immediate release (see attached photo).

I accompanied CPDH leaders a few days later when they visited Martin and the others in the Arauca City prison on November 15. Martin told us that he knew the risks he was facing for defending human rights in the state of Arauca and that he had been prepared psychologically for the likelihood of being imprisoned. "This is a beautiful experience," he said. "We share everything with each other here." Martin also stated that the march in Arauquita "inspires us to keep going forward."

Guillermo Diaz is the president of the Afro-Colombian association and treasurer of the Laborers' union in Arauquita. He told me that he has five daughters - including a 2-year-old and a 3-year-old that he and his wife adopted as orphans. The police came to their house at 5:40 A.M. on November 4. He was handcuffed and taken away to the police station, and wasn't shown an arrest order until two hours later. Guillermo was the sole source of income for the family.

Yilmar Mina is a leader of the search and rescue team and a member of the Assembly of God church in Arauquita. The police called him to the station on November 4 with the pretext that they were going to give him radios for the team. When he arrived there at 5:45 P.M. he was arrested. Yilmar and his wife, Lisbeth, have three young children.

Martin told us, "We're paying the price for the public hearing and the visit to the prison." CPDH helped organize the public hearing of the House of Representatives human rights commission in Arauquita on July 31 and also organized a fiesta for the inmates of the Arauca City prison on October 10.

In love and solidarity,

Scott

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