Colombian human rights defender detained at Tullamarine

Photo by Luis Benavides/AP: Victims of the paramilitaries in Colombia

Contributed by Joe Montero

This Monday, Wilfran Hutardo flew into Tullamarine Airport in Melbourne, had his passport checked and stamped and went to collect his luggage. This is where security personnel seized and took him into a little room for interrogation. He was there for about 5 hours, before being sent to the Maygar Barracks detention centre in Broadmeadows.

Wilfran was told his visa had been cancelled and was going to be put on a plane back to Colombia.

The explanation given by border security, is that his visa is not right and was therefore cancelled. This is unusual. Wilfran had been allowed on the flight and arrived lawfully, believing he had a valid visa granted by Australia.

Wilfran had also been repeatedly questioned as to why he intended to stay in Australia for a month. This is also unusual. He was finally told he would be put on a return flight at 12.45 pm on Thursday.

A more plausible explanation for the detention, is that there has been collaboration between Colombia and Australia. It happens that Wilfran is a union official, marked to be assassinated by the Colombian government associated paramilitary death squads.

He had come to Australia, on the invitation of the Latin American Solidarity Network, to speak about human rights abuses in his country at a number of seminars. He was also planning not to go back to Colombia.

The threat to Wilfran was made all the more certain by his detention in Australia.

He knows he is a target, because they told him by letter and by phone. This is the cruel modus operandi routinely used.

Since the coming into office of President Ivan Dugue Marquez in August last year, more than 700 perceived political enemies and leaders of unions, peasant organisations, indigenous people, women’s rights movement, the LGBT community, people accused of being on the other side of the recent civil war and others, have lost their lives this way.

Duque, as the president is known, is a graduate of Georgetown University in Washington (law) and Harvard (business and government), and has close connections with Washington.

Evidence from cables now made public, show that his mentor and former president, Alvaro Uribe, is related to the Ochoa crime family, which partnered to the notorious cocaine king Pablo Escobar. The Ochoa organisation financed Uribe’s political career and was rewarded with political influence.

Dugue is the Son of Ivan Dugue Escobar, of infamous family based in Medelin, there are accusations that Duque is their current man in the presidential office.

Photo by Fernando Vergara/Associated Press: Alvaro Uribe celebrates with Duque after he becomes president

On assuming the presidency, duque had vowed to get rid of the drug trade. Instead, it has continued to flourished and is now bigger than it ever was.

One of the first things he did was tear up the peace agreement, which his own party had signed, to end the 50-year civil war between the state and the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC). Duque has preferred to continue the war, and since there is no armed FARC, his attention has turned to unarmed civilians considered political opponents. All are accused of being members of the smaller and still armed National Liberation Army (ELN) or the Popular Liberation Army (EPL), a minority break away from FARC.

Colombia has become a human rights nightmare. It’s not only the extra judicial killings. Troops are regularly sent into communities, to brutally suppress what is regarded as disobedience.

Art tribute to Colombia’s murdered community leaders

Video by Al Jazeera English

The death squads taking out Colombians also operate on the other side of the border – Venezuela. Some of them were recently captured there.

At Tullamarine, Wilfred was allowed to make one phone call. A group of us immediately moved to protect him. A lawyer was engaged and we managed to talk to him over the phone, and help break down his isolation.

We were really worried. Imagine how terrifying it must of been for him.

On legal advice, he claimed political asylum and applied for a protection visa. This has put a stop to his imminent departure and has provided a good chance of being able to satay in Australia.

He may still face months in detention.

Legal efforts will be backed by an active campaign to stop his deportation into the hands of the killers.

This incident shows up a problem in Australia’s stance on human rights performance. Collusion with what must be the most brutal current regime in Latin America, does sit well with claiming to be a defender of human rights and lecturing certain other countries on how they should behave.

In this case, there is a siding up with Dugue because he is an ally of Washington and in the front line of efforts to destabilise Venezuela.

This is a major reason why there has been an almost total media blackout about the killings.

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