Colombian political prisoner freed

This video says about itself:

Colombian Campesino Union Leader Huber Ballesteros Freed

14 January 2017


HUBER BALLESTEROS was freed from prison late on Friday night in Colombia after 40 months behind bars on nakedly political charges meant to suppress his efforts for workers’ rights and peace: here.

SOLIDARITY campaigners urged the Colombian government to act yesterday after a shocking UN report revealed that far-right paramilitaries murdered 127 people last year: here.

Birds and shade-grown coffee

This video says about itself:

2 November 2016

Scientists Amanda Rodewald of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Nick Bayly of Selva spend a morning on a Colombian coffee farm, researching how shade-grown coffee benefits migratory birds like warblers and tanagers.

Birds and children in Colombia

This video says about itself:

BirdSleuth International: Colombia

12 October 2016

Cornell Lab educators provide resources and training to teachers across the globe, that help them create opportunities for students to explore and care for their unique habitats.

HSBC bank in Colombian murder scandal

This video from Canada says about itself:

Karl Pruner of ACTRA interviews Yessika Hoyos Morales, human rights lawyer and daughter of murdered trade union activist from Colombia, about the proposed trade agreement between Canada and her country – part 1 – recorded in Ottawa for Straight Goods News on 26 May 2009.

This video is the sequel.

By Joana Ramiro in Britain:

HSBC owners grill boss over murder claims

Saturday 23rd April 2016

Lobbyists: Quit Colombian coal horror

SHAREHOLDERS in banking behemoth HSBC grilled group chief executive Stuart Gulliver yesterday on investments in a coal firm accused of murder and rights abuses.

Investors and campaigners attended HSBC’s annual general meeting in London where Mr Gulliver was grilled over the bank’s £3.7 billion coal investments, in particular in US firm Drummond.

Drummond was accused of implication last year in over 3,000 murders and 55,000 displacements in Colombia.

“For as long as HSBC’s addiction to coal continues to blind them to the human rights abuses this disastrous industry entails, Stuart Gulliver and other executives at the bank are complicit in Drummond’s crimes and have blood on their hands,” said ethical investment lobbyist Move Your Money campaign manager Fionn Travers-Smith.

“One major funder has already pulled out from financing Drummond’s continued operations on due diligence grounds, citing concerns over these human rights abuses. HSBC can and must do the same.

“Failure to do so not only calls into question the bank’s due diligence policies, respect for inalienable human rights and approach to the climate crisis, it also undermines the judgment of HSBC’s board members and their ability to manage a compliant and law-abiding bank.”

Campaigners demanded that the bank keep its commitment to environmentally friendly practices, including those made at the Paris COP21 climate summit in December 2015.

Three-hundred letters have been sent to Mr Gulliver requesting that HSBC withdraw from its coalmining investments.

Shareholders also quizzed the CEO over the bank’s tax avoidance record, revealed by the Panama Papers leak.

“Another year, another huge dollop of cream for HSBC’s fat cats,” said Robin Hood Tax campaign spokesman David Hillman.

“Instead of cosying up to the fat cats, George Osborne needs to rein in the bank’s excesses.”

At the time the Star went to print HSBC had not yet been able to comment on the matter.

HSBC and murders in Colombia

Colombia: Sierra Nevada Indigenous leader murdered: here.

New frog species discovered in Colombia

Pristimantis macrummendozai frog was discovered in the Iguaque Merchan paramos, Colombia's East Andes (AFP photo)

From the BBC today:

Frog species with yellow eyebrows found in Colombia

Researchers say they have discovered a new frog species with distinctive yellow eyebrows in Colombia.

The frog has a dark camouflage pattern which allows it to blend in with the rocky soil on which it dwells.

Researchers with the Humboldt Institute found the frog, which they named Pristimantis macrummendozai, in the Iguaquen Merchan moorlands, in central Boyaca province.

Colombia is one of the world’s most biologically diverse countries.

Researchers said that the species was well adapted to its moorland surroundings.

They said that female Pristimantis took advantage of the moist soil to lay their eggs in the ground.

According to their studies, the Pristimantis’ preferred breeding environment was at high altitude, above 3,500m (11,500ft).

Environmentalists in Colombia have been fighting for the country’s moorlands to be protected.

Last month, they celebrated when Colombia’s constitutional court banned mining in the moorlands, arguing that it could cause irreversible damage to their fragile ecosystem.

British Petroleum and Colombian death squads

This video says about itself:

BP and Ocensa – the oil companies and the assassins | Guardian Investigations

22 May 2015

Colombian trade unionist Gilberto Torres claims oil firms BP and Ocensa funded paramilitaries who abducted and planned to murder him.

Watch the extraordinary testimony of his captors, who say they got $40,000 extra for the kidnap and murder of the union man.

More on this story here.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Kidnapped trade unionist speaks of ordeal

Saturday 17th october 2015

A COLOMBIAN trade unionist who was kidnapped and tortured after challenging oil companies will today bring his fight for justice to Wales, writes Luke James.

Gilberto Torres was held in insect-infested pits, tortured and made to watch fellow captives being dismembered in a 42 day ordeal in 2002.

Now he is bringing a case for damages against British Petroleum, claiming it is linked to the paramilitaries who abducted him.

Tonight he will share his story with trade unionists and campaigners at Cardiff’s Temple of Peace during an evening of Colombian food, music and performances.

“I want to discuss what action British people can take to stop the damage that multinationals are causing to human rights and the environment around the globe,” he said before the meeting.

Over 12,000 people have been murdered or disappeared since BP started oil exploration in the 1990s.

And his solicitor Sue Willman said: “Gilberto Torres is risking his safety by suing oil companies in the UK and by coming here to seek the truth.”

Colombia, deathliest country for trade unionists

This video says about itself:

Justice For Colombia address ICTU Conference

12 July 2015

Witney Chávez tells the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) Conference of the struggle in Colombia.

By Ben Chacko in Britain:

A dangerous country for any trade unionist

Saturday 3rd October 2015

Morning Star editor Ben Chacko talks to Colombian trade unionist WITNEY CHAVEZ

TUC CONGRESS last month heard an emergency motion from train drivers’ union Aslef on continuing violence against trade unionists in Colombia.

Moving it, general secretary Mick Whelan pointed out that 69 activists were killed in the first eight months of 2015; that an academic, Miguel Beltran, has been arrested again on vague “rebellion” charges he was cleared of four years ago after spending two years behind bars; and that leading trade unionist Huber Ballesteros has now been locked up for over two years without trial.

So you might think Witney Chavez, an executive member of Colombian trade union federation the Central Union of Workers (CUT), has bigger fish to fry than the Tory assault on our right to organise over here.

Not a bit of it.

“You must fight for your right to strike,” he tells me gravely over a coffee as we meet on the sidelines of the conference.

“You lose that here and it will damage all of us, everywhere in the world.”

Unions in the CUT federation have some 600,000 members in total, around half of whom belong to FECODE, the country’s largest teaching union.

In contrast to Britain’s TUC, which unites virtually the entire labour movement, Colombia has five such federations, but CUT is the biggest, and, according to Chavez, the most class conscious and politically radical.

FECODE is Chavez’s union and for 12 years he held leading positions in it — he has been both general secretary and president, the latter being the more powerful office in Colombia.

It bears the bitter distinction of being “the most persecuted union in Colombia.” Since the early 1990s over 1,000 members have been murdered.

Why? “Because we are permanent protagonists of struggle,” Chavez says. “To speak of FECODE is to speak of protest, of opposition to government policy.

“But it is a dangerous country for any trade unionist, and teachers work right across the country, including in the most violent areas.

“The level of killing has reduced, but it is still high. In 2014, 15 leading local trade unionists were killed, seven of them teachers. That’s about half the 2012-13 figures.”

And this is the fault of the Bogota government?

“There’s a 95 per cent impunity rate for these killings. In more than nine out of 10 cases there is no sentence, no investigation that reaches a satisfactory conclusion, no answers for the families.

“Sometimes, the government will help move threatened teachers to safer areas, but in most rural parts of the country that’s not possible. At the very least the state must be considered negligent.”

Is it a state-run education sector we’re talking about, I wonder.

“Mostly. The private sector is very strong in pre-school and university, less so in primary and secondary education.

“There are maybe 350,000 teachers employed by the state and 150,000 by the private sector, but the proportion of pupils in state education is very much higher than that would suggest. Though different models are being used now to privatise state education — for example, schools being run privately but paid for by public funds.”

Sounds familiar. But is it mostly private-sector teacher trade unionists being killed, then?

“No, there’s no trade union movement in the private sector,” Chavez tells me. “People are on one-year contracts, if you joined a union you’d simply lose your job.

“It’s in the public sector that we’re organised and we fight for higher salaries and better conditions.”

Something doesn’t seem to add up to me. Why would paramilitaries murder teachers who are paid for by the government? Raising their pay wouldn’t leave any oligarch or drug baron out of pocket.

Chavez smiles at my naivety.

“Teachers in Colombia,” he explains, “especially in rural areas — well, it’s a bit like being the village priest. They are community leaders.

“If there is a problem in the village, if people are starving, if there is a local injustice, it is often the local teacher who is speaking out, leading resistance.

“There’s a line from [Catalan singer] Joan Manuel Serrat — ‘when a problem in the community arises, the teacher arrives.’ These murders are not directly related to workplace struggles.

“And they are not always political, either. Different types of violence affect trade unions in Colombia. There are issues with smuggling, there’s a huge black market, crime networks run by paramilitaries. Trade unionists can fall foul of any of that.

“Then there is the politics — teachers critical of government initiatives being killed. There’s the war [with communist guerilla group Farc] and a peace process, peace in Colombia would improve the situation enormously. It will take time.”

It sounds discouraging, but Chavez says Britain’s socialists can help.

“Support peace negotiations in Colombia. They create an environment in which we can make progress.

“The work Justice for Colombia does is essential, and I would urge more people to get involved with it and more trade unions to affiliate.

“After all we have common problems. Workers in Colombia are very worried by free-trade agreements with Europe and about entry into the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, because its recommendations before we join involve big spending cuts.

“Statements like this one [at TUC] are very important, they help put pressure on the Colombian regime, they show it that the eyes of the world are watching.”

I ask if he was listening when Jeremy Corbyn addressed Congress and mentioned the terrible situation for Colombian trade unionists.

“Yes, I was,” he says, smiling. “A wonderful speech, all of it. A speech that gives hope that the Labour Party can be a party of labour again.”

Justice for Colombia is holding an event, Human Rights and the Peace Process in Colombia, on October 7 from 5.30 to 7.30pm at the Fleming Room, Scottish Parliament EH99 1SP. For more information visit

MEET THE WOMEN FIGHTING THE COLOMBIAN GOVERNMENT “Women make up approximately 30 to 40 percent of the force. Carrying out the same duties as men, from cooking to combat, many women inside the FARC say it is a haven from the traditional roles expected of them in machista Colombian society.” [California Sunday]

Deadly attacks on Colombian teachers & trade unions are condemned by Education International: here.

Colombian human rights violations and Britain

This video says about itself:

Colombian Political Prisoner Huber Ballesteros at TUC 2013

11 September 2013

The Colombian trade union leader Huber Ballesteros was arrested by Colombian police days before he was due to address the 2013 TUC conference in Bournemouth.

Justice for Colombia managed to obtain a video message from Huber smuggled out from inside the prison and played to the TUC congress.

The Colombian government continues to imprison trade unionists and human rights activists.

There are more than 7,500 political prisoners in Colombia. Justice for Colombia, with the support of the British trade union movement, campaigns for the release of all Colombia’s political prisoners.

After the recent blog posts here which saved November 2011-December 2011 posts at my blog which will disappear, now a post about today, 15 July 2015. There will be more November 2011-December 2011 posts in between new ones.

By Luke James in Britain:

MPs demand action to halt jailing of Colombia activists

Wednesday 15th July 2015

LABOUR MPs demanded yesterday that British ministers take action over the thousands of campaigners and trade unionists imprisoned for political reasons in Colombia.

Trade union group chairman Ian Lavery and Leeds East MP Richard Burgon both raised the abuses at foreign and commonwealth questions.

Mr Lavery told the Commons how Huber Ballesteros, leader of the Patriotic March opposition party, had been jailed since August 2013.

“His case is emblematic of the thousands of human rights activists who are repeatedly intimidated for their work for social justice and support for marginalised groups,” he said.

Members of the Justice for Colombia (JfC) campaign believe there are now about 4,000 political prisoners, most accused of “rebellion” for alleged links with Marxist liberation movement the Farc.

Some 24 campaigners have also been killed in Colombia this year, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights confirmed last month.

Despite government violence, opposition groups have pressed ahead with peace talks and the Farc has called a unilateral ceasefire from July 20.

Mr Burgon said ministers should urge Bogota to “agree a bilateral ceasefire as soon as possible to create the necessary conditions for successful outcome to the talks and reduce the human cost and suffering of the population.”

Tory Foreign Minister Hugo Swire said he had raised rights violations with his Colombian counterpart at a summit in Brussels last month.

He said: “I welcome the Colombian government’s efforts to improve the human rights situation, but we remain concerned at the numbers of murders and threats against human rights defenders.”

Acorn woodpeckers in Colombia, new study

This video says about itself:

Through the Lens: Acorn Woodpecker

23 April 2011

The Acorn Woodpecker is a favorite among bird watchers. It has a clown like appearance and the unique habit of storing acorns in a favored tree that is often used by generations of birds. Wildlife Photographer Marie Read shares her experience photographing the behaviors of these lively birds.

Learn more about Acorn Woodpeckers on All About Birds.

From PLOS one:

The Geographic Distribution of a Tropical Montane Bird Is Limited by a Tree: Acorn Woodpeckers (Melanerpes formicivorus) and Colombian Oaks (Quercus humboldtii) in the Northern Andes

Benjamin G. Freeman, Nicholas A. Mason

June 17, 2015


Species distributions are limited by a complex array of abiotic and biotic factors. In general, abiotic (climatic) factors are thought to explain species’ broad geographic distributions, while biotic factors regulate species’ abundance patterns at local scales

We used species distribution models to test the hypothesis that a biotic interaction with a tree, the Colombian oak (Quercus humboldtii), limits the broad-scale distribution of the Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus) in the Northern Andes of South America. North American populations of Acorn Woodpeckers consume acorns from Quercus oaks and are limited by the presence of Quercus oaks. However, Acorn Woodpeckers in the Northern Andes seldom consume Colombian oak acorns (though may regularly drink sap from oak trees) and have been observed at sites without Colombian oaks, the sole species of Quercus found in South America

We found that climate-only models overpredicted Acorn Woodpecker distribution, suggesting that suitable abiotic conditions (e.g. in northern Ecuador) exist beyond the woodpecker’s southern range margin. In contrast, models that incorporate Colombian oak presence outperformed climate-only models and more accurately predicted the location of the Acorn Woodpecker’s southern range margin in southern Colombia.

These findings support the hypothesis that a biotic interaction with Colombian oaks sets Acorn Woodpecker’s broad-scale geographic limit in South America, probably because Acorn Woodpeckers rely on Colombian oaks as a food resource (possibly for the oak’s sap rather than for acorns). Although empirical examples of particular plants limiting tropical birds’ distributions are scarce, we predict that similar biotic interactions may play an important role in structuring the geographic distributions of many species of tropical montane birds with specialized foraging behavior.

‘BP complicit in torturing Colombian trade unionist’

This video from Britain about Colombia says about itself:

BP and Ocensa – the oil companies and the assassins | Guardian Investigations

22 May 2015

Colombian trade unionist Gilberto Torres claims oil firms BP and Ocensa funded paramilitaries who abducted and planned to murder him.

Watch the extraordinary testimony of his captors, who say they got $40,000 extra for the kidnap and murder of the union man.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Colombian takes BP to court in UK over alleged complicity in kidnap and torture

BP says it will defend unprecedented claim by trade union leader Gilberto Torres in case that spotlights role of big carbon in one of Colombia’s darkest periods

Mary Carson, Adrian Gatton, Rodrigo Vázquez and Maggie O’Kane

Friday 22 May 2015 07.57 BST

A Colombian trade union leader is beginning an unprecedented claim for damages against BP in the high court in London, alleging the oil company’s complicity in his kidnap and torture 13 years ago.

Gilberto Torres, 52, was abducted in February 2002 while driving home from an oil-pumping station in Casanare, eastern Colombia, and was released after 42 days, only after workers threatened a national oil strike. The case, which begins on Friday, will throw a spotlight on one of the murkiest periods in Colombia’s history, and the role of big business in it.

His lawyers say that it is the first time a union leader has been able to lodge a claim for human rights abuses against a multinational oil company in the high court. They believe his claim could pave the way for scores more similar actions. …

Torres tells his story for the first time in a Guardian online documentary. The film includes the extraordinary testimony of his kidnappers when they finally faced trial.

The UN estimates that 3,000 union activists were murdered and 6,000 more disappeared in the Casanare region in the last 30 years. The targeting of them by pro-government paramilitaries went largely unnoticed outside Colombia because of the civil war raging between the Colombian government and Farc, the leftwing guerrilla group.

Torres was abducted at gunpoint shortly after he organised a strike in protest over the murder of another union leader. He had received increased threats in the days leading up to him being taken.

He tells the Guardian how he watched as his captors, who later claimed they were paid to protect the pipeline by the oil companies, questioned a suspected Farc rebel. “They hit him. They insulted him. They spat on him. They battered him, until he confessed that he was part of Farc. With that admission, he signed his death warrant.

“They shot him twice in the neck. They cut his head, his legs and his arms off. And at the end the commander with a machete started to puncture his corpse. I understood then that this was going to happen to me.”

After six weeks in captivity, 10 days in a flooded outdoor pit infested with red ants, and days of interrogation aimed at getting him to confess to being a member of a leftwing guerrilla movement, Torres was unexpectedly handed over to the Red Cross. He is only the second trade union leader in the history of 40 years of conflict in Colombia to have survived an abduction.

Torres worked for the oil workers’ union USO, representing 400 members working on the 515-mile (830km) Ocensa pipeline, which carried crude from Casanare to the Caribbean Sea.

Ocensa was set up by major oil companies including BP, Colombia’s state-owned enterprise Ecopetrol, and four other multinational companies, to build and own the pipeline.

It was pumping $7m (£4.5m) worth of crude oil every day. BP was the biggest oil producer in the area.

Union protests sanctioned by Torres were disrupting production. He wanted to draw attention to the disappearance of union colleagues and had been highly vocal the previous week about members of an army brigade, charged with protecting the pipeline, training on company grounds.

BP, like other oil companies operating in Colombia at the time, paid a government tax of $1 a barrel to help finance army and police protection of oil facilities. According to journalists who carried out an investigation into BP’s security provision in 1995, the company signed a three-year collaborative agreement with the Colombia defence ministry worth $11.6m, of which BP would provide $2.2m.

Much of that was spent on the 16th Brigade, an army unit assigned specifically to protect the company’s oil installations. The army is accused of contracting out that work to local pro-government paramilitaries – with often lethal results.

In the wake of the oil boom, the Colombian army and paramilitaries brought to Casanare a US-designed counter-insurgency strategy of dirty war, known locally as “quitarle agua al pez” or “draining the fish tank”. Instead of fighting the guerrillas, they would target people they considered sympathisers.

Sue Willman, partner in Deighton Pierce Glynn, the London firm representing Torres, said there would be no accusation that BP was directly involved in his abduction. But the company had failed to take action to halt paramilitary activity.

Willman said: “Amnesty International went to BP a number of times warning them about the murders and disappearances. But BP failed to act effectively on the warnings.”

Pro-government paramilitaries who were convicted in Bogotá of kidnapping Torres claimed that Ocensa had paid for the murder. As well as its arrangements over the pipeline, BP had a 15.2% stake in Ocensa. Their testimony is heard in the Guardian documentary for the first time outside Colombia.

BP, Ocensa and Ecopetrol all deny they paid paramilitaries to guard the pipeline.

BP is one of the fossil fuel companies that the Guardian is calling on two of the world’s two largest health charities, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust, to divest from through its Keep it in the Ground campaign. The Gates Foundation’s Asset Trust has a £243m holding and Wellcome has £118m in BP, according to the most recent figures.

Energy giant BP has agreed to settle outstanding state and federal claims against it relating to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil disaster for $18.7 billion. The fines, to be paid over 18 years, are a small fraction of the damages caused by the largest offshore oil spill in US history and minor in relation to the immense profits of the transnational oil company: here.

COLOMBIA brought charges against bosses of multinational company Chiquita on Friday over payments made via subsidiaries to fund right-wing paramilitary groups: here.