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  • Huber Ballesteros attending a Patriotic March May Day rally in 2013.

    Huber Ballesteros attending a Patriotic March May Day rally in 2013. | Photo: YouTube

Published 24 August 2016
Opinion
"We believe that there should be an immediate amnesty and pardon for all political prisoners that are inside Colombian prisons," Ballesteros told teleSUR.

Huber Ballesteros, campesino union leader and political prisoner in Colombia, talked to teleSUR about today's announcement of the final peace accord between the government and the FARC-EP.

INTERVIEW
Huber Ballesteros: A Revolutionary Voice from Colombia's Prison

He was arrested in August 2013 and is being held in the high security prison of La Picota in the Colombian capital of Bogota, accused of crimes of rebellion and terrorist financing in a legal frame-up.

Ballesteros 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: What are your thoughts on today's announcement of a peace deal between the FARC-EP and the Colombian government? How do you, as a political prisoner, feel about this development, do you think this will affect other political prisoners in Colombia?

Ballesteros: What happened today in Havana is without a doubt the most important historical and political event in our country in the last 100 years. After the announcement of the successful end of the negotiations in Havana, we believe that there should be an immediate amnesty and pardon for all political prisoners, from war and conscience, that are inside Colombian prisons, like myself.

The fighters will participate in the Guerrilla Fighters Conference to decide the political future of the former fighters, who will reintegrate into the economic life of the country. And us, political prisoners, that belong to leftist parties and social movements will be reintegrated into our organizations to work in the implementation of the agreements that will lead to stable and durable peace.

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teleSUR: The final peace deal includes agrarian reform. As a campesino leader, how do you think this agreement will affect the struggle of the movement?

Ballesteros: The agreement of a comprehensive agrarian reform—the first step in the agenda and the first topic that was discussed—without a doubt will change the social relations in rural areas. The implementation of the reform will give opportunities to many campesinos and campesinas that don’t have land, who will access the land fund agreed upon in Havana. For those that need to improve their life conditions, it will surely make them owners of a considerable amount of land.

Also, this is not only a land distribution program, it has other aspects that give the agrarian reform an integrity that it has never had before, for example, economic development, social development, inclusion of women in all the programs and projects that this reform will bring. There’s a program to combat extreme poverty and hunger in the rural zones of the country.

This reform also, as we saw in Havana, adopts a concept of inclusion of the interests of the ethnic groups in the country like the Indigenous and Afro-descendants. I believe, without a doubt, that this point and its implementation will set the basis to overcome one of the elements that began the armed conflict in Colombia.

teleSUR: The agreement says it will protect campesinos and human rights activists, do you feel confident this will happen?

Ballesteros: The agreement does present security guarantees for us union leaders and defenders of human rights. One cannot be completely sure of this, since there’s still a threat of a small, but very important ultra right-wing, led by big landowners—reactionary and violent—that (former president and current senator) Alvaro Uribe Velez represents.

But, I believe it’s a risk we have to take—it’s worth taking for the country’s peace. I also believe there’s not an institutional system that would allow these people to commit the crimes against humanity that they committed during the government of Uribe with full complacency of the state. And there’s also not an international system in favor of violation of human rights, and that gives us a degree of security that the same things won’t happen again.

ANALYSIS
Inside Colombia’s ‘Guantanamo Bay’: A Human Rights Nightmare

teleSUR: What are your thoughts on the political future of social organizations, including the FARC-EP, do you think they will achieve their goals?

Ballesteros: I believe our struggle is just, our ideas are reasonable and our objective is the best for humanity. Socialism is the only system that can solve—from its roots—the economic, social, political, environmental, cultural and gender problems that capitalist society has today. So I believe we will achieve our goals.

What we can’t do is put a deadline on that because it depends on objective outcomes and subjective conditions. We have to resolve inner conflicts—people not understanding about the political moment, our socio-economic training, the degree of democratic and popular unity that we need at this moment—to have a power struggle with the oligarchy. But I think we are entirely ready and our proposals will eventually win by the force of reason. Because we really defend the hopes and dreams of the working people.

Latin America is living a revival of democratic and progressive forces and left movements, but I think that’s normal because we are in the midst of a struggle where the bourgeoisie still has a lot of power. It uses everything it has at its disposal—legal or illegal, above all illegal and unethical things—to stop, as it has done momentarily, the advancement of socialism and the democratic forces in Latin America. But I think that we can accomplish, with the unity of the Colombian people and other democratic and left forces in Latin America, a change in the map, and without a doubt we will reach the objective of socialism and the fundamental goal to change—from its roots—the misery that the people live in, not only in Latin America but around the world.

teleSUR: What would you say to those who oppose this deal, and those who have suffered from the clashes between the paramilitaries and the FARC-EP?

Ballesteros: I think that from those that are against the peace deal in the country, we have to differentiate between two groups. One group sees its interests affected by the content of the agreement—those who have ruled based on lack of democracy, who were elected based on violence, coercion, deceit and corruption.

These are the ones who see their privileges threatened with the land agreement, the comprehensive agrarian policy and wider political participation. They will have to answer to the country—like Uribe and many of his Democratic Center Party—for the systematic violation of human rights and crimes against humanity. To them, I can only say, that they need to understand that there is no return from peace and the changes it brings, and that they must accept that special justice for peace so there will be real reconciliation among all Colombians.

The other group is the one that is being manipulated by big media in Colombia, by Caracol, RCN, Blu Radio, NTN24 and other networks that represent the violent oligarchy of this country. To them, we have to say to think for themselves and decide, based on their knowledge of the agreements, but above all, to understand that reconciliation and peace is above every individual or group's selfish interest.

Those who have suffered the consequences of war, I think we can tell them that the time is here for their recognition, because the agreement has always had at the center of its discussions, in the agreement, and also now in its upcoming implementation, the victims as its most important focus.

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