Spanish Peace Activist Accused of FARC Links
News from Colombia |
on: Thursday, 31 July 2008
In an attempt to extend their campaign to silence critics to outside of Colombia, the Colombian regime has asked several European Governments to act against peace and human rights activists in their countries who, according to the Colombians, have links to the leftwing FARC guerrilla group. Acting upon supposed 'evidence' provided by the Colombians, Spanish authorities arrested, but then released, Remedios Garcia, a 57-year-old Spanish peace activist and trade unionist in Madrid – an incident described by a Spanish MEP as 'scandalous'.
Ms Garcia is well-known to the NGO community as for many years she has headed up the 'Conflict Resolution' and "International Humanitarian Law' projects of OSPAAAL, a respected Madrid-based human rights and peace NGO. As well as working in Colombia the NGO has development projects aimed at facilitating conflict resolution in Angola, Bolivia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Honduras, Nicaragua, Palestine, Panama and Peru. Ms Garcia has managed their Colombia work as well as projects in Iraq and Western Sahara.
In her role as Colombia coordinator for OSPAAAL Ms Garcia attended several sessions of the 1998-2002 peace talks between the FARC and the Colombian Government held in southern Colombia. She also helped to arrange a peace conference in 2000 in the Spanish city of Alcala de Henares at which representatives of the Colombian Government and a senior FARC commander, Raul Reyes, met and talked about peace along with representatives of the Spanish Government. After the conference then Colombian President Andres Pastrana wrote to OSPAAAL thanking them for their efforts in favour of peace negotiations and asking them to continue their good work.
Ms Garcia subsequently held several meetings with FARC leaders to discuss conflict resolution and the possibility of a humanitarian accord to help reduce the intensity of the Colombian conflict. However, despite the clear humanitarian nature of her work, and the fact that she lives in Madrid, the Colombian authorities have now claimed that Ms Garcia is in fact a member of the FARC.
The 'evidence' against her appears to consist of e-mails from Raul Reyes, whose computer was recently captured, to several different people all of whom the Colombian authorities allege are actually Remedios Garcia. Spanish lawyers have said that the charges are clearly fabricated and argue that the e-mails cannot in any case be used in a court of law due to their origin – according to an Interpol investigation the computer from which they came was tampered with by Colombian authorities.
Over 40 Spanish human rights organisations and political parties released a statement following Ms Garcia's brief detention for questioning on July 26th. In it they argued that the Colombian regime is "trying to export their policy of repression and criminalisation of protest to Europe" and described the accusations against Garcia as "politically motivated persecution against those involved in international solidarity and efforts to promote a peace process in Colombia".
Spanish MEP Willy Meyer, who has also been involved in efforts to kick-start a peace process in Colombia, has described her treatment as 'scandalous' and said that what is going on "is disgraceful as Garcia made contact with and visited the FARC during the negotiation process in order to look for a humanitarian solution to the conflict" and added that "many members of the European Parliament also visited the FARC in the framework of the negotiations to reach a humanitarian solution to the conflict".
Meyer also called on the Spanish authorities to apologise and pointed out that Garcia, with whom he has worked in the past, "has been detained without any proof, since everything that is being used against her was found through the computer" – a reference to the fact that documents originating on the Raul Reyes computer are considered illegitimate evidence. He concluded by saying that "this action is in line with the policy of the President of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe, who tries to criminalise all who are in favour of a negotiated and humanitarian solution to the conflict".
The Colombian regime is also believed to have contacted the Governments of Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Sweden and Switzerland in relation to the activities of peace activists and human rights defenders on those countries too. However, with the exception of Spain, no European country has taken further action.