On June 6, 2018, Julian Andres Gil Reyes, the technical secretary and member of the International Commission of the social movement platform, Congreso de los Pueblos (People’s Congress), was detained. Julian was approached by five individuals dressed in civilian clothes and two uniformed national policemen, who took him away in a Renault sedan. From that moment onwards, Julian was deprived of his liberty. Two days later, a judge ordered protective custody as requested by the public prosecutor, who alleged that he was a member of the National Liberation Army (ELN) and accused him of being involved in the possession, transport and trafficking of explosives and weapons. However, it is important to note that all these charges are based on the testimony of an individual who has struck an agreement with the state. On June 18, after 11 days of detention at a police station, he was transferred to Eron Picota, a prison with maximum security, on the pretext of overcrowding at his previous location, which is common in Colombian prisons. He thus remains deprived of his freedom despite there being no material proof of his guilt.
Also Read: State Repression Continues in Colombia as People’s Movement Leader Detained
Organizations from Colombia and across the world have been vocally demanding that he be set free. Below is an interview with Julian Andres Gil Reyes
1) Why do you think being a social leader has become a crime in Colombia?
It is important to note that even while the national government talks about peace, there is a growing closure of possibilities for political participation by social sectors that have historically been marginalized.
A vivid example of this is the systematic way in which social movements are being attacked. It is clear that it is not about isolated cases and petty arguments.
There are many aspects to this assault. The first is the assassination of those fighting to protect our resources, human rights defenders, ex-combatants and social leaders; the second is political prosecution with a liberal use of false statements to stigmatize and imprison social leaders and militants who present alternative political proposals; the third is the monitoring of all organizational forms that have been developed with the aim of generating dignified living conditions.
This is an offensive launched by the government in sync with the imperialist dictates of the United States, along with international financial conglomerates. It is aimed at closing all the organizational, political, cultural and economic possibilities that contradict the interests of these forces.
It is clear then that in Colombia, democracy is nothing more than a mask that conceals a fascist government that shares power with the same oligarchic class that has been in power for more than 200 years.
Not only is being a leader a crime, but so is thinking differently, defending human rights, caring for the earth and water, reading different texts or planning something with people of the neighborhood; even having different dreams today is sufficient to constitute a crime. We are facing a historical setback to rights, struggles and public victories across the world. The state will not end its offensive until all the expressions of dignity by people across the country are eradicated. This is an offensive not only against the left, alternative and progressive expressions but an offensive against life itself in all its expressions; the class in power seeks to dominate the people in order to usurp their territories, the fruit of their labor and ultimately their lives.
2) What has been the trajectory of your work and your role in the People’s Congress?
From a long time, I have been convinced that only organization and struggle will take us close to the construction of new realities that ensure dignified lives. That’s why from the time I was in high school, I participated in social, ecclesial, neighborhood, community, human rights, youth, student, educational and investigational processes. In short, my life has been dedicated to the righteous cause of the organization and mobilization of people.
I was working as the technical secretary of the social and political movement of People’s Congress, where I contributed to the Education, Economic and International Commissions.
I also participated in the Popular Pre-University exam prep called ‘Let’s go to the Public University,’ in the area of critical reading and philosophy. In this space, with other comrades and grassroots movements, we discussed what was happening in the country, the city and our neighborhood .
From all these experiences, one thing I would like to highlight is the perseverance and consistent commitment of many women, men and children, who are, every single day, forging bonds of togetherness and paths that make possible better conditions of life. From them, I have learned the need to overcome individualism and move to collective thought and action.
3) What is the true purpose of the case against you?
I understand that the public prosecutor, together with the police and other entities, is seeking to delegitimize our social, people’s and community organizations. They want to identify, persecute and silence all those voices that are resisting the plundering of our territories, and those who stand for the defense of human rights and of nature.
It is clearly a strategy of death that is being employed mercilessly against those who opt for life through resorting to selective killings, persecutions, judicial assemblies and stigmatization through mass media that misinforms and disfigures reality in favour of private interests.
This political persecution violates my freedom as a person but above all seeks to silence the social processes and organizations in which I participate.
4) What is your message to those who are following your case?
Firstly, I would like to thank all the people and organizations in the country and abroad that have shown solidarity with my case and with my companions of People’s Congress, as well as members of other organizations of people’s movements that today are victims of political prosecution.
At this moment, when I am deprived of liberty in Eron Picota, a maximum security prison, I clearly remember the words of a peasant colleague from Boyacá who said, “everywhere a revolutionary stands up, there is hope.” What I discovered here, in the midst of so many people deprived of freedom, is that there is hope, but to keep it, it is necessary to fight every day. And it is not enough to utter words and great speeches; it is necessary to undertake actions that transform the state of things which oppresses us.
I also wish to point out that prison is just another part of the country’s structural corruption and has failed as a re-socializing project for the “law-breakers.” The whole process is aimed at only punishing the poorest and most marginalized sections of the society; in other words, it is a form of stigmatization and segregation of poverty.
We must continue to work towards the unity of peoples and the building of power and autonomy in our territories. We cannot fail in our search for dignified life, and we must never renounce our dreams for our country and humanity.
From this space built by and for fear, I send comradely greeting to all fellow organizations and to all the people, who with great dignity, work to forge a new dawn.
A big hug! Always move forward in the defense of happiness and hope!
Also Read: Social Movements Prepare to Mobilize as Ivan Duque Wins Colombian Presidential Polls