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UCU statement on the arrest and imprisonment of Francisco Toloza

13 January 2014 | last updated: 29 October 2015

The University and College Union (UCU) condemns the recent arrest of Francisco Toloza, a member of the national leadership and the head of international relations of the Patriotic March, Colombia's largest social and political opposition movement founded in 2012 to campaign for peace and social justice.

Francisco Toloza

Mr. Toloza was arrested on 4 January 2014 in the city of Cucuta and is currently being held in the Colombian capital Bogotá. Mr. Toloza joins the thousands of political prisoners currently being held by the Colombian state, among them political and social activists, trade unionists and human rights defenders.

As well as being a leader of the Patriotic March, Mr Toloza is a respected political scientist from the National University in Bogota, and a popular educator and social activist. As a peace activist and academic Mr Toloza was recently involved in the organisation of the 'Roundtables for Peace' held in Bogota to support the peace talks ongoing in Havana between the FARC guerrillas and the Colombian government.

UCU considers his arrest as further evidence of a government strategy to persecute and discredit critical academics and the Patriotic March in the wake of its success in mobilising large sectors of the population. UCU campaigned successfully for the release of the Colombian academic Miguel Angel Beltrán who was falsely accused of rebellion and imprisoned for over two years before having his charges dropped in 2011.

In 2013 the Patriotic March was behind a series of mass mobilisations. In April, it organised a 'March for Peace' to support the peace process which gathered support from vast sectors of society. In August the Patriotic March helped organise a series of strikes throughout Colombia. Following the strikes the Patriotic March's national organiser, Huber Ballesteros, was arrested and remains in prison today. UCU has campaigned in partnership with the British trade union movement for his release. On top of these high profile arrests, during 2013 at least 25 members of the Patriotic March were killed, without a single case having so far been brought to justice.

We agree with the Patriotic March that the continuing persecution of the Patriotic March is part of 'a governmental response to the struggle of a people that refuses to continue being held hostage to a war imposed by the powerful.' We are deeply concerned that such stigmatisation and repression will undermine the peace talks in Havana, by demonstrating to guerrillas the lack of political and security guarantees for the opposition.

Our thoughts are with Mr Toloza's colleagues and family and we will be working in partnership with Justice for Colombia and our colleagues internationally to campaign for his immediate liberation.

Letter on Francisco Toloza to Eduardo Montealegre Lynnett, Colombia's Attorney General [32kb]