Plight of Colombian trade union leader Huber Ballesteros highlights shame over our deals with killer regimes

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Huber Ballesteros has been held for three years

Trapped in a Colombian jail cell, trade union leader Huber Ballesteros is keen to discuss British politics.

The South American country’s best known and most inspirational opposition figure was seized in August 2013, a week before he was due to fly to the UK to address the TUC conference .

Still not convicted of any offence more than three years later, and denied proper treatment for diabetes, he retains the undimmed spirit of a rebel-with-a-cause as he remains behind bars in the capital Bogota.

“I have a lot more enemies than even Jeremy Corbyn ”, he observed with grim humour in his cell. However, unlike the Labour leader, the Colombian’s enemies are armed and dangerous.

The abuse of Ballesteros and thousands like him shames Theresa May and is another symbol of an unethical foreign policy pursued by successive British governments which are prepared to turn a blind eye to human rights crimes in return for a few quid in trade.

The Prime Minister didn’t raise Ballesteros’ plight – or the regular assassinations of community organisers – during the recent state visit of hardline Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos, who was awarded the full coach-and-horses royal works.

Instead Mrs May lavished praise on a vicious Right-wing establishment in a country with one of the worst human rights records in the northern hemisphere and a murderous, SAS-trained military.

The day after the influential British-based Justice for Colombia gave me the chance to tag along with a group – which included Labour Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Catherine West and GMB union chief Tim Roache – visiting Ballesteros in Bogota’s notorious La Picota prison, Downing Street announced that Mrs May had called Santos, to congratulate him on a peace deal with FARC guerrillas.

I’ll sidestep the irony of the PM applauding an agreement ratified by Colombia’s Congress after it was narrowly rejected in a referendum while Mrs Brexit tries to sideline her own Parliament.

But I’d bet my last peso that May is ignorant or doesn’t care that in a grotesquely unequal, authoritarian Latin American nation, the Right-wing paramilitary death squads
often allied to the Army are undermining peace by continuing to assassinate opponents.

The three bullet wounds – two in the head and one in the back – that political and trade union activist Esneider Gonzalez pointed to at a meeting in Cauca, south of Cali, show just how narrow his escape was from motorcycle gunmen.

Not so lucky were 70-plus activists murdered this year in a place where extreme violence, much of it sanctioned or facilitated by the state and wealthy landowners, has claimed more than 200,000 lives in half a century.

Carla Lopez, Minister of Labour and the only leftie in the Santos Cabinet, says that Ballesteros is being held on “trumped-up charges” and, until he is free to come to Britain, Mrs May should stop cuddling up to her new best friend Santos.