TFA board member Teri Mattson denied entry to Colombia to observe elections

TFA denounces that board member Teri Mattson was denied entry to Colombia and forced to return to the US. 

While en route to observe the upcoming high stakes election in Colombia, Teri Mattson was denied entry by Colombian authorities and had her passport seized. After arriving at 6:55 am on May 22, she was forced to spend the day and the night at the Bogotá Airport before being flown out of the country the following morning.

Although Mattson resides in Mexico and was first flown there, the ordeal did not end there. She was then held in Mexico without passport or phone while immigration waited for the first available flight to the US, because she is a US citizen. Only when Mattson exited the plane in the US were her phone and passport returned to her.

Colombian authorities falsely claimed that Mattson “represents a risk to the security of the State.” The US embassy ignored her request for assistance.

There are real security risk issues involving the presidential elections, but Ms. Mattson was not one of them. The front runner in the election campaign is Gustavo Petro, a leftist former mayor of Bogotá. His vice-presidential running mate is Afro-descendent environmentalist Francia Márquez.

The coming election has made the current rightwing Colombian government and Washington apprehensive. Both Petro and Márquez have survived assassination attempts on the campaign trail. The commander of the Colombian army issued a verbal attack against Petro, prompting Medellín’s mayor to warn: “We are one step away from a coup.” There are rumors the election may be “cancelled.”

According to the Task Force on the Americas, Colombia has been turned into a regional US military and political proxy in their hybrid war against Venezuela. Petro has pledged to reopen relations with Venezuela and adhere to the terms of the peace agreement with the FARC if he becomes president.

Given this background, Teri Mattson traveled to Colombia with a group of international trade unionists to observe the election. A US citizen, Mattson was a fully accredited election observer invited to Colombia by the Permanent Committee for the Defense of Human Rights. CPDH is a leading human rights group in Colombia founded in 1979.

Mattson previously visited Colombia in 2021 on a delegation to investigate state violence against social movements. She is a Latin America organizer with CODEPINK and on the board of the Task Force on the Americas. Mattson has been an official accredited election observer to Honduras, Venezuela, Ecuador, Mexico, and Nicaragua.

The Task Force on the Americas join CPDH and sister organizations in denouncing this egregious violation. It is a bad sign that an experienced international election observer has been denied entry. We need to be especially alert regarding the upcoming election in Colombia this Sunday, May 29.

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