Uriel Barrera (1930-2023): A life of revolutionary struggle and solidarity

September 5, 2023
Uriel Barrera at one of the Latin American Solidarity Forum's annual fundraising asados. Photo: Peter Boyle

After a long life dedicated to fighting for a better world, Uriel Barrera passed away on July 14 at the age of 93.

Uriel became politically active in his home country Colombia and later Chile, before settling in Sydney in 1974, where he became well known among the Latin American émigré community for his solidarity with progressive struggles in that continent.

Uriel grew up in a small Colombian town, in Chiscas municipality, where he became acquainted with the poverty and inequality many campesinos (small farmers) had to endure. He became very sympathetic to their plight and, ultimately, dedicated the greater part of his life to supporting their cause.

Looking for work and life experiences, Uriel left school early to join the army. In his mid-20s, he went back to finish school and later studied at the Free University of Colombia, while working in the public sector.

He became active in the student movement which, in the late 1950s, was in an upswing. His activism and leadership led to him being invited to the Soviet Union, Cuba and China, among other countries.

He was instrumental in the rise of new left organisations that emerged around that time. With repression heightening in the country, and inspired by the Cuban revolution, many leftists decided to take up arms. Uriel was active in the first expression of this “turn” in the Worker, Student and Peasant Movement — 7 January, created in 1959.

Following unity discussions with forces and militants who had left the Colombian Communist Party, amid international divisions within the Communist movement between the then Soviet Union and Communist China, Uriel was involved in forming the Communist Party of Colombia (Marxist-Leninist) in 1965.

Shortly after, he became the leader of the party’s armed wing, which later became known as the Popular Liberation Army.

Following the election of socialist presidential candidate Salvador Allende in 1970, Uriel moved to Chile where he taught philosophy at the State Technical University and met his future wife, Amelia.

The military coup against Allende in 1973 cut short Uriel’s stay in the country. A campaign by various international organisations meant that he and his wife were granted asylum in Australia. Not long after, they had a daughter, Lucia.

For the next 40 years, Uriel was a constant figure at Latin America solidarity events, never giving up his commitment to fighting for the poor and speaking up for social justice.

While he always kept Colombia close to his heart and maintained his advocacy for peace in that country, he was a fervent supporter of many progressive causes. Despite a car accident, which impacted his mobility and with his health deteriorating, you could always count on Uriel showing his support at solidarity events.

For a time Uriel wrote a weekly column under the pen name Belarmino Sarna, in a Spanish-language newspaper. He also published a book in 1991 under that name, Inmigrante feliz en afortunado país (Happy migrant in a lucky country).

Along with politics, he shared a love for chess, the arts and football, and his family. Uriel will be sorely missed by his daughter, two granddaughters, his comrades and members of the Latin American community.

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