Vale Luis Almario: A fighter to the end

October 15, 2014
Luis Almario was dedicated to fighting for a better world.

Although I had met Luis before, I first got the chance to really speak to him at a BBQ he hosted at his house in late 2010. We spoke for hours that day about many things, including his health.

Luis explained to me that his body was riddled with cancers, and that the doctors had told him he probably only had six months to live.

“When did they tell you that?” I asked.

“Six months ago,” he replied with a grin on his face. “Don’t worry, I still have plenty of fight still left in me.”

Over the next four years, I had the opportunity to work with Luis as he continued to defy doctors' predictions, while spending as much time as he could doing what he lived for: fighting for a better world.

During that time he had to be rushed to hospital on at least four occasions. On each previous occasion, he was already on the phone hours after arriving home to ask when the next meeting he could attend was on.

The last time was less than a month ago, when fresh out of hospital, he wanted to get along to a Palestine fundraising event put on by Latin America solidarity groups.

Sadly, however, his last hospital visit ended on Tuesday October 7, when he passed away at the age of 70, leaving behind his wife, Elvira, and three daughters.

He also leaves behind the many friends and comrades he made during his decades of struggle.

Born in Colombia, Luis joined the Colombian Communist Youth as a student.

He went on to spend years fighting for different causes, including in his role as a respected radio announcer and journalist.

However, like many other Colombian activists, Luis was forced into exile.

Even decades later, the heavy hand of Colombian repression was to affect him when, in 2009, he was arrested in San Francisco by US Homeland Security.

He was accused of being linked to the banned Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and “likely to engage in terrorist activities”, according to an official transcript of his interrogation by Homeland Security.

His real crime, however, was to have continued to campaign for human rights and justice for Colombia. Since arriving in Australia in 1984, Luis had been involved in numerous solidarity groups and took part in the well-known 2001 occupation of the Colombian consulate in Sydney.

With several other Colombian exiles and supporters, he also set up the Committee of Colombian Political Exiles in Australia.

Luis spent most of his time in Australia as a construction worker. On joining the industry, he quickly became an active member of the Builders’ Labourers Federation and was well-respected by many of his fellow unionists.

Luis worked on the demolition of the toxic Union Carbide site in Rhodes, where chemicals such as Agent Orange had been produced. Without a doubt this was a key contributor to the numerous cancers he suffered from.

Throughout the years, Luis lost a number of his fellow workers from those days to cancer.

He took their case against Union Carbide, including all the way to the NSW Senate, in his years-long battle for justice. In the end, no response was forthcoming.

For 15 years, Luis was also a loyal member of the Parramatta branch of the Australian Labor Party.

However in 2010, Luis announced that he and a number of other members of the Committee of Colombian Political Exiles were leaving to join the Socialist Alliance.

Fed up with the betrayals of Labor — the last straw being the privatisations pushed by the NSW Labor government against the wishes of the majority of party members — he put his hand up to run as an upper house candidate for the Socialist Alliance in the 2011 state

Over the next few years, Luis was a regular stalwart of the Western Sydney Socialist Alliance branch. He was never short of ideas or a few words to say, even if he knew what he was saying was controversial.

His decades of experience meant he had many stories to tell and lessons to impart, for which many of us will be eternally grateful.

His presence will be sorely missed by friends and comrades.

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