Colombian prisoner David Ravelo must go free, now!
Colombian prisoner David Ravelo must go free, now!
In an open letter we ask Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to order his government to release political prisoner David Ravelo. We invite individuals and organizations to endorse the letter. To do so, please send a name, city, state or province, and country to W.T. Whitney at: email@example.com. The letter and names will be delivered to Colombian officials in mid January.
*W. T. Whitney Jr. prepares this letter which is a project of The North American Committee for the Defense of David Ravelo. In 2012 the Committee sent a solidarity delegation to Colombia on Ravelo‚Äôs behalf.
The Honorable Juan Manuel Santos
President, Republic of Colombia
Dear Mr. President,
Sir, those who sign this letter hold that the case against prisoner David Ravelo (c√©dula de ciudadan√≠a 13.887.558) collapsed long ago under the weight of lies and a quite illegitimate prosecution.¬† With respect, we ask that you instruct your government to release Mr. Ravelo from prison. We point to a long, unvarying record of injustice against Ravelo.¬†
David Ravelo was arrested September 14, 2010 in Barrancabermeja, Colombia. Charged with plotting to murder municipal official David N√ļ√Īez Cala in 1991, he is serving an 18 ‚Äď year term. Appeals have failed. His case is now before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
Ravelo, we think, is emblematic of thousands of political prisoners in limbo now as Colombia implements its peace accord. Imprisoned combatants and civilian political prisoners may soon be eligible for amnesty. Ravelo needs to be one of them. ¬†
Barrancabermeja, Ravelo‚Äôs native city, produces 60 percent of Colombia‚Äôs oil products. In the late 1980s the Patriotic Union (UP) electoral coalition entered local politics. Soon David Ravelo was a UP member of Barrancabermeja‚Äôs city council and a UP delegate to the Santander Assembly. At the time, however, killers were targeting UP activists in Barrancabermeja, and nationally.
Charged with rebellion in 1993, Ravelo went to prison for 27 months.¬† By the late 1990s, paramilitaries controlled the city and its surroundings. They massacred 36 Barrancabermeja inhabitants on May 16, 1998 and 17 more on February 28, 1999.
In Barrancabermeja, Ravelo was a labor organizer, community educator, and journalist. He is a longtime member of the Colombian Communist Party‚Äôs Central Committee. ¬†Barrancabermeja‚Äôs Catholic Diocese honored Ravelo in 2008 for his 30 years dedicated to defending human rights. In response to paramilitary violence, he founded and directed the CREDHOS human rights organization. Many CREDHOS leaders subsequently were killed or threatened. ¬†
Ravelo in 2007 circulated a video, viewable here, showing President Alvaro Uribe socializing with Barrancabermeja paramilitary leaders in 2001.¬† The U.S. government, Colombia‚Äôs military ally, had complained about Uribe‚Äôs ties to paramilitaries. We suspect that the video, embarrassing to President Uribe, provoked his taking action against Ravelo. ¬†
Persecution, lies, and vengeance
Colombia‚Äôs government in 1999 convicted paramilitary leaders Mario Jaimes Mej√≠a (alias ‚ÄúPanadero‚Äô) and Fremio S√°nchez Carre√Īo for organizing the two Barrancabermeja massacres. Each received a 20 year sentence. Having accused them, David Ravelo played a role in their downfall.
From Itag√ľ√≠ prison, paramilitary leader Roberto P√©rez √Ālzate ‚Äúgave the order,‚ÄĚ says Ravelo, for Jaimes Mej√≠a ‚Äúto take revenge and accuse David Ravelo Crespo and Jos√© Ar√≠stides Andrade‚ÄĚ of murdering David N√ļ√Īez Cala in 1991.
Jaimes confessed to organizing the massacres of 1998 and 1999 in order to qualify for the Justice and Peace Law of 2005.¬† According to that law, paramilitary leaders telling the truth and demobilizing troops would serve eight years in prison. In 2008 Jaimes confessed to the N√ļ√Īez Cala murder and named Ravelo and ex- congressperson Ar√≠stides Andrade as accomplices. He claimed they attended a meeting in Barrancabermeja where the murder was planned. Again, accusations against Ravelo would ease his entry into the Justice and Peace program.
Jaime‚Äôs paramilitary associate Fremio S√°nchez also confessed to the massacres and to his role in the N√ļ√Īez Cala murder. He too implicated Ravelo and Ar√≠stides Andrade in order to qualify for Justice and Peace.
Jaimes Mej√≠a was a FARC member when he killed N√ļ√Īez Cala; only later would he join the paramilitaries. Accusing Ravelo of ties to the FARC, he showed investigators a 1985 photo of Ravelo attending a peace meeting with FARC leaders at a forest encampment. Authorities had used the old photo to put Ravelo in prison in 1993. Ravelo went free when the ‚ÄúRavelo‚ÄĚ in the photo was shown to be someone else, a journalist.
In the clutches of the state
The prosecution and trial of Ravelo revealed terrible procedural failings. The court, for example, accepted Jaimes Mej√≠a‚Äôs accusation ‚Äď a lie - that Ravelo and Andrade participated in a murder. Colombia‚Äôs Attorney General on August 20, 2014 charged him with lying, and a judicial unit specializing in false witnesses is investigating. Between May 26, 2015 and October 27, 2016, however, six scheduled court sessions were canceled.
Further, the prosecutor in Ravelo‚Äôs case, William Pacheco Granados, is a criminal. ¬†As a police lieutenant in 1991 he arranged for the ‚Äúforced disappearance‚ÄĚ of a young man. A military court convicted him; he spent a year in prison. Law 270 of 1996 prohibits anyone dismissed from ‚Äúany public office‚ÄĚ or convicted of a crime from joining ‚Äúthe judicial branch.‚ÄĚ Now Pacheco Granados faces civil prosecution for murder.
And, the criminality of Ravelo‚Äôs accuser, Mario Jaimes Mej√≠a, seems limitless. Jaimes arranged for journalist Yineth Bedoya to be kidnapped before she was to interview him in prison in 2000. She was beaten and raped.¬† Jaimes received a 28 ‚Äď year sentence. ¬†
There‚Äôs more: Jaimes Mej√≠a bribed fellow prisoners to testify that Ravelo and Ar√≠stides Andrade attended the meeting where the murder was planned. Jaimes used prisoner Fremio S√°nchez to recruit them, according to witnesses at Ravelo‚Äôs trial. Prison officials facilitated meetings to enable Jaimes and S√°nchez to conspire against Ravelo.
And, none of Ravelo‚Äôs 30 defense witnesses were allowed to testify during the trial proceedings. Prosecutor Pacheco closed his pre-trial investigation without hearing testimony as to Ravelo‚Äôs innocence.
Moreover, four weeks elapsed between Ravelo being convicted and the actual announcement of his conviction on December 11, 2012. This ‚Äúflagrant violation of due process‚ÄĚ delayed preparations for Ravelo‚Äôs appeal.
Lastly, the atmosphere surrounding Ravelo‚Äôs trial was grim; ‚Äúfamily members and members of Ravelo‚Äôs CREDHOS organization continually suffered paramilitary death threats and harassment while the trial was in progress.‚ÄĚ ¬†
Ravelo summarizes: ‚Äú[T]he paramilitaries had ‚Äėreasons‚Äô for wanting to eliminate me. That‚Äôs why ‚Ä¶ they tried to assassinate me physically, but didn‚Äôt succeed. They decided to eliminate me judicially, and for that they implemented ‚Äėthe judicial fa√ßade,‚Äô using the lie as their favorite weapon. It‚Äôs clear, therefore, that the truth is the first victim of war.‚ÄĚ
*W. T. Whitney Jr. is a member of INSPP