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Issue #1763      February 1, 2017

The first victim of war

Open letter to President Juan Manuel Santos

Colombian prisoner David Ravelo must go free, now!

The North American Committee for the Defence of David Ravelo and the Boston Committee of International Labour Defence recently wrote an open letter to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. The two groups were demanding freedom for prisoner David Ravelo. Members of the two organisations on January 19 delivered the letter to Yida Ximena Mora Silva, the Colombian Consul in Boston, together with a list of people and organisations signing on in support. Here’s the letter:

To the Honourable Juan Manuel Santos, President of the Republic of Colombia:

Sir, those who sign this letter believe that the case against prisoner David Ravelo (cédula de ciudadanía 13.887.558) collapsed long ago under the weight of lies and an 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 Núñez Cala in 1991, he is serving an 18-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’s native city, produces 60 percent of Colombia’s oil products. In the late 1980s the Patriotic Union (UP) electoral coalition entered local politics. Soon David Ravelo was a UP member of Barrancabermeja’s 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 labour organiser, community educator, and journalist. He is a long-time member of the Colombian Communist Party’s Central Committee. Barrancabermeja’s Catholic Diocese honoured 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 organisation. Many CREDHOS leaders subsequently were killed or threatened.

Ravelo in 2007 circulated a video showing President Alvaro Uribe socialising with Barrancabermeja paramilitary leaders in 2001. The US government, Colombia’s military ally, had complained about Uribe’s ties to paramilitaries. We suspect that the video, embarrassing to President Uribe, provoked his taking action against Ravelo.

Persecution, lies, and vengeance

Colombia’s government in 1999 convicted paramilitary leaders Mario Jaimes Mejía (alias “Panadero’) and Fremio Sánchez Carreño for organising the two Barrancabermeja massacres. Each received a 20-year sentence. Having accused them, David Ravelo played a role in their downfall.

From Itagüí prison, paramilitary leader Roberto Pérez Álzate “gave the order,” says Ravelo, for Jaimes Mejía “to take revenge and accuse David Ravelo Crespo and José Arístides Andrade” of murdering David Núñez Cala in 1991.

Jaimes confessed to organising 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 demobilising troops would serve eight years in prison. In 2008 Jaimes confessed to the Núñez Cala murder and named Ravelo and ex-congressperson Arístides 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.

Jaimes’ paramilitary associate Fremio Sánchez also confessed to the massacres and to his role in the Núñez Cala murder. He too implicated Ravelo and Arístides Andrade in order to qualify for Justice and Peace.

Jaimes Mejía was a FARC member when he killed Núñez 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 “Ravelo” 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 Mejía’s accusation – a lie – that Ravelo and Andrade participated in a murder. Colombia’s Attorney General on August 20, 2014 charged him with lying, and a judicial unit specialising in false witnesses is investigating. Between May 26, 2015 and October 27, 2016, however, six scheduled court sessions were cancelled.

Further, the prosecutor in Ravelo’s case, William Pacheco Granados, is a criminal. As a police lieutenant in 1991 he arranged for the “forced disappearance” of a young man. A military court convicted him; he spent a year in prison. Law 270 of 1996 prohibits anyone dismissed from “any public office” or convicted of a crime from joining “the judicial branch.” Now Pacheco Granados faces civil prosecution for murder.

And, the criminality of Ravelo’s accuser, Mario Jaimes Mejía, 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-year sentence.

There’s more: Jaimes Mejía bribed fellow prisoners to testify that Ravelo and Arístides Andrade attended the meeting where the murder was planned. Jaimes used prisoner Fremio Sánchez to recruit them, according to witnesses at Ravelo’s trial. Prison officials facilitated meetings to enable Jaimes and Sánchez to conspire against Ravelo.

And, none of Ravelo’s 30 defence witnesses were allowed to testify during the trial proceedings. Prosecutor Pacheco closed his pre-trial investigation without hearing testimony as to Ravelo’s innocence.

Moreover, four weeks elapsed between Ravelo being convicted and the actual announcement of his conviction on December 11, 2012. This “flagrant violation of due process” delayed preparations for Ravelo’s appeal.

Lastly, the atmosphere surrounding Ravelo’s trial was grim; “family members and members of Ravelo’s CREDHOS organisation continually suffered paramilitary death threats and harassment while the trial was in progress.”

Summarising, Ravelo declares that, “[T]he paramilitaries had ‘reasons’ for wanting to eliminate me. That’s why … they tried to assassinate me physically, but didn’t succeed. They decided to eliminate me judicially, and for that they implemented ‘the judicial façade,’ using the lie as their favourite weapon. It’s clear, therefore, that the truth is the first victim of war.”

Next article – Cagey record? Run our prisons

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