Author’s note: 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.
This letter 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’s 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 (cédula de ciudadanía 13.887.558) collapsed long ago because 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. Authorities had used an 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 Barrancabermeja, Ravelo was a labor organizer, community educator, and journalist. He is a longtime member of the Colombian Communist Party’s Central Committee.
In response to paramilitary violence, Ravelos founded and directed the CREDHOS human rights organization. Many CREDHOS leaders subsequently were killed or threatened. Barrancabermeja’s Catholic Diocese honored Ravelo in 2008 for his 30 years dedicated to defending human rights.
Ravelo in 2007 circulated a video, viewable here, showing President Alvaro Uribe socializing with Barrancabermeja paramilitary leaders in 2001. The U.S. 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 organizing the two Barrancabermeja massacres. Each received a 20 year sentence.
Later, 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 just eight years in prison.
In 2008 Jaimes also 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 Jaimes’ 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.
In the clutches of the state
The prosecution and trial of Ravelo revealed procedural failings. Although the court accepted Jaimes Mejía’s false accusation that Ravelo and Andrade participated in a murder, Colombia’s Attorney General on August 20, 2014 charged him with lying. A judicial unit specializing in false witnesses is still investigating. Since then, however, six scheduled court sessions have been canceled.
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.
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 defense 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, according to human rights groups, “family members and members of Ravelo’s CREDHOS organization continually suffered paramilitary death threats and harassment while the trial was in progress.”
Ravelo summarizes: “[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 favorite weapon.”