December 12, 2012

David Ravelo And The Fight For Columbia



By W. T. Whitney Jr.

Argentinean political analyst Néstor Nestor Kohan recently opined on the prospect for peace with social justice in Colombia. The war, he said, “began in 1948 with the assassination of Jorge Eliécer Gaitán...although there were earlier killings and genocide against the people...In that war, the popular camp in its different expressions (civilian and political – military)...confronts the dominant native and foreign classes. The official armed forces, the bloodiest and most bellicose of Our America, are led directly by the Pentagon and the U.S. Southern Command.”
On the unlikely chance it’s possible for one person to stand as proxy for the great masses of suffering Colombian people engaged in epic struggle, that would be political prisoner David Ravelo. Of working class origins, Ravelo always lived and worked in gritty, oil-producing Barrancabermeja. The city and resources-rich rural areas around it have long been prey to paramilitary ravages, which Ravelo contested.
David Ravelo’s labors were recognized in 2008 with an award from the Barrancabermeja Catholic Diocese for defending human rights. Yet he’s been in jail since September 14, 2010, and on November 29, he learned he’d been convicted of involvement in a murder. He is sentenced to 18 years in prison.
A nine-person delegation of North Americans concerned about terrible war in Colombia and the U.S. government’s enabling role was in Bogota as the news of Ravelo’s conviction became public. With an eye toward international solidarity, delegation members are intent upon helping build a worldwide campaign for Ravelo’s liberation.
Lawyer Diego Martinez of the Permanent Committee on Human Rights, the group hosting the delegation, accompanied two delegation members on a prison visit on November 29. They observed that when Ravelo learned of his conviction from Martinez, he showed no reaction. Instead he continued reviewing details of his case.

Two jailed paramilitaries testified that Ravelo helped murder Barrancabermeja mayoral candidate David Nuñez Cala in 1991. Their role in the trial earned them sentence reductions as per Colombia’s 2005 Law of Justice and Peace, one of them trading a forty year sentence for eight years.  The judge refused to allow 30 defense witnesses to testify, Ravelo said, adding that she lacks tenure and is thinking of ways her contract might be renewed.

David Ravelo takes hope from very new information: it seems prosecutor William Pacheco Granados in 1991 arranged for the forced disappearance of a youth named Guillermo Hurtado Parra. Consequently Pacheco lost his police lieutenant’s post in Armenia, Quindío.  Under Colombian law, the offense ought to have disqualified him from serving as prosecutor. 
Ravelo also talked about a previous frame-up. In 1993, in the midst of murderous repression of the leftist Patriotic Union (UP) electoral coalition, Ravelo went to jail for two years. In the end authorities had to acknowledge that the FARC group photo with Ravelo off to the side was a fake.
Why then is Ravelo in trouble? His long, highly visible personal battle for human rights, much admired, likely worked to label him as a leftist and regime opponent.  While moving from library aide to economics professor at the local “Cooperative University,” Ravelo had been a student and labor union activist, a journalist who fought privatization of state companies, and an office holder in municipal and departmental governments. David Ravelo led the Municipal Peace Council of Barrancabermeja, the CREDHOES human rights organization, the Social Forum of Barrancabermeja, the Workers’ Space for Human Rights, and the regional section of MOVICE, the National Movement for Victims of State Crimes.  
Additionally, those in charge must view with alarm his 38 – year membership in the Colombian Communist Party (PCC). Since 1991, Ravelo has been a member of the Party’s Central Committee. Although high government officials on occasion do communicate with PCC leaders and the Party is represented in the Colombian Congress, “red-scare” remains a staple of mainstream media portrayal of the Marxist - oriented Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and has been central to right-wing rhetoric calling for military crackdown and reliance on paramilitaries.  
Perhaps David Ravelo’s real offense was to work for basic change, engage dominant forces, and defend victims. In the late 1980’s and since, fellow UP officeholders and candidates were being killed, as were many Barrancabermeja residents. By 2000 or so, paramilitaries had taken over there and in the surrounding countryside. Groups he was responsible for were indeed defending human rights: the right to survive, the right to be free of criminal violence. Ravelo provoked high-level animosity in 2007 by disseminating a video showing ex - President Uribe socializing with Barrancabermeja paramilitaries.
Judicial persecution of Ravelo has coincided with repression of the new Patriotic March resistance movement, a melding of some 2000 political and social groups launched with the help of the PCC in April 2012. Increasingly, members are being arrested, detained, and, a few, murdered or “disappeared.”  Observers and participants worry about parallels with the UP experience, especially those veteran activists like Ravelo who identify themselves as “survivors of the Patriotic Union genocide.”
In Barrancabermeja, Ravelo’s wife Francia Elena Durán Ortega told delegation members, “He was dedicated to life, was there for everybody.” In tears, daughter Leydi Tatiana Rabelo Gutíerrez described him as “a model father... loyal and dedicated to the struggle for human rights. I have never seen him sad.”  David Ravelo Gutiérrez, who accompanied the delegation, described his father as “a political leader who defended poor people... In 1998-1999 paramilitaries wanted to take over the place. Everyone else was afraid [to show the video] but his father showed it.”
Back in Bogota at the PCC headquarters, Juan Camilo Acevedo of the PCC National Commission on Political Prisoners outlined the role of prisons as tools for criminalizing peaceful protest. They are centers of torture, he stated, and are overcrowded and filthy. Drinkable water and live-saving medical care are often in short supply. Colombia’s prison population, which includes 10,000 political prisoners, has risen 30 percent during President Juan Manuel Santos’ tenure. The U.S. government funded and designed many Colombian prisons.
And not just prisons: As explained by MOVICE lawyer Franklin Castañeda, U. S. money which under its Plan Colombia goes to the Colombian Army and national police, ends up, some of it, in paramilitary hands. Overall, he explained, U. S. Plan Colombia “changed the logic of the situation,” making it “more barbaric.” 
Communist Party Secretary General Jaime Caycedo Turriago told delegation members that the US Southern Command is directing the war on the insurgency and that Colombia’s upper classes are allied to the United States. The Colombian government is quite insecure, he explained. It must cope with gross inequalities in Colombia while democracy spreads in Latin America. And at the current government – FARC peace talks in Havana, the government is challenged by having to end war and at the same time advance democracy and agrarian reform. Insecurity, he suggested, is now driving extreme measures.
Ravelo’s fight for liberation, a tiny part of over-arching struggle over resources and social justice, plays out on a world stage.  Says Jaime Caycedo, “We recognize deepening social clashes everywhere... [T]he world capitalist crisis has bred widespread discontent and will be worsening. Democratic forces must stand up against interventionists.”
David Ravelo, meanwhile, is optimistic. Speaking to Bucaramanga’s Liberal Vanguard newspaper soon after learning of his conviction and sentence, he pointed out that, “[T]here are costs a defender of human rights must pay. I’m not going to be discouraged now…I am going to summon up energy to demonstrate my innocence and show this is all a montage.”
To join the campaign to free David Ravelo contact organizers of the delegation at freedavidravelo@gmail.com or go to www.justiceforcolombia.org. For more information about Ravelo’s case, go to www.pacocol.org and/or www.davidravelolibre.org. For information on Colombian political prisoners, see www.afgj.org, www.traspasolosmuro.net, and/or www.inspp.org

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