Editors’ Note: We urge our readers to write  the Colombian Ambassador in Washington, DC calling for the freedom of David Ravelo. The Colombian Ambassador to the United States is Carlos Urrutia. His email address is  emwas@colombiaemb.org

On December 21 human rights and labor organizations in the US,  Colombia, the UK, and Germany have taken up his cause. Read about it here.

Colombian prison authorities allowed two members of a nine person visiting North American solidarity delegation to visit prisoner David Ravelo at La Picota prison in Bogota on November 29.

Ravelo has been imprisoned since September 14, 2010. Trial proceedings in his case ended in May, 2012. Diego Martinez of the Permanent Committee on Human Rights CPDH), who was accompanying the North Americans at the prison, informed David Ravelo that he had been convicted and sentenced to 18 years.

At the prison meeting (which included the present writer), David Ravelo reviewed the state’s case against him. Details are outlined also in a joint statement on his behalf disseminated November 11 by 14 European human rights groups. The state based its charges on accusations from two jailed paramilitaries who by testifying gained reduction of their sentences as provided for under Colombia’s 2005 Law of Justice and Peace. The forty-year sentence of one was reduced to eight years.

They accused Ravelo of helping to murder Barrancabermeja mayoral candidate David Nuñez Cala in 1991. Allegedly they bribed a fellow inmate to confirm their testimony. The judge refused to allow the testimony of 30 defense witnesses to be heard, Ravelo said. She lacks tenure and wants her contract renewed, he alleges.

New information surfaced in late November: prosecutor William Pacheco Granados turns out to have been removed in 1992 from his police lieutenant’s post in Armenia, Quindío. A year earlier he helped engineer the forced disappearance of a youth Guillermo Hurtado Parra. Under Colombian law, that offense disqualifies Pacheco from serving as prosecutor. In 1993, in the midst of murderous repression of the Patriotic Union (UP) electoral coalition, Ravelo went to jail for two years, based on court acceptance of a FARC group photo purported to demonstrate Ravelo’s presence.

This was David Ravelo’s first experience of a frame-up. Now, as Ravelo’s case appears to be heading for appeal, an international campaign on his behalf is building. The fight for Ravelo’s liberation benefits from two advantages working in its favor. First, recruitment for joining the defense of a political leader like David Ravelo with a distinguished human rights record and appealing personal attributes may not be difficult.

By contrast, to rouse support for the mostly anonymous victims of Colombia’s half century of class- based internal war is probably another matter. They are the 400,000 dead or disappeared, the thousands of so-called "false positive" army killings, five million persons displaced from land, 60 percent of Colombians living in poverty, and 10,000 political prisoners.

David Ravelo has lived his entire life in oil-producing Barrancabermeja. As a student, Ravelo, now 56 years old, organized protests and led strikes. Having worked as a library aide at the local branch of Colombia’s "Cooperative University," Ravelo eventually became an economics professor there. He was a leader in the USO oil-workers union and University librarians’ union.

In the late 1980’s, Ravelo joined the UP under whose aegis he served in the Santander legislative assembly and held varying posts in Barrancabermeja’s municipal government over many years.

Ravelo led local groups such as 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 advocates for victims of state crimes. The Barrancabermeja Catholic Diocese honored him in 2008 for 35 years of human rights work.

Journalist Ravelo contributed articles to a wide range of periodicals and has hosted radio and television shows. He supported campaigns against privatization of state owned distillery and fertilizer companies. In the late 1990’s Ravelo led fight-back against incursions by violent paramilitary groups in league with the national army that had taken over parts of Barrancabermeja and surrounding rural areas. Ravelo and his family began receiving death threats.

Ravelo provoked high-level animosity in 2007 by disseminating a video showing ex – President Uribe socializing with Barrancabermeja paramilitaries. 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."

Son David Ravelo Gutiérrez accompanied the delegation. His father is "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."

So Ravelo’s record as a human rights defender and his roots in his own community promises to serve him well in political mobilization for his release. Additionally, he benefits from a political movement on his behalf already established in Colombia.

For example, the CPDH was formed in 1979 under the auspices, mostly, of the Colombian Communist Party (PCC). Now issue by issue the Party’s weekly Voz newspaper calls for liberation of Ravelo, who is a 38-year member of the party and since 1991, a member of its Central Committee.

David Ravelo shares with other veteran Party members self-identification as "survivors of the Patriotic Union genocide." That common experience gains contemporary relevance with the current onslaught of persecutions and violent attacks visited upon the new Marcha Patriotic resistance movement. They enter into the context of David Ravelo’s persecution. The PCC participates with the Marcha Patriotica, which melds some 2000 political and social groups.

The North American delegation attended a half day session at the PCC headquarters in Bogota. There, Juan Camilo Acevedo of the Party’s National Commission on Political Prisoners described the use of prisons as tools for criminalizing peaceful protest. Not only are they centers of torture, he stated, but are also overcrowded and filthy. Drinkable water and live-saving medical care are often in short supply. Colombia’s prison population has risen 30 percent during President Juan Manuel Santos’ tenure. The U.S. government funded and designed many Colombian prisons. David Ravelo took on paramilitaries and they helped put him in jail.

For two decades, paramilitary forces have been instrumental in removing small farmers from land to allow multi-national corporations to move in with agri-business, mining, and oil extraction operations. That’s why Ravelo’s fight for liberation plays out on a world stage. As explained by Communist Party Secretary General Jaime Caycedo Turriago, "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." Colombian government insecurity, he suggested, is driving its extreme measures. It must cope with gross inequalities in Colombia while democracy spreads in Latin America.

In current peace negotiations in Havana, the government must balance ending the war with advancing democracy and agrarian reform. Caycedo told the North Americans that the US Southern Command is directing the war on the insurgency and that Colombia’s upper classes are allied to the United States. Indeed, U. S. Plan Colombia "changed the logic of the situation," making it "more barbaric," explained lawyer Franklin Castañeda of the National Movement of Victims of State Crimes (MOVICE). U.S. largesse extends to paramilitaries and the Colombian Army alike, he said.

David Ravelo, meanwhile, is optimistic. Speaking to Bucaramanga’s Liberal Vanguard newspaper soon after learning about his 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."

Signs are favorable for the building of an international solidarity movement useful as the appeals phase of Ravelo’s case moves ahead. Solidarity for Ravelo will advance in tandem with overall fight for peace with justice and human rights in Colombia. The two complement each other.

It makes sense for communist and working people’s parties worldwide and the labor movement to take up his cause. While in Colombia the visiting North Americans discussed with leaders of the USO Workers’ Trade Union petroleum workers and the ETB telephone workers’ union the possibility they might urge counterpart unions in the United States to support David Ravelo.

Already Britain’s large Unite Union has weighed in on Ravelo’s behalf through its Justice for Colombia website. However, one must confess to a nostalgic look back at the worldwide movement that came to the aid of Tom Mooney, of Sacco and Vanzetti, of the Scottsboro boys, and of Angela Davis.

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.

December 12, 2012