Intervention to Protect Colombian Peacemaker (2013)
Location: Sincelejo, Colombia
Ricardo Esquivia Ballestas received Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action Award in 2006 for his work as a driver of peace and community development in the region for the last 40 years. Today, Ricardo serves as the Director of the Asociación Sembrando Semillas de Paz (Sembrandopaz), which has served communities of Colombia’s Caribbean Coast since 2005. Sembrandopaz empowers conflict-affected Caribbean communities to create their own solutions to economic hardship and to engage politically to assert their rights. Over time, Sembrandopaz aims to help local leaders rebuild the social fabric of their communities, reassert the rights of the community under Colombian law, and create a better future through locally-led economic development.
Despite his record (or because of it), Ricardo has been repeatedly threatened, baselessly, with detention or legal action. In September 2013, Tanenbaum received concerning news that Ricardo is again facing severe political persecution at the hands of the Colombian military and paramilitary groups in the region.
- On September 3, 2013, leaflets appeared in the communities of Macayepo and Lazaro, threatening various leaders in Ricardo’s peace movement. That document maliciously accuses the leaders of robbery, extortion, and affiliation with the FARC-EP and is signed by a paramilitary group or BACRIM, “Los Urabeños.”
- On September 9, the Prosecutor of El Carmen de Bolívar arrested Jorge Luis Montes Hernández, a community leader in Ricardo’s peace movement. In the pre-trial hearing, Mr. Jorge Montes was accused of belonging to the 35th Front of the FARC-EP, criminal conspiracy, homicide, forced displacement, extortion, and other crimes. We have also received information that the military plans to launch a similar case against other community leaders, including Ricardo.
- Sources in the Colombian Government have confirmed that Ricardo is currently being investigated by a prosecutor and that the military plans to detain him soon – accusing him of being a guerrilla allied with the FARC-EP.
In response, Tanenbaum and the Peacemakers in Action Network developed a strategy to raise pressure and ensure that Colombian authorities protect Ricardo’s life. The plan included creating a Peacemakers in Action Network Statement – demanding the protection of Ricardo’s life, appealing to key contacts at the State Department, US and Colombian politicians, disseminating an online petition (which now has over 2,000 signatures), and meetings with NGOs and human rights organizations to raise support.
These Network and Tanenbaum’s efforts eventually led to a face-to-face discussion between Colombian President, Manuel Santos and Tanenbaum CEO, Joyce Dubensky. During the conversation, Joyce explained the situation and hand-delivered the Peacemakers’ Statement to President Santos – calling on his administration to act.
Though Ricardo is still under threat, the Network and Tanenbaum’s efforts have helped to keep threats against him from materializing. Over the next several months, Tanenbaum and the Network will continue our advocacy work and help to ensure the safety of our Colombian Peacemaker, Ricardo Esquivia.