WINNIPEG, Man. —Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) asks you to sign this petition in support of Ricardo Esquivia the founder of Sembrandopaz, an MCC partner. He and other community leaders have received threats of imminent danger from Colombian authorities.
Earlier this month, a credible source confirmed the threats against Esquivia and other leaders in the Peace Movement of the Mountain Zone in El Carmen de Bolívar, one of whom has already been detained. The source, who remains unnamed for fear of reprisal from the state and other armed groups, received information from those issuing the threat.
MCC has also confirmed with a source inside a public defenders office that there are investigations into issuing arrest warrants for Esquivia, and that a pre-arrest warrant already exists. The current threats are similar to ones Esquivia faced in 1989, 1993 and 2004.
Esquivia began his advocacy work in Colombia decades ago with small-scale farmers, says Bonnie Klassen, MCC’s Area Director for South America and Mexico. “Their successful efforts to gain legal access to land ran counter to the economic interests of some powerful political and economic leaders in the region.” He has received threats ever since.
Esquivia and Sembrandopaz started work with the movement in the mountain zone in 2012, helping communities seek reparations for displacement and the right to return to their land. They also want protection against future violence or forced relocation.
In April, they held a peaceful march requesting dialogue with local, state and national governments. It appears the current threats to Esquivia are in reaction to the march and partnership with the mountain zone movement.
On September 9th, Jorge Montes, one of the community leaders, was arrested by a government prosecutor. Montes has been accused of belonging to the FARC (a guerrilla group), criminal conspiracy, homicide, forced displacement and extortion.
While other members of the movement are concerned for Montes’ safety, and in some cases are facing threats of their own, they are determined to continue their work. “In Colombia, it is widely understood among community organizers that if there are threats against them, they are challenging the powers that be,” says Larisa Zehr, an MCC community accompaniment worker in the area.
Klassen says Sembrandopaz’s work is essential in resolving the decades-long conflict in Colombia. “Lasting peace will only grow when the root causes of the armed conflict are addressed— social, economic and political exclusion.” MCC continues to partner with Esquivia “to promote conditions for the type of reconciliation that ensures the horrific violence of the past will not be repeated.”
MCC Canada and MCC U.S. sent a joint letter to President Santos in Colombia asking him to condemn all threats against Esquivia as well as protect him and other community leaders. MCC also sent letters to the Canadian and U.S. governments calling them to advocate to the Colombian government.
Add your voice to those demanding safety for Esquivia; sign this petition started by Sembrandopaz.
Emily Loewen is staff writer with MCC Canada.