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Ricardo Esquivia Ballestas, founder of MCC partner Sembrandopaz, faces threats from Colombian authorities. (MCC Photo/Anna Vogt)

Ricardo Esquivia Ballestas, founder of MCC partner Sembrandopaz, faces threats from Colombian authorities. (MCC Photo/Anna Vogt)

MCC urges support of Colombian partner

Emily Loewen
September 27, 2013

WINNIPEG, Man. — Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) urges support of Ricardo Esquivia Ballestas, founder of MCC partner Asociación Sembrando Semillas de Paz (Sowing Seeds of Peace Association, known as Sembrandopaz) and other community leaders, all of whom have received threats and intimidations from Colombian authorities.

Earlier this month, credible sources (who remain unnamed for fear of reprisal) confirmed the threats against Esquivia and other leaders in the nonviolent Movement of the Mountain Zone of El Carmen de Bolívar, one of whom has already been detained.

Esquivia began his advocacy work in Colombia decades ago with small-scale farmers, said 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.” Klassen is from Waterloo, Ont.

Esquivia and Sembrandopaz started work with the Movement of the Mountain Zone in 2012, helping communities seek reparations for displacement, the right to return to their land and protection against future violence or forced relocation. In April, they held a peaceful march requesting dialogue with local, state and national governments.

On September 9, Movement of the Mountain Zone leader Jorge Luis Montes Hernández was arrested by a government prosecutor. Montes has been accused of belonging to the FARC guerrilla group, criminal conspiracy, homicide, forced displacement and extortion.

MCC also has confirmed with a source inside a public defender’s 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.

Klassen said Sembrandopaz’s work is essential in transforming 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 Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos Calderon 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 on them to advocate to the Colombian government.

MCC U.S. invites all to join the call for safety for Esquivia and the other leaders by contacting their members of Congress and the U.S. embassy in Colombia. Information for how to do this online easily and quickly is at http://ow.ly/p1VGI.