CREDHOS came to the house to warn us: agents from the Technical Investigation Corps (CTI) had arrived at the office with an arrest warrant and taken David into custody. It was the afternoon of 14th September 2010.
As soon as he had walked out of the door at CREDHOS, the news spread through Barrancabermeja: “David’s been detained”, and many people came knocking on the door of the Public Prosecutor’s Office wanting to know what was happening: why this human rights defender, a survivor of the genocide of the Union Patriotica party, a leader, a beacon and spokesperson for the Magdalena Medio social movement, was being detained. These same people went to Yarigüies airport to say goodbye, their shouts and cries calling out his innocence as they saw off the plane that was taking him to Bogota.
Peace Brigades International was able to gain entry to the Pictaunos prison to visit him a few days later. David greeted us with a big smile, the same one he had for us when he would stop by our house to talk and drink his coffee with no sugar. If it hadn’t been for the steel bars behind us, if it were only for his strength and spirit, it would seem like nothing was happening. Amidst the uncertainty and frustration David gave us a lesson in integrity: “I am innocent and even if I have to prove it from inside this prison I will do it, because the truth will set us free”.
David was accused of having ordered the murder on 5th April 1991 of David Nuñez Cala, a councillor for public works in the city of Barrancabermeja. He was accused of meeting members of the FARC and having decided with them to murder the political leader. David has so many words to defend his innocence, and explains again and again the inconsistencies in the statements given by demobilised paramilitaries who implicated him, and whom he had previously given evidence against. David was confident that, in spite of having spent 380 days in detention, he was going to be released and everyone would recognise his innocence.
In December, the investigatory phase of his case was completed, even though his lawyer (Alirio Uribe from the Jose Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective (Ccajar), also accompanied by PBI) had pointed out that much of the evidence and testimony requested by the defence had not been provided, and neither had much of the evidence the Public Prosecutor’s Office itself had said it would provide. After several appeals and motions (all of them rejected), the time came for the preparatory hearing to decide what evidence would be admitted in the case.
Meanwhile, David remained in prison, first in la Picota prison in Bogota, and later in la Modelo prison in Bucaramanga, where he is held alongside the paramilitaries who are accusing him, and so too are local politicians convicted in cases that he and CREDHOS had brought. Visit after visit, in between coffees, laughter, worries, doubts and joys, David shared with each PBI volunteer that came to see him his day to day life, his impressions and his hopes, sometimes he was in high spirits, sometimes less, but always with the clear conviction that he was going to be set free and the charges dropped, like he had been in 1995 after spending 27 months in prison.
But, why lie? If there is something that characterises David it is his unwavering commitment to defending human rights. David has been dedicated to this work for more than 30 years, and even being behind bars has not stopped him fighting for them. There are many stories on the inside: politicians with ties to paramilitaries, to guerrillas, accused of all kinds of crimes, but if they have something in common it is that they are all human beings and they have rights. From the very first day, David devoted himself to listening to their stories, gathering their complaints and claims, and so little by little he became the leader of the human rights committee in la Picota prison. Unbiased by who they are, there were no enemies or friends, all he wanted was justice.
Almost one year after his detention, on 25 August, the process officially began and the trial hearings started. David found his voice again, or rather, he got his voice to be heard again. But this time it was not only to denounce those who had committed human rights abuses in Magdalena Medio, but also to demonstrate his innocence, to show that “the branch of truth bends but never breaks”.