Ecuador: Nelsa Libertad Curbelo Cora

Flowers are grown in manure, not in diamonds.

— Nelsa Libertad Curbelo Cora

Nelsa Curbelo lives in Ecuador since 1970. She has been a key player in the fight for indigenous rights, a pacifist leader for non-violence and a mediator engaged in finding a solution to national and international armed conflicts. In 1999, she founded Peace for Living Together, an organization for capacitating the youth gangs of Guayaquil for an understanding with the government and to interrupt the violence and repression, recreating opportunities for friendship and artistic expression – opportunities which will lead to a better human future.

Nelsa Curbelo was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, into a laboring and atheist family. At age 20, Nelsa decided to be baptized and embarked for France to join a Catholic congregation. In 1970, attracted by the Indigenous-American culture, she went to Ecuador as a missionary. There, she coexisted with the discrimination and military repression suffered by native communities. Her role in investigating and making public, the murders, disappearances and tortures, converted her into a reference in the fight for human rights. As the director of Serpaj, the Servicio Paz y Justicia (Service for Peace and Justice), she assisted as a mediator engaged in finding solutions for armed conflicts inside and outside the country. During the first indigenous uprising, in Ecuador in 1990, she was the link in the dialogue between the government and the indigenous leaders. She was also an observer during the Peace Agreement between the guerrillas and the Guatemalan government, and during the handover of arms by the counter-revolutionary groups to the Sandinista government, in Nicaragua. She went through difficult moments when she detected the infiltration of the Serpaj headquarter, in Peru, by activists of the Sendero Luminoso, which resulted in the closure of the office. In 1994, Nelsa published the book ‘Walking with the people’ and was nominated Woman of the Year, in Guayaquil. This city was trembling and fearful because of the phenomenon of the gangs. She founded the organization Peace for Living Together. It brought about meetings between the gangs and representatives from the government, the police and the university. Since 1999, the violent energy of the young people has been transformed into other forms of expression such as dance, music, making murals and handicrafts. These are now available in the squares and markets that were previously used as battlefields.

Peace for Living Together