Tag Archive: Colombia

[Warning: this post recounts brutal acts of violence that some readers may find disturbing. I did. All names have been changed to protect the innocent.]

In my political science class, human rights and democracy in Colombia, we discussed this quote, “One must always try to be as radical as reality itself.” I did not give it much thought at the time, but on my way home from the class trip to Bogota I began to understand, and realize I had not lived up to the ideal set by Lenin. While in Colombia I heard some gruesome and appalling real life stories and could not bring myself to write about them. I plan to fix that here.

Maria with a picture of her murdered daughter Ana.

Maria spent the day wearing her daughter’s picture like a necklace. It was the only way she could keep Ana close, and keep her memory alive. Maria walked to Villavicencio that day to share her daughter’s story, which was cut short by the Colombian military.

Ana wanted to be a doctor, and she was smart enough to do it. She left her home in a rural area of Colombia to attend medical school, and after she finished, Ana returned to provide care for members of her community. They were some of the tens of millions of Colombians who live on less than $2 a day, and as such were subject to physical and sexual abuse at the hands of members of the military.

Despite her vulnerable position, Ana would not keep quiet. She traveled around Colombia to voice her concerns. In a country that has been fighting an insurgency group since the 1960s, and a variety of armed groups have emerged travel can be difficult, and it was not made easier when Ana became pregnant. Despite the human rights abuses by paramilitaries, the military, and the insurgency groups Ana continued to voice her concerns until she met the abuses she was fighting first hand at a military checkpoint.

Maria recounted the event from her investigation. Pregnant Ana was pulled from the car and gang raped by the soldiers. A knife was plunged into her stomach and her unborn baby was removed and killed. The soldiers proceeded to cut Ana into pieces before finally decapitating her. When they finished, they played a game of soccer with her severed head.

Listening to Maria’s story, in the hot humid upstairs room with a circle of people, it seemed unbelievable. But person after person stood up to share their tear filled stories. Victims were often selected at random, with much less provocation than in Ana’s story. Many lost family members who were tortured and killed, simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

At the Colombian equivalent of the FBI these stories were confirmed for our group. Colombia passed a peace and justice law that allows paramilitary members to lay down their guns and confess to all their crimes, in exchange for a maximum jail sentence of around 7 years. At one point in our tour we were able to step into a back room where a law officer was watching a paramilitary member’s confession on closed circuit television.

The confession was translated to me by one of our Spanish speaking students. Paramilitary members were sent to convince the population of a small village to move, and used violent force. They rounded up the villagers and forced them all away from the village into the forest. Because the Colombian Navy had a group in the area the paramilitary group had to be quite and couldn’t use guns. Instead they got metal pipes and beat the villagers to death to make less noise. The particular paramilitary leader this person was describing was called ‘the German.’ He earned the nickname for his use of ovens to burn the remains of his victims, as was done in Nazi Germany.


Villavicencio: False positive

[A version of this article appeared on a blog for the Kearney Hub. The meeting discussed below was part of a political science class titled Human Rights and Democracy in Colombia. The class of roughly 12 listened to testimonies from various Colombians for more than 5 hours, which was both physically grueling, on account of the hot and humid atmosphere, and emotionally grueling, thanks to the stories shared that were all similar to the one below.]

Mothers are lucky in Nebraska. When their sons go out for the evening, they come back. Mothers in Colombia are not always so lucky.

After hours of driving, our delegation met in Villavicencio with union leaders, human rights lawyers and victims of the violence from the country’s ongoing conflict. Victims gave personal testimonies of the atrocities each suffered, all with one thing in common­-the ones responsible for the murder, disappearance and even torture of the victims’ relatives were members of the Colombian military.

“Unfortunately in this country, the Colombian state is the greatest violator of human rights,” human rights attorney Carolina Hoyos-Villamil said.

One woman shared the story of her son, 22, who was in the middle of his term of obligatory military service with the Colombian army. While visiting his home, a friend invited him to go downtown for a beer.

He never came home that night.

Days later, a friend of the woman told her that her son had been at a restaurant, between two men in Military outfits, and could not control his arms or posture in the chair, as if he had been drugged.

Without this knowledge she was growing worried and began to look for her son all over town. After days of repeated assurances not to worry from the DAS, an organization similar to our FBI, they claimed that her son was a guerrilla­­­, a member of an insurgency group.

It would cost 100,000 pesos for the return of her son’s body, but a proper burial was extremely important. The wake was attended by friends and family, as well as two strangers. These men questioned many of the guests and eventually called the boy’s uncle away from the crowd. They told him that if the family tried to sue, the first person to be killed would be the victim’s mom.

To Villavicencio we go

Colombia is one of the most incredible places I have ever seen. Not at all like I expected when I was studying the county in my political science field study course Human Rights and Democracy in Colombia. The grim subject captured all my attention during the summer course and was a stark contrast to the landscape once we arrived for our trip.

So, on the way to Villavicencio and one of the most chilling stops on our trip I made up for neglecting the scenery by sticking my head and my camera out the window nearly the entire way from Bogota. I have already tried to pen a description of the trip and found I was not up to the task. Instead of setting up another flop I think it is best to let the pictures speak for themselves.

These were some of the fun parts of the trip, but much of what we did was far from pleasant. But that is a story for another day.

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