[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.