Upon arrival at Trujillo, a municipality of the Valle del Cauca department that seems to breathe tranquility amongst mountains and abundant vegetation, the scenery took me by surprise. I couldn’t help but be transported back to childhood memories of those tiny magical villages of south east France that I visited during the holidays with my family.
However, little by little my awareness grew of the cruelty that had scourged Trujillo, as well as its neighbours Bolivar and Rio Frío, from 1986 to 1994 when paramilitary groups, drugs traffickers, and members of the national army and police stained the municipalities with the innocent blood of 342 people with acts of brutality beyond imagination. This systematic operation to annihilate the civilian population, painfully remembered as the Trujillo Massacre, was carried out in the context of a struggle for the control of a strategic pass giving access to the Pacific Ocean; A conflict during which the local population were constantly labelled as supporters of the insurgency present in the area.
More than twenty years after these events, the families of the victims, young and old, symbols of courage and moral force, together with two nuns, Sisters Maritze and Teresa, continue to demand justice. For them, the cost of fighting for the preservation of the memory of their loved ones continues to be high. So much so in fact that two years ago the clutches of terror claimed the life of Alba Mery Chilito. This community leader, related to various victims of the Trujillo Massacre including her daughter and son-in-law, (according to what people have told me) was an empowered, entrepreneurial woman always full of life. An untiring fighter and dedicated gardener at the Victims of Trujillo Monument Park, she could often be found leaning against her favourite tree after planting flowers in the memory of the hundreds disappeared, murdered, or having died of sorrow. Today this same tree bears the name of Chilito as “a symbol of the memories that cannot be silenced, despite the fear.”
To have wandered the streets and squares of Trujillo, to have shared so much with the locals, to have read and listened to their testimony, has been one of the most influential and emotional experiences of my life. On several occasions, the emotional agitation was such that I could not hold back the tears. On the one hand, it felt as though the peoples’ stories had brought everything back to life, reminding me that this massacre really happened not so long ago. On the other hand, I am in awe of the peoples’ steadfast determination and their ability to overcome past and present times and to plant their objections in such a dignified manner.
These moments of conviviality with the families of the victims will stay with me forever. This is why, for me,Trujillo is also Doña Cecilia and her delicious arepas, the laughter of Consuelo in Monument Park, the rides in Miguel’s truck, the warm welcome at Aurora’s house, the fearlessness of Emma, aged over 90, my admiration for Ludivia who manages the Park and shares her story with its visitors, the commitment of Miyerlady and Conchita to the groups of young children and teenagers, children, grand-children, siblings, nephews and nieces of the disappeared and murdered. These are only a few examples from a long list of people whom I had the incredible opportunity to meet and grew so fond of in such a short time.
It is difficult to imagine how much suffering is hidden behind so many smiles and warmth. Yet this is Trujillo: a place where indescribable suffering and such human and natural beauty are interposed in painful contrast.