3rd of June 2001
26th of May 2001
25th of October 2002
8th of January 2008
9th of December 2010 . . .
Luz Marina Bernal, Doña Blanca and Luz Elena Galeano go over the dates that are etched in the inner workings of their minds. They are days and months of years gone by that fate or the unfortunate coincidence that goes hand in hand with the Colombian conflict have made unforgettable. Dates when armed men decided, without giving it a second thought, to convert them into victims and extend the long list of people who are still looking for their dead. Disappeared and murdered in an absurd, cruel and long war.
The dates are endless, there are as many as 8 million victims left in the Colombian conflict’s wake. All of these victims’ writhe between pain and suffering on the long sleepless nights, between the hope of seeing their loved ones, between the anger of thinking why did this happen to them: their children, wives, husbands, brothers and sisters. “How did this happen if he didn’t even know how to read and write?”
Luz Marina Bernal, one of the mothers of Soacha, remembers the sweetness, the respect and human qualities of her son, Fair Leonardo Porras, a 26-year-old youngster with physical and mental disabilities who was definitely not capable of heading a narco-terrorist organisation. Despite this fact, this is what the Public Prosecutor suggested when the remains of her son were identified in Ocaña, in the department of Norte de Santander, on the 16th of September 2008, eight months after he disappeared. Fair was taken there with 19 other youngsters from the south of Bogotá. All of them had been tricked with false promises of work and none of them suspected that they would be cruelly murdered by the Colombian armed forces who would then pass them off as members of a guerrilla group killed in combat. These macabre manoeuvres are known as extra-judicial executions or “false positives”1 and the majority took place during the government of Alvaro Uribe Vélez. In many cases those deemed responsible have still not been put on trial.2
How can the comment of that public servant become so embedded in one’s head that even after nine years it still sounds shocking? I ask myself devastated while I listen to Bernal telling her story in the middle of a field of collective crops in the Plaza Bolívar in Bogotá. Along with her, many other victims and those that accompany them have also planted themselves in a collective catharsis to remember their dead. A fresh layer of earth covers the lower parts of their bodies and they are surrounded by flowers and plants of many colours while each individual goes through their own process of connection with the past.
The first hour of light paints a red shade onto the Palace of Justice, the State Capitol and the main cathedral. The three most emblematic buildings in the history of Colombia that surround the main square. The cobblestones, that have lived through so many moments of peace and war, now burn under the high plains sun that is now out in force. The drums that willingly accompany the work of Cuerpos Gramaticales (Grammatical Bodies)3 sound indigenous melodies while a shaman dances amongst the people who have planted themselves. He waves a white flag that symbolises peace, light and tranquillity.
Luz Elena Galeano has been looking for the remains of her husband since the 9th of December 2008. She thinks that they have been buried in La Escombrera4 in the Comuna 13 neighbourhood in Medellin. As well as Luz Elena, families of at least 95 victims from Operation Orion5 are still looking for their loved ones because the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Municipality of Medellin have still not decided when the second phase of the exhumations will take place. This task should have continued in January 2016, after the first stage was completed without results.
Luz Elena is buried up to the waist. From where her legs are buried a tall plant now stands and moves dramatically in the wind when the typical bursts blow in off the western hills of Bogota. The same earth that covers her body builds up on her back so it can withstand the six hours of the symbolic street act that is planned. It is a collective and artistic ceremony that attempts to unite the distinct processes of resistance that have been born in different parts of Colombia where nature is something to be cared for: to water, to plant in, like a crop of stories told through bodies; individual scars that share in order to unite.
Some surprised tourists come closer, drawn by the music and the scenario unfolding, and many ask “what is this all about?” because there are no banners, flags or slogans that could help the onlookers understand. Only the t-shirts that people are wearing give a hint of the motive of the demonstration. They boldly state #NoFalsosPositivosAlaJEP meaning that if all those accused with of extra-judicial executions enter into the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP)6 many of the cases will end up in impunity and this leaves a sour taste in many people’s consciences.
“We applaud the peace process but the struggle is not only about disarmament because then we would have to disarm the police and the army, who have greater weaponry”, explains Aka, a rapper from Medellín. He has been displaced several times because the lyrics of his songs defend the rights of victims in Colombia, and insist on building social fabric, resistance, memory and food security through the collective process of Agroarte.7 This well-built young man, casual and always smiling, focuses his work on the regions and on the periphery because it is there where the modus operandi of war still works and still kills. In his native city, controlled by a thousand and one gangs, the conflict is directed towards youngsters without opportunities who are easily deceived for a handful of pesos and the rush for power, control and superiority. Until the 25th of July the homicide statistics in the capital of the department of Antioquia were above 305, all related to the dynamics of systematic violence that it seems will not even be reduced in the post-agreement phase of the peace process.
Land and conflict
The daughter of Doña Blanca was assassinated for belonging to the JUCO (Young Communists of Colombia). They disappeared her, tortured her, raped her and buried her in a mass grave. Her husband suffered the same fate a year later, the same as one of her son in laws. Due to this, she had to leave her home department of La Guajira and move to Bogotá where she has lived for the last 16 years. Doña Blanca’s voice does not tremble when she describes the heartbreaking death of Irina del Carmen, her daughter who was only just an adolescent. Her metaphorical planting is emblematic of the fact that she still doesn’t know the truth about this atrocity. Although she does know perfectly those that are guilty of the act: “it was men from the Bloque 40 and other paramilitary groups” she exclaims with certainty.
“And for you what is the symbol of the earth?” I ask curiously.
“For me the earth is the fortitude, it’s struggle, because we put our feet on the ground and it gives us the strength to keep fighting the cases of our loved ones. And symbolically flowering means that we grow towards our territories, organisations, spaces, processes…”, explains Doña Blanca with great care. Her reflection leaves me thinking about the paradox of contradiction between the land, this element so important that has also created a lot of the conflicts in Colombia. This is due to the fact that historically it has been concentrated in very few hands despite the fact that Colombia is a predominantly rural country. However, it is also the ingredient that gives strength and energy to continue moving forward in this cruel reality.
After six hours of planting and collective catharsis, each grammatical body rises up firmly to close the event in a large circle of people with locked arms that dance to the music of the drums that never ceased. In the centre of this giant human figure is the spilt earth that is now without bodies. Suddenly it seems to me that it has ceased to be a live crop but now instead is a type of cemetery without a name, without tombstones. I am succumbed by the emotion of the moment; the scene is almost poetic: the dead have been resuscitated and they dance to the rhythms of the drums and the compositions that captivate this urban bodily grammar; collective and charged with resistance.
Silvia Arjona M.
4 An infamous refuse tip which is believed to contain the bodies of many victims of the paramilitary groups that operated in the area.