“Granny can fly”, calls little Valentina as she chases her kite, which has a picture of a young woman on it, of her grandmother Nydia Erika Bautista. The kite rises, flies and falls several times until it breaks and has to be stuck back together with heavy duty tape before it can take off again. Around Valentina, other women and men are also flying kites with faces on them, in the sunny sky, the faces of other people who were taken, tortured and disappeared during the social conflict over the last thirty years. The kites play between the white clouds, and the floating faces recall the victims.
The joy of that moment contrasts with the symbolic event, performed a few hours earlier to commemorate thirty years since the forced disappearance of Nydia Erika Bautista, Valentina’s grandmother. During the event women of all different ages wore flowers in their hair to represent new generations. One of them greeted me warmly showing me photos of her son, who is also disappeared.
The young man who opened the commemoration was Erik, Valentina’s father and Nydia’s son, who came back to Colombia and had been forced into exile three times because of the threats he was receiving. “This day is going to cost me a lot” he said in a tone that reflected a mixture of pain, strength, despair and hope, and he went on to tell his mother’s story, who had forever marked his life and that of all the other members of the Bautista family.
Nydia was born out of a love that started in a hospital during the time of The Violence, during the 1950s, when her father was shot 18 times for being a liberal, and fell in love with the nurse who cured his wounds, whom he married and had two daughters with, Nydia and Yanette, who grew up in the midst of political violence.
Since she was little, Nydia wanted to change society to help people. When she completed her studies in sociology and economics, she decided to join the Movement 19 guerrilla group (M-19). In 1986 she was detained by soldiers of the Army’s 3rd Brigade during two weeks, and under torture, wrote a confession that she was a member of M-19. She was then released, but on 30 August 1987 she was disappeared; it happened on the day of her son Erik and her niece’s first communions, who were playing in the street when men wearing civilian clothes forced her into a car and took off at high speed. This was the last time they saw her. Her sister Yanette, from that moment, left her job and started looking for her, looking for who was responsible, and looking for justice.
It took three long years before they found Nydia’s remains, and her white dress, the one she had been wearing that day. According to the evidence, during her time held captive she was tortured and raped, before being executed and disappeared. After thirty years and despite multiple testimonies, army officers being arrested and a general being sacked, no one has been found guilty and the case is in total impunity.
30 years later, there were many other women at the commemoration of Nydia’s disappearance who have spent decades waiting for the bodies of their sons, daughters and husbands to appear, for justice to be done so that they can sleep again. The gazes of the men and women who disappeared are stamped onto kites, they are also on portraits and framed photographs. The women with flowers in their hair, get up on stage and their stories make you nauseous, they stupefy you. So much cruelty. How do people live with so much pain? The women have lived too much.
Nancy from Putumayo tells how her four sisters were tortured and raped. In the auditorium the women pass each other tissues to dry their tears which silently roll down faces marked by time, burned by the harsh sun of the countryside. Today is Alejandra’s turn to walk slowly towards Erik, who is still standing on stage. “I’ve been looking for my daughter for 21 years; she must be somewhere”, she looks round at the public willing there to be an answer. “You think that with time the heart’s wounds will heal but they are so deep it’s abhorrent”, Erik explains, perhaps trying to make sense of so much pain.
The women who took part in the event have put their hope on at least finding their loved ones’ bodies. There is hope in the new “Search Unit for People disappeared in the armed conflict”, which is on the cusp of being created as a result of the Peace Agreements between the FARC and the Government. It starts functioning next year and will run for twenty years; once Decree Law 589 of 2017, which creates it, has been revised and approved by the Constitutional Court. The aim is for it to be a more effective unit than previous mechanisms, and have the autonomy to work on all of the stages that might lead to the disappeared people being found, and family members can be a part of the process.
According to records of the National Centre for Historical Memory, between 1970 and 2015, 60,630 people in Colombia were forcibly disappeared; and in 92% of the cases the families are still waiting to know the truth about their loved ones’ whereabouts, the same people whose faces were flying on kites on the day the victims were remembered.
*Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.
 Sin Olvido: Nydia Erika Bautista, 30 August 2012
 Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica: Lanzamiento de informe nacional de desaparición forzada, 15 November 2016; El Espectador: El drama de los desaparecidos tras la firma del Acuerdo: ¿Hasta cuándo buscar a los desaparecidos?, 8 March 2017