Mothers of Disappeared Colombians Mark a Decade of Silent Marches
By Dialogo July 09, 2009Medellín (Colombia), July 8 (EFE).- The Mothers of La Candelaria marched silently through the streets of the Colombian city of Medellín today, as they do each Wednesday for the last decade, following in the footsteps of the Argentine Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo so that their disappeared loved ones will also not be forgotten. This movement, which brings together 1,775 families, arose at the end of 1998 in protest against the kidnapping of police and military personnel in the department of Antioquia, but mothers and other relatives of disappeared civilians joined a year later. Thus, since March 17, 1999, the mothers and all those who want to join them gather each Wednesday in the atrium of La Candelaria Church in Medellín, the most violent city in Latin America during the 1980s and 1990s. The legal representative of the Mothers of La Candelaria, Amparo Mejía, explained to EFE that the majority of the members of the group are relatives of individuals who disappeared in the hands of the now-dissolved paramilitary organization United Self-Defense Groups of Colombia (AUC), which demobilized more than 31,000 fighters between 2003 and 2006, following a peace agreement with the government. But there are also families whose loved ones were taken by guerillas, and others whose children or siblings were victims of state terrorism, of the so-called "false positives," as extrajudicial executions carried out by members of the security forces are known in Colombia. Mejía's “foster brother” was seized in 1997 by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) during a mass kidnapping of members of the military and police in Antioquia. This “brother” was freed in 2000 thanks to the humanitarian agreement negotiated between the FARC and then-president Andrés Pastrana, but three other members of Mejía’s family are still disappeared, and her father “was killed by the paramilitaries.” Amparo Cano, another of the Mothers of La Candelaria, has an equally devastating story: her husband disappeared on October 26, 2002 in a location known as San Agustín, where he had gone to look for wood. Cano is sure that the paramilitaries took both him and her stepson, who disappeared some time later, as she told EFE. Since then, she lives “in complete darkness,” because she has had no news of them, and in addition, had to move with her family to Medellín after receiving threats. Marta García’s son vanished in 2004, and three days after his disappearance a neighbor received an anonymous telephone call from a woman who told her that the paramilitaries had taken him. For her part, Doralina Carvajal delayed reporting the disappearance of her mother and a brother in the town of Bello on August 18, 2000, because she was afraid of becoming the victim of reprisals, but she told EFE that now she is no longer afraid. Her mother was literally taken from her home by a “Metro” block armed group from the AUC and her brother was grabbed in the street, Carvajal recalled. The experience of Alejandra Balvín, Amparo Cano’s daughter, is no less tragic. “My dad disappeared when I was thirteen. It was very hard; I became rebellious,” she confessed to EFE. Alejandra is now twenty years old and coordinates the movement of Sons and Daughters of the Mothers of La Candelaria, including nearly eight hundred children and adolescents who have lost one of their parents. According to Balvín, children “become emotionally troubled” as the result of a disappearance, as happened to her, and some even end up having to work in order to support their families economically. The young woman told the story of a boy who said to her that he wanted “to be a guerrilla in order to kill” those who took his father. In order to try to correct this kind of behavior, the movement of the Sons and Daughters of La Candelaria holds victim-assistance workshops with the support of the Medellín mayor’s office. Some of the Mothers of La Candelaria have also taken training courses with the aim of confronting the moment when they receive their loved ones’ remains after the Public Prosecutor’s Office authorizes the excavation of a gravesite, work which, according to Amparo Mejía, has been paralyzed by lack of resources. Since the Mothers began their struggle, the remains of twenty-five of their disappeared loved ones have been recovered. In order to find the others, the only recourse they have left is to hope that the dozens of detained and jailed former paramilitaries will provide information. The problem, as Mejía indicates, is that some of these former paramilitaries were extradited to the United States by Álvaro Uribe’s administration on drug-trafficking charges, before they could confess where they buried their victims.