Colombia: how the bodies of the disappeared appear

Fernando Botero, Rio Cauca

For several weeks now, they have begun to appear in the rivers, mainly in the Cauca and in various areas where there has been a strong social mobilisation, bodies of young people killed and dismembered, many of them in plastic bags.

June 28 marked the end of the second month of mobilisations in Colombia, two months in which the people have taken to the streets in the midst of what has been called el paro nacional [the national stoppage/strike], to demand decent living conditions and to denounce the injustices that are committed daily in Colombia and that have intensified as the protests have developed.

Police repression has reached terrifying heights. The NGO Human Right Watch has stated that it had not seen this level of police brutality in Colombia in the last decades. There have been 4687 cases of police violence, 45 homicides, 28 cases of sexual assaults and according to data from the Instituto de Estudios para el Desarrollo y la PazIndepaz – and the NGO Temblores, an estimated 548 people have disappeared, all this only within the framework of the demonstrations.

On May 23, three organisations that defend human rights – Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz, Equipo Jurídico y Humanitario 21N y Corporación Justicia y Dignidad – published a report supported by testimonies, in which they revealed the existence of mass graves in the rural areas of ??the municipalities of Buga and Yumbo and “casas de pique/pique houses” in Ciudad Jardín. This is one of the most luxurious areas of Cali and the “casas” were being used to put an end to the lives of protesters involved in the national strike. The “casas de pique” are places whose existence in Colombia is attributed to paramilitary groups and are used to torture, murder and dismember people. As if this were not enough, the report also shows that the police are involved in the commission of these crimes. It is in their trucks that the bodies of the victims are transported, young people from Cali who had participated in the mobilisations.

There are many denunciations that point to the police acting in complicity with armed civilians in attacking those who participate in the protests. There are countless videos on social networks that show how people in civilian clothes are seen shooting in broad daylight, not only with the complicity of the police, but under their orders and protection. There are also abundant investigative journalistic reports that have been done in this regard to denounce these actions, but the authorities do nothing. In Colombia, the controlling and supervising entities are currently influenced by the executive. The Attorney General, who is responsible for initiating criminal investigations, has dedicated himself to seizing the cars that have been used to block the roads in the cities in the midst of the strike, although the Constitutional Court has already said that these practices do not constitute a crime and they are part of the exercise of the right to protest.

But the story does not end here. For several weeks now, there have begun to appear in rivers, mainly in the Cauca River and in the various areas where there has been a strong social mobilisation, the bodies of young people killed and dismembered, many of them in plastic bags. These are young people who had been reported as missing amid the protests. A few days ago in the rural area of ??the Tuluá municipality, the head of 22-year-old Santiago Ochoa appeared in a plastic bag. He had left his house in the morning and at night the chilling discovery occurred.

These horrors, that are typical of dictatorial regimes, are happening in Colombia, in a country that prides itself on being democratic and respectful of human rights. These events, which should be seen as the culmination of social and political degradation in Colombia, are for Duque and Uribismo, they are nothing. The government of Iván Duque maintains a complicit silence; part of a strategy that involves discrediting social mobilisation, pointing out that the youth who are in the streets fighting for a dignified life are “terrorist vandals”, a view that not only criminalises them, but also strengthens police abuses and gives cover to the creation and actions of armed groups, taking Colombia back to its worst times of paramilitary violence. Right now the population lives in a situation of absolute lack of protection. Going out to exercise the right to protest in Colombia is worse than going to war because even in war, rights should be respected.

In 2002, the sculptor and painter Fernando Botero did a painting that he called “Río Cauca”, in which a rotten corpse is seen floating in the river surrounded by vultures. Botero said at the time that the situation in the country was so critical that he felt the moral obligation to portray the terrible reality of the country. Here we are almost 20 years later, reliving those terrible images and that deep pain. Again, this is how the disappeared reappear in Colombia.

(From, by Dayana Méndez Aristizábal)

Video: “Paro Nacional”, from Rutas del Conflicto

This entry was posted in News blog and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.