Una Historia Colombiana Ejemplar
Hace 6 años, el 9 de julio del 2000, JAVIER NOVA y TRISTAN JAMES, dos de nuestros jóvenes, ambos con 18 años de vida, fueron brutalmente asesinados a sangre fría, por milicianos de las FARC en Hoya Grande, Icononzo (Tolima), cerca de la hermosa finca comunal-orgánica donde Tristan había vivido desde los 7 años y a unas pocas horas de camino de donde Javier había nacido.
Un año antes, un recién llegado y violento comandante de las FARC nos había hecho desplazar de nuestra granja porque había oído que éramos ’gringos’. Eso fue suficiente para él, no hacia falta saber que nosotros éramos tan antiimperialistas como ellos dicen ser.
El constante goteo de visitantes desde toda Colombia y del extranjero que venían a encontrarse con nosotros durante nuestros once años de estancia allí, fueron percibidos como una amenaza para la seguridad de las FARC a medida que la guerra llegaba a nuestra pacifica región. Esto fue potenciado por el hallazgo de pequeños yacimientos en las cercanías. Los pozos de petróleo atraen a los paramilitares para defender las multinacionales petroleras de los secuestros e impuestos que la guerrilla aplica, de modo que la población civil queda expuesta en medio de la confrontación de ambos.
El asesinato de nuestros muchachos sacó a la luz el silencioso cáncer que se había ido gestando en la región, durante los dos últimos años.
El nuevo régimen de guerrilla y milicias de las FARC, que reemplazaron a un comandante , excelente persona, que cayó preso, eran casi tan violentos y corruptos como los paramilitares. Vivían de robos y extorsiones que practicaban a pobres y ricos indistintamente. Para aumentar su poder en la región, intimidaban a la población civil asesinando a campesinos inocentes y desarmados, imponiendo un cruento régimen de terror.
Antes de que nuestros muchachos fueran asesinados, 14 campesinos inocentes habían sufrido el mismo castigo. Aterrorizados por los asesinos que controlaban la zona, nadie se atrevió a denunciar estos crímenes, y en caso de haber presentado denuncia, el sistema legal colombiano no habría prestado interés alguno, como es sabido, la impunidad alcanza y sobrepasa tasas del 98 por cien, fundamentalmente cuando las víctimas son pobres. Pero asesinaron a un extranjero, nuestro Tristan, y las cosas empezaron a cambiar.
Nuestros muchachos habían ido a visitar a familiares esa fatídica mañana de domingo. Los milicianos de Hoya Grande estaban bebiendo y los campesinos jugaban al fútbol. Cuando los milicianos iniciaron la caza de los muchachos, estos corrieron hacia los jugadores esperando ser protegidos por ellos, Tristan era muy conocido de todos, ya que jugaba allí con frecuencia, y había ido a la escuela de la vereda. Los campesinos se acobardaron. Los milicianos apresaron a los muchachos, los mantuvieron detenidos una noche y a la mañana siguiente los condujeron a un agujero en el bosque, donde fueron asesinados con un tiro en la nuca y arrojados al hoyo.
Esperamos su regreso y como no volvían, traté de averiguar dónde estaban. En el pueblito de Icononzo, a pesar del miedo, amigos y antiguos vecinos me dijeron que los responsables de cualquier cosa que hubiera pasado con los muchachos, eran los milicianos de Hoya Grande.
Inmediatamente los acusamos públicamente en la plaza del mercado delante de todos y más tarde en televisión. Con intención de amedrentarme para que guardara silencio, un miliciano me pidió hablar con él. Sus mentiras fueron tan exageradas y sus palabras tan indicativas, que no tuve duda de que su banda era la responsable. Continuamos haciendo pública la denuncia y trabajamos estrechamente con la fiscalía.
Mientras el caso estuvo "fresco" despertó interés mediático, lo cual sumado a las presiones de nuestras embajadas hizo que hubiera un impulso procesal adecuado, pero las noticias de este asesinato pronto fueron sepultadas por las noticias de nuevas desapariciones, asesinatos y masacres. El fiscal inicialmente asignado al caso tuvo que exiliarse amenazado, por haber investigado otros casos relacionados con violaciones de dd hh cometidas por el ejército. El ejército estaba dispuesto a ayudar sólo si había recompensas por capturar a comandantes de las FARC, lo suficientemente importantes como para tener precio su cabeza.
En la intimidad del grupo, lloramos y luchamos para ayudarnos mutuamente con nuestros sentimientos de culpa y responsabilidad por lo que les había pasado a estos dos hermosos jóvenes. En público, luchamos nuestras batallas por la verdad y la justicia en todos los frentes.
Bastantes semanas, durante casi un año, varios de nosotros viajamos al mercado de Icononzo, donde la gente de los alrededores se reúne para vender y comprar. Hablábamos con cualquiera que se atreviera a ser visto hablando con nosotros, entregamos nuestros listados de víctimas y pedimos a la gente que rompiera la barrera de miedo y silencio que a tantos había matado. Nuestras jóvenes cantaban canciones sobre Javier y Tristan.
A menudo, las caras pétreas e impávidas de los asustados campesinos que pasaban a nuestro lado echándonos una mirada de reojo me hicieron desesperar, pero poco a poco los muros del miedo se fueron erosionando y la gente comenzó a acercarse cada vez con más información y ofertas de ayuda.
Los asesinos pensaban que nos cansaríamos y dejaríamos que nuestros muchachos pasaran a ingresar en la interminable lista de desaparecidos en Colombia, cuyas familias viven en el limbo gris de esperar contra toda esperanza, que no tendrán que afrontar la cruda realidad de reconocer huesos y pruebas de ADN. Gracias a la insistencia de Jenny (abuela de Tristan y miembro fundador de la comunidad ATLANTIS ), nos negamos a dejarnos ganar por las falsas esperanzas y seguimos con la intuición de que se habían ido para siempre. A pesar de haber transcurrido un año de su muerte, no teníamos elementos de prueba que nos pudieran servir para iniciar un proceso en los tribunales.
Durante ese año buscamos y visitamos numerosos campamentos de la guerrilla en las montañas, a veces sólo uno de nosotros, otras veces dos, y en algunas ocasiones todas las mujeres de la comunidad. O éramos invitadas, o íbamos a zonas gobernadas por las FARC y pedíamos ser llevadas a hablar con el comandante. Hablamos con tantos de ellos como pudimos, les insistimos para que hicieran algo con ese grupo de asesinos psicópatas que habían aterrorizado toda una región que antes era leal a las FARC. Empleamos mucho tiempo hablando con líderes de las FARC en la zona desmilitarizada que existió de 1999 a 2001, para los diálogos de paz entre estado y guerrilla.
Todos los comandantes con los que hablamos recibieron nuestras quejas con profunda desolación, ya que la mayoría de los líderes de las FARC son idealistas de la vieja escuela que optaron por coger las armas para defenderse de los ataques de los conservadores, que tantas vidas se han cobrado entre líderes de izquierda, maestros, defensores de derechos humanos, líderes comunitarios o cualquier persona que se atreviera a hablar.
Colombia es el único país del mundo que no ha sido condenado por genocidio político, siendo responsable el estado de la muerte de mas de 3.000 miembros de la Unión Patriótica, partido construido con la participación de grupos pro guerrilleros, que habían aceptado dejar las armas y acceder a la vida política institucional. Este genocidio que comenzó a mitad de los ochenta y que aún persiste, ha privado a la izquierda colombiana de algunos de sus mejores líderes, un proceso de decapitación. A esta tragedia hay que añadir los amplios fondos que produce la "vacuna" de la coca y la heroína, lo que ha permitido la expansión de las FARC con grave descuido de la calidad humana y educación política de los milicianos, en favor de la cantidad de combatientes y el militarismo.
Durante ese año sucedió otro asesinato doble, tan terrible que a duras penas puedo escribir sobre ello.... Dos de nuestros vecinos mas cercanos cuando vivíamos en esa zona, eran una anciana pareja de campesinos, Julio y Baudelina, eran una parte más de nuestra familia, una pareja sin hijos que amaba a los nuestros, especialmente a Brendan, medio hermano de Tristan, que los quería como padres. Tristan había estado visitándolos en Hoya Grande aquel terrible día. Cuando se enteraron de lo sucedido a Javier y Tristan, quisieron testificar contra los asesinos y comenzaron a contactar con las autoridades. Estaban tan asustados que no nos dijeron nada sobre sus planes, pero de alguna manera esto llegó a oídos de los milicianos asesinos. La hermana de Baudelina me telefoneó llorosa una mañana para decirme que los cuerpos de Baudelina y Julio habían sido encontrados en su humilde casa. Fueron obligados a beber raticida. Encima de la mesa de la cocina de la casa , y de modo destacado, había una citación de la fiscalía que los llamaba a declarar sobre el asesinato de nuestros muchachos. Una clara advertencia para cualquier persona que quisiera ayudarnos a llevar a los asesinos ante la justicia.
Las autoridades locales se negaron a investigar en el lugar del crimen, alegando que era muy peligroso. Los vecinos llevaron los cuerpos a Icononzo. Cuando llegué, sus viejos cuerpos yacían sobre el mármol blanco mientras les realizaban una inútil autopsia para ser enterrados con silencio y urgencia. Oficialmente figuran como suicidados pese no haber conocido una anciana pareja mas feliz, pero nadie en la zona se atrevió a denunciar a ese grupo de perversos asesinos. Nosotros pudimos denunciarlo porque ya no vivíamos allí y por la fuerza que confiere no haber crecido en una atmósfera de miedo generalizado, mientras los habitantes de esta región son los sobrevivientes de algunos de los peores asesinatos y masacres que afectaron a la mayoría de los colombianos en la época de la guerra civil de los 50 y 60, época conocido como " La violencia".
En el primer aniversario del asesinato de nuestros muchachos, semanas después de que siete de las mujeres y jóvenes de nuestra comunidad acudieran a un lejano y difícil encuentro en las montañas, para hablar con un comandante enviado desde la zona desmilitarizada para ver que podía hacer, recibí una llamada de la guerrilla para acudir a un pequeño hospital rural, donde dos guerrilleros entregarían unas bolsas de plástico negras donde había algunos huesos y un calcetín " made in Ireland ". La dentadura y el cráneo de Javier eran perfectamente reconocibles para cualquiera que lo conociese. Más tarde los resultados de los tests de ADN probaron que sólo un cráneo y unos pocos huesos pertenecían a Tristan y Javier, los demás pertenecían a otras cinco víctimas no identificadas.
Semanas más tarde y gracias a la ayuda valiente, incansable y secreta de una familia local, que habían sido vecinos nuestros, conseguimos nuevos avances. Al igual que mucha gente de la zona, los miembros de esta familia habían sido simpatizantes de las FARC, pero ahora estaban muy enojados y desilusionados con el nuevo régimen de terror. En vez de aceptar silenciosamente la nueva situación como una fatalidad, tuvieron el coraje y la inteligencia de sentir que nuestra voluntad de demandar justicia en voz alta, podía tener consecuencias beneficiosas para la vida de la zona. Con ayuda de ellos, conseguimos que el ejército acudiese a la zona y capturara a dos de los asesinos, Arnulfo y Nelson Parra, hermanos y pertenecientes a una gran familia de tradición guerrillera y a su vez hermanos de José Parra, el hombre que un año antes me había amenazado para que guardásemos silencio...Cuando fueron arrestados, el ejército encontró un cuaderno escolar con anotaciones, en el cual Arnulfo había escrito " el 9 de julio ejecutamos a dos irlandeses".
Supimos que los asesinos estaban detenidos en Ibagué, así como la fecha en que acudirían a declarar ante el fiscal. Pese a que es irregular, hablamos con el fiscal para que nos permitiera a Louise, Alice, Katie (eran las jóvenes tías de Tristan pero crecieron con él como hermanos y Javier fue el primer amor de Alice), y yo misma, confrontarnos con ellos. Lo rodeamos en un pasillo y le preguntamos una y otra vez ¿¿¿por qué???? Como dice una canción de Katie "pese a que no existe razón, sigo buscando la respuesta".
Yo le dije con rabia que qué clase de revolución tenía en la cabeza, si era capaz de asesinar a inocentes, pero fue Louise la que le llegó, preguntándole qué maldades le habían hecho sus padres de pequeño para que pudiera cometer tales atrocidades. Él se pudo quitar de encima mi rabia, pero no las preguntas insistentes de Louise, que lo ponían lívido y casi levitando de malestar.
Puede sonar raro que trabajáramos con la guerrilla, con la antiguerrilla local, con el ejército y con el estado. Nosotros lo sentimos muy extraño ya que somos un grupo con una fuerte base de izquierda y frecuentemente teníamos que pellizcarnos para comprender que no estábamos soñando, cuando un fiscal del estado elogiaba a la guerrilla, o cuando los líderes de la guerrilla hicieron que los asesinos nos enviasen los restos de nuestros muchachos en bolsas de plástico con lo que teníamos los elementos necesarios para acusarlos de asesinato, o cuando a las FARC pareció no importarles que lleváramos el ejército a su zona y que arrestaran a dos de sus hombres, o cuando uno de los asesinos bajo arresto, se quejó al juez del caso alegando que era muy injusto para nosotros, los familiares de sus víctimas, que la oficina del fiscal fuera tan inepta y que nosotros hubiéramos tenido que hacer todas las investigaciones..., después de vivir en Colombia durante muchos años le hacen a una acostumbrarse a este tipo de paradojas, aunque nunca acabas de entenderlas.
Meses después, la familia que nos había ayudado a detener a los asesinos, encontró el lugar donde los cuerpos de nuestros muchachos y otros cinco cuerpos más, habían sido arrojados.
Me gustaría poder contar que la familia que nos ayudó con la esperanza de que la zona volviese a ser un lugar seguro y amistoso, tuvo éxito en sus pretensiones, pero las cosas no sucedieron así. Esta familia se convirtió en adicta al poder y la confianza que las armas dan a menudo, especialmente a personas que han vivido su vida amenazados por las armas de otras personas. Empezaron a cometer abusos, flirtearon con los paramilitares de la zona hasta que descubrieron que eran peores que las peores guerrillas. Un joven de la familia fue asesinado por la guerrilla y en estos momentos varios de ellos están en la cárcel acusados de extorsión y asesinato.
Hace casi un año, Joselito Sanabria otro de los asesinos, fue arrestado. Los tres están en el juicio que acaba de comenzar, seis años después del asesinato.
Asistí a la primera audiencia pública hace unos días. Aplastados en una pequeña habitación en la ciudad de Melgar, estábamos: dos de los asesinos, un grupo de abogados, el equipo judicial, representantes de la fiscalía, media docena de guardianes enormes y la madre de uno de los asesinos, que terminó llorando en mis brazos e insistiendo en que su hijo era inocente mientras yo la consolaba y le decía con firmeza delicada que "no era inocente".
El juez trató a los asesinos como si fueran sobrinos errantes, el fiscal tenía sueño, los abogados defensores estuvieron amables y cariñosos conmigo, los asesinos y sus abogados me rogaron que le dijera al juez que el hermano de Arnulfo, Nelson (que estaba ausente debido a un olvido de la fiscalía), no era el comandante de la zona, alias "Gonzalo", tal como la fiscalía lo acusa. La fiscalía sabe bien que no lo es, pero su arresto conlleva una recompensa. El verdadero comandante " Gonzalo " fue el que ordenó nuestro desplazamiento y permitió que sucedieran los crímenes y extorsiones. Había dos abogados de sobra porque a uno de ellos lo había llevado la fiscalía para que defendiera al verdadero "Gonzalo" en ausencia, y el otro para defender al hombre acusado de ser "Gonzalo"... Mi cabeza daba vueltas, era la típica mezcla colombiana de caos y amabilidad que habita en las riberas de la inútil sangre derramada y el sinsentido de las vidas perdidas en esta cruel e interminable guerra civil.
Pese a que todavía no pueda creer que están realmente muertos e idos para siempre, hemos trabajado con tantos familiares que han perdido a su seres queridos en esta guerra, que en cierto sentido, nuestros muchachos han pasado a ser dos víctimas más en una enorme lista interminable.
Cada vez que hay un asesinato o una masacre, no puedo evitar pensar que ya es demasiado, que los asesinatos tienen que parar. Pero siguen. Nosotros e innumerables familias como nosotros, luchamos por algo llamado justicia, pese a saber que no habrá justicia real porque nadie puede devolver la vida a los muchachos. Pero puede haber algún alivio a través de una mágica mezcla de llanto, lucha, compromiso con otros que han sufrido lo mismo y coraje para mirar a los asesinos a la cara. VIVIENDO EN LUGAR DE MORIR...
GREEN LETTER No. 83, 27th September 2006
Edited and compiled by Jenny James
Correspondence welcome at email@example.com
Postal address: Comunidad Ecológica Atlantis,
Belén, Huila, Colombia, S. America
Six years after the murder on 9th of July 2000 of two of our young men, Javier Nova and Tristan James, both 18 years old, by militia-men of the FARC guerrilla in Hoya Grande, Icononzo, Tolima, the rusty engine of the Colombian State has finally ground into motion and on 7th September, Anne Barr, who has handled the horribly complicated and frustrating legal side of this tragedy since the beginning, attended the first Public Hearing of the case in the town of Melgar.
In order to make some kind of sense for the reader of the bizarre proceedings reported further below, I asked Anne to recap on the background to this story. Those of you who have followed these Green Letters from the start, will find some of the material familiar. Here is Anne’s synopsis of a long and complicated story, one of thousands occurring yearly in Colombia.
Tristan and Javier were murdered just half an hour’s walk from our beautiful communal organic farm where Tristan had lived with his family since he was seven, and a few hours’ walk from where Javier was born.
At the time of their deaths, it was a year since any of us had ventured into the area, as a new, very arrogant and brutal commander of the FARC guerrilla force had threatened to kill us all if we did not leave ‘his’ area. He had heard we were ’gringos’ and that was enough for him: no need to ask questions which might have brought to light the fact that we are at least as anti US-government as the FARC are themselves. But during the ensuing year, some of us held talks at the highest level with the FARC who showed complete opposition to our eviction. This resulted in a false sense of security, and Tristan returned to say goodbye to a younger, fostered brother before going to Ireland, a visit from which he never returned.
Degeneration of the FARC
Our boys’ murders brought to light the silent, lethal cancer that had been growing for several years in the area we lived in (Icononzo): The new régime of FARC guerrillas and militia, who had come to the area to replace an excellent commander who’d been put in jail, were almost as violent and corrupt as the paramilitaries. They lived from extortion and robbery of the poor as well as from the rich, and in order to consolidate their power in the area, they killed many defenceless and innocent peasants, creating a reign of terror. We have the names of 14 people killed by them before our boys were murdered, all ordinary, poor, inoffensive country people. Terrified of the killers, who controlled the whole area, no-one ever considered reporting these deaths. In any case, they knew well that even if they did denounce these crimes, the legal system wouldn’t bother to investigate, as poor Colombian murder victims don’t count. Also, because the legal system is overburdened, impunity runs at about 98%. But when the FARC murdered a foreigner, our Tristan, things began to change.
A local reign of terror
Our boys had gone to visit Tristan’s half-brother Brendan that fateful Sunday evening. The militiamen of the small hamlet of Hoya Grande were drinking and local men were playing a football match. When the militia-men spotted and began to chase the boys, Tris and Javier ran in amongst the football players hoping and expecting to be protected, as Tristan was well known to many of the people there, having himself played football frequently in the same place and having at some time attended the little local primary school.
But the local people were cowed by fear and let the boys be tied up and taken prisoner. As far as we know, they were held for a night and the next day were force-marched to the edge of a deep chasm in the woods where they were both shot in the back of the head and thrown in to join many former victims of the same gang.
As displaced persons living in the North of Bogota, we waited and waited for the boys to return. And when they didn’t, I went to find out where they were.
In the town of Icononzo, in spite of their fear, friends and former neighbours came up to me and told me in hushed voices that the FARC militia of Hoya Grande were responsible for anything that might have happened to our boys.
We disobey the Rule of Silence
We immediately went public, making our accusations loudly and clearly, with placards, banners, leaflets and by word of mouth in the market place to all and sundry, and also on Television and in the national newspapers.
I was summonsed to a talk by one of the murderers, who tried to bully and threaten me into silence. His lies were so outrageous and the truths he let slip so telling, that I knew he and his band were responsible.
We continued to go ever more public and worked as closely as we could with the state attorney’s office. While the case was ’fresh’ and attracted much publicity and pressure from our embassies, they paid attention to it, but the files on Tris and Javier were soon buried under the mountains of files on more recent disappearances, murders and massacres. The Attorney who was first assigned to the case had to flee the country as he came under threat to his life for investigating the army in connection with another case. And the army were willing to help us only if there were easy rewards to be earned for capturing FARC commanders ’important’ enough to have prices on their heads.
Privately, we wept and struggled to help each other with our individual feelings of guilt and responsibility for what had happened to these two beautiful young men. Publicly, we fought like cats our battles for justice and truth both from the state authorities and from the leaders of the FARC:
Every few weeks for almost a year, a few of us would journey to Icononzo on market days, displaying ourselves prominently in the central square where people from the countryside gathered to buy and sell their produce. We talked to anyone who would dare be seen speaking to us and gave out our homemade leaflets that listed the victims we knew of, begging people to break the bonds of fear and silence that had killed so many. Our young girls sang songs of grief and outrage that they had written for Tris and Javier. Often the impassive stony faces of frightened people, who rushed passed us with barely a sideways glance, made me despair, but gradually the walls of fear eroded and people came forward with more and more information and offers of help.
The killers obviously thought we would eventually give up and add our boys’ disappearance to the endless lists of missing people in Colombia, whose families live on in a grey limbo of hoping against hope that they will not have to face the raw truth of bones and DNA tests. Thanks to Jenny’s insistence from the beginning that we face reality (she’s Tristan’s grandmother and the founder of our group), we refused to give this kind of false hope a foothold, but instead followed our gut feeling that they were gone forever, even though for a year after their deaths, we still had no proof of murder that would stand up in a court.
Pestering the Guerrilla
During that first year, we visited many guerrilla camps in the mountains, sometimes just one of us, sometimes two of us, sometimes all the women and girls, sometimes we were invited and sometimes we simply walked into FARC-run areas and asked to be taken to speak to the commander. We insisted that something be done about the group of psychopathic FARC killers who had managed to turn a whole region that had historically been loyal to the resistance, against the armed movement. We spent a lot of time talking to the top leaders of the FARC in the demilitarized zone that existed from 1999 to 2001 for Peace Dialogues with the State.
All the commanders we met received our news with genuine shock and horror, as most of the top-level leaders of the FARC are idealistic activists of the old school who were forced to take up arms because the right-wing ’democracy’ in Colombia has always massacred left wing political leaders, school teachers, community and human rights workers, anyone who dares to speak out. The Colombian state, through its loyal killers in the Army and paramilitary, murdered over 3,000 members of the Union Patriotica, a political party made up of various ex-guerrilla groups who had agreed to put down their guns and enter political life. This massacre, which began in the mid 80s and still carries on today, has deprived the left of its best leaders and militants. In addition to this tragedy, the vast funds that come from ’taxing’ cocaine- and heroin-buyers have enabled the FARC to expand, but they have neglected the quality and political education of the new young fighters, concentrating too much on quantity and arms (a criticism shared by many of the higher commanders).
Two more murders
During that first year after our boys were killed, another double murder occurred of people close to us: our near neighbours, Julio and Baudelina, an old peasant couple who were like part of our family, as they had fostered Tristan’s youngest half-brother, Brendan. In fact it was them that Tristan and Javier had been visiting in Hoya Grande the last evening of their lives. When this old couple realized what had happened to our two lads, they were so incensed, they were willing to testify against the killers. And inevitably the local militia gang found out.
Baudelina’s sister rang me one morning in tears to tell me that the bodies of Baudelina and Julio had been found on their pretty little farm. They had been forced to drink rat poison. A slip of paper with the date of an official appointment to talk to the local state attorney had been left in a prominent position on their kitchen stove - an obvious warning to anyone who might still be thinking of helping us bring the killers to justice. The local legal authorities refused to go to their farm to investigate the crime as they said the area was too dangerous. Neighbours carried their bodies to Icononzo.
When I arrived, their strong, well-used bodies were sprawled out on cold marble slabs while a perfunctory autopsy was performed after which they were hurriedly buried. Their deaths were filed as suicides, an outrageous lie, as everyone knew. Julio’s body was sprawled outside the house: he had obviously made a last desperate attempt to run for help. Baudelina died in the kitchen, in the middle of making a meal. But no-one in the area dared to risk denouncing the killers, and we weren’t allowed to legally because we weren’t ‘blood relatives’, a macabre farce.
A sack full of bones
Eventually our campaigning trips to Icononzo paid off. On the first anniversary of the boys’ murders, just weeks after five of the women and girls of our commune went on a long, gruelling drive through the mountains to a guerrilla camp to talk to a commander sent from the Demilitarized Zone to see what he could do, I got a call from a guerrilla man to go to a small country hospital where they had handed in two black plastic bin-bags full of bones and a sock that was stamped ’Made in Ireland.’ Javier’s skull shape and teeth were recognisable to anyone who knew him. But later DNA tests proved that only that one skull and a few of the many bones belonged to Tris and Javier, the rest were parts of several other so far unidentified victims.
The first captures
A few weeks later, the tireless, brave and secret help we had from a local family brought more results. Like many local people, they had once been staunch FARC supporters but now were angrily disillusioned by the new and murderous regime in their area. But rather than fatalistically bow their heads in silence, they had the courage and intelligence to see that our willingness to raise our voices and demand justice from both the official authorities and the armed movement for our boys’ hateful deaths might possibly help improve conditions in their area. So they managed to bring the army into the region and capture two of the killers, Arnulfo and Nelson Parra, brothers from a big, traditionally guerrilla family and also brothers of the man, José Parra, who had tried to threaten me into silence a year previously. When they were arrested, the army found an exercise book with accounts and records in their house of all the people they had killed in that area. In this, Arnulfo had written: "On 9th of July, we executed two Irishmen". (How they could call dark-skinned Colombian Javier an Irishman, we will never know.)
Face to face with the killers
We found out the date that the killers would be taken to the local Attorney’s office for questioning in the town of Ibagué, capital of the Department of Tolima. Although it is not legally allowed, we had a word in the ear of the attorney in charge of the case who agreed to turn a blind eye while Louise, Alice, Katie and myself had a chance to confront the murderers (Louise, Alice and Katie were Tristan’s young aunts but were brought up with him as his sisters, and Javier was Alice’s first love).
We surrounded Arnulfo in a corridor and asked him over and over again: Why?
As one of Katie’s songs says:
"Although no reason can exist
For an answer I still insist"
I spluttered angrily about what kind of revolution was he working for, murdering innocent people? But Louise was the one who really got to him, asking him what his parents had done to him as a child to make him do such terrible things. He could brush my anger off but Louise’s strict, insistent questioning had him livid and almost levitating with discomfort.
The eternal Strangeness of Colombia
It may sound strange that we worked both with the guerrilla, with anti-guerrilla locals and with the army and the state. We ourselves found it extremely strange, as we are a very left wing group and frequently had to pinch ourselves to see if we weren’t dreaming when a State attorney would praise the guerrilla, or the guerrilla leaders had the murderers deliver us some of the remains of our boys in plastic bags so that we at last had enough evidence to accuse them of murder! Or when the FARC didn’t seem to mind that we had the army, their sworn enemies, brought into their territory to have two of their men arrested, or one of the killers under arrest complained to the judge of the case that it was very unfair to us, his victims’ relatives, that the State Attorney’s office was so inefficient and that we had had to do all the investigations ourselves! Living in Colombia for many years, one gets kind of used to stumbling across these unfathomable paradoxes. But one never understands them.
A few months later, the same family who had helped us have the murderers arrested, found the chasm where the dead bodies of our boys and many other people had been thrown.
Though I still can’t believe our boys are really dead and gone forever, by now we have worked with so many relatives who’ve lost their loved ones in the war that, in one sense, our boys have become just two more amongst countless other victims. Each time there is a killing or a terrible massacre one can’t help thinking, ‘That’s it, that’s too much now, the killing has to stop’. But it doesn’t of course. We and countless families like us struggle on for something called justice but there can be no real justice because no-one can bring your dead kids back. However, there can be a kind of healing, through a constantly changing magical mixture of grieving, fighting back, looking at the killers in the face, and getting involved with others who’ve suffered the same. Living instead of dying.
THE TRIAL of the murder suspects
I asked Anne to give some background information about the men on trial to make what follows more comprehensible for our readers.
Arnulfo Parra Sogamoso, is the eldest of a group of six brothers who are all milicianos. He was the leader of the militia group when the brutal Commander Gonzalo took over in our area - in fact Gonzalo brought these killers with him. When one of the group, Wilson Sanabria, killed an innocent young man called Silvio in 1998, the young sons of a local contact of ours saw him and another miliciano take the man away, just hours before he was found with a knife stuck right through his throat from front to back, so they knew who was responsible. Our contact tried to demand justice at a public meeting which Arnulfo had called and was threatened for his pains.
The leader of the local communist party, a friend of ours, was also threatened and finally exiled from the area by threats from the same guerrilla group, yet another mind-boggling Colombian paradox, as the FARC are commonly seen as the armed wing of the Communist Party. Our contact told us that people were terrified of Arnulfo. Years later, when Arnulfo was in charge of guarding some rich kidnap-victims, they overheard him saying that his group had killed our boys, but unfortunately, these kidnapped men, after delivering us this information, completely cut contact with us a few years ago out of fear that the FARC would get them again and they are still too scared to testify.
Arnulfo was the prisoner that Louise, Alice, Katie and I corralled in Ibague. At that time, he looked slim, very dark and like a fighter; now he has gone all floppy, paler and fat through being in prison so long. I wouldn’t have recognized him. His physical floppiness goes with his sickening pretend-contrite attitude, such as him attempting to shake my hand (see account below), which still gives me a horrible feeling when I think of it.
The other murder suspect present at the trial was Joselito Sanabria Guerrero, the brother of Wilson, who was eventually killed by local people for the many murders he had committed. I had never met Joselito before. He looked as though he wasn’t there at all, absent and spaced-out, totally cold and cut-off. He is taller and whiter than Arnulfo and never tried to make any kind of contact with me, not even eye contact. He seemed like some kind of zombie.
One prisoner was absent through a legal mess-up: Nelson Parra Sogamoso, who is accused, most ridiculously, of being Comandante Gonzalo (see story below).
Wilson who was killed was evidently the most psychopathic of the group. He and Joselito were not guerrillas, but simply local thugs that Arnulfo and Co. (i.e. the FARC militia of the area) recruited to do their dirty work. Our contact said that that class of people would have been killed by the guerrilla in former times. Now, they use them.
Two of the known murder-gang are still on the loose.
Of the six men we believe to have been involved directly in the murders, there is reasonable doubt that Arnulfo was not actually in Hoya Grande when the boys were killed, but he was one of the leaders of the group and was complicit in organizing the killing. It was his handwriting in the copybook announcing Tris and Javier’s ‘execution’.
What I say or know at these hearings has no direct bearing on the actual proceedings as I am just a spectator in legal terms until maybe I get called as a witness at a much later date.
The Court Hearing
First I need to explain what the room was like in case you have any illusions of this being a posh court house. It was in a room smaller than our kitchen on the farm with one entire wall open to the busy main entrance of the courthouse, so we were all squashed up together in this order:
The Judge and her secretary, who had to write everything down so people had to speak at the rate she types, which is not too fast. Then, facing her across a table, were Arnulfo Parra and Joselito Sanabria Guerrero and Joselito’s lawyer.
Off to one side were two government functionaries, a prosecutor and a man who oversees that all is done according to the law, so you have him watching the judge who watches the prosecutor.
And the whole courthouse was guarded by enormous INPEC Guards (the Colombian Prison Service) with machine guns, who were there to accompany the prisoners.
Arnulfo Parra’s lawyer recognized me as soon as I walked in as I had met him years ago and he got up to shake my hand, interrupting the judge, who also recognized me but had to keep a stony face as she’s supposed to be neutral. Arnulfo’s lawyer announced my name and said how good it was that I had come as so few people are interested in real justice in this country and most never bother to come to the cases they’ve started unless they are forced to, but I obviously cared enough about the proceedings ... the Judge interrupted him at that point by continuing to question Arnulfo.
I was well confused by all this, as I’d just arrived, sleepless and nervous and couldn’t stop staring at the two killers. I was even more confused by the defence lawyer sounding like he’s on our side. However, when I later had time to breathe and think, I figured that he thinks he can catch me out on some of the evidence that I’ve given. As soon as he named me, the prosecutor,(Fiscal) the attorney (Procurador) and two other lawyers all looked at me with great interest and I saw they each had a thick file on the case in which I believe most of the declarations are mine.
I finally got the presence of mind to ask the Judge if I could comment or question any of the proceedings and she apologetically said I couldn’t as I have no lawyer representing us. The two defence lawyers and Arnulfo objected to this as they said that I, as the main ‘witness’ should be able to speak! The Judge said, No I couldn’t yet as they are only at a preliminary stage of the hearing where she and the Fiscal will ask questions to try and clarify the position and defence of the accused. I would likely be called later but it could take UP TO A YEAR to get to that point. She also said that any questioning of our side would take place at the appeal stage. Now that was a strange thing to say as it implies that she assumes they will be sentenced and will appeal. But no-one else seemed to think this was weird. Well, I suppose they wouldn’t, this is Colombia....
During all this, Arnulfo turned to stare at me a lot and Joselito acted throughout as though he were on another planet and looked at no-one.
The judge through the whole proceedings was strict and friendly to the two prisoners, like an authoritarian granny. She is tiny, but emanates something that gives me confidence in her. The Fiscal fell asleep for a few minutes at one point, till the Procurador woke him up.
I will now copy for you the notes I made of the actual proceedings, just the bare bones without all the flowery legal stuff:
Judge to Joselito: Are you a miliciano?
Judge: Have you ever heard of Atlantis?
Judge: Do you know Comandante Gonzalo?
J: No. I only heard of this case on the TV news.
Judge: The scene described by Louise James (of how Tristan and Javier were captured after they ran into the football match looking for protection) as told to her by Mauricio Rincon, is it true?
Joselito’s lawyer: No, Mauricio Rincon said in March 2004 that he had never heard of or known Louise James and anyway Louise was in Ireland when the boys were killed.
Joselito then said it was all just hearsay and shouldn’t be allowed as evidence.
The Judge answered that as these accusations have been made, even if only as hearsay, she has the duty to investigate and ask about them. So she asked again about that scene.
Joselito answered that he never knew any of us ever and he wants proof, not comments. He said he was not a miliciano but at the end of 1999, a Comandante called Gonzalo arrived in the region and put his mother off her farm, and took him to a truck and gave him the keys and said he had to deliver bananas to a place called Vicinia and he had to do it or else....(an irrelevant story).
Then the Judge asked the Fiscal and Procurador if they had any questions.
The Fiscal said: You say you are innocent, but not one of the character witnesses you have called is willing to come here to support you.
Joselito’s lawyer interrupted and gave a long list of character witness names that should be deleted as the people ‘were afraid’ to come. He did say that a woman called Calixta would appear at a later date to confirm that she was in Hoya Grande on that Sunday evening and saw NOTHING happen. (Evidently this woman was at one point Javier’s girlfriend and was definitely there the night he was murdered and she had at one stage said she was willing to speak out, so she has obviously been threatened since then.)
Then the Judge asked Arnulfo what his defence is as he had apparently decided he will mainly defend himself with some advice from his lawyer.
First of all, he delivered a whole load of greasy sycophancy about the judge and about how glad he is that I obviously care so much about justice and therefore I must know that he wasn’t there when the boys were killed. (This may be true, but he was in charge of the gang who did) He was extremely self-pitying and if I didn’t know about him having so many people killed and being the ring-leader, I’d have felt sorry for him.
He was very untogether in his self-defence but it was very interesting in that he never accused any of us of being liars or wrong, but accused the Fiscalia of letting the victim’s family do the investigation instead of doing it themselves and how come the authorities never even visited Hoya Grande, which is only one hour from Melgar where there is an Army base?
He used Louise’s own words, quoting her as having said: ‘It’s not that I like my own country, Ireland, but at least over there, victim’s families would never have to investigate a murder case like we have had to do.’ This was quite clever of him, I thought, and it’s completely correct and the Judge, the Fiscal, the Procurador, and myself all nodded in agreement!
Although I wasn’t able to participate directly verbally, I made noises of agreement or disbelief (as in the case of Mauricio not knowing us, or the accused not being milicianos) and everyone looked at me and took in my opinion and generally accepted my part in it all.
The judge then told Arnulfo he was wasting time with all this and she needed concrete facts from him or nothing at all (all said very nicely and smilingly). He said he had no more to say. The Fiscal and Procurador said they had no questions, and that was that!
The next date was agreed upon by all in a very friendly manner - 24th October. ‘That’s the day of Tristan’s mother’s birthday,’ I informed everyone.
And then the real communication began as everyone sat around relaxedly chatting I turned to the murderers’ lawyer and gave him a memorial card of Tristan and Javier.
Immediately the guards, the Fiscal and the Procurador wanted one too. I handed them out, and offered two to Arnulfo and Joselito. They refused. But the Procurador took his and sat beside the Judge, that is, about a yard from the prisoners, and together they very clearly translated the English text for everyone to hear....
It took me a minute to get over this. Then I loudly and clearly said to the two defence lawyers that I appreciated that they were doing their job well, but Mauricio Rincon was in our house almost daily for eleven years, used our mule as he hadn’t one of his own, and ate with us very frequently, so if he says now he doesn’t know us, he has been threatened probably with the same terrible deaths that this group inflicted on two old campesino friends, Baudelina and Julio Peña whom the milicianos had killed with rat poison as they were the only people brave enough to speak out because they loved Tristan like a son, and in fact had fostered his younger brother, Brendan.
Everyone listened in silence, especially the defence lawyer. He seems to me not in any way a bad man and I could see he was affected by this. The Judge smiled with her eyes. Then the Inpec guards began to question me about who we are, so I didn’t notice that Arnulfo Parra had moved over to sit very near me beside his lawyer. I got a shock when I turned to find him inches from me.
His lawyer tried to introduce him to me and he held out his hand. But I said to the lawyer, ‘I know too much about him already,’ and said to Arnulfo that his hands have too much blood on them. Everyone was listening though pretending not to.
Then I said to the lawyer: ‘Please tell your client that we would be willing to talk to any of the accused as we don’t believe jail helps anyone, and I spend much of my time helping people wrongly accused to get out of jail. But we will only talk about Justice, Truth and Compensation. I pronounced these three words very slowly and loudly. I could feel Arnulfo getting furious. The lawyer said quite angrily, ‘Oh you mean like the Peace Process with the Paramilitaries?’ I said, ‘Of course not, that whole process is a lie and a deception. I mean a real Peace Process between us and these men who killed our relatives.’
Comforting a Murderer’s Mother
At this point, I was surrounded on two sides by the prisoners and their lawyers and the tension was tangible. I got up, practically levitating from the energy flying around, and walked to the big opening out on to the hall where I saw an old woman crying. I had seen her earlier bringing water and bread and cake to Joselito and could see that she was his mother. Everyone was watching me, probably wondering what the hell I was going to say next. I asked her was she the mother of one of the accused. She answered, crying, ‘Yes, Joselito, and he’s innocent and has six children and my husband and a son have already been killed.’ I asked was that Wilson, as I’d heard he’d been killed by local people?’ She said yes.
I felt strange in that situation as although I felt very sorry for her in the moment, I couldn’t help noticing that she is a very hardened old battle-axe of a woman, with not a nice face. So I said that I knew her son wasn’t innocent and that Wilson had been killed because he had murdered so many innocent people in very cruel ways. She cried more and more and I led her to a stairway in full view of all the people in the court room and she collapsed into my arms crying. It was a very strange and schizophrenic situation as I felt both sympathetic yet cool and distant and not at all fooled by her grief as she had raised these killers. She then went off to give her now handcuffed son more sweets...
The Fiscal and Procurador then came up to me and shook my hand very warmly and said to please come to all future hearings. Then Joselito’s lawyer, whom I hadn’t met before this day, came up and said the same and that he had really wanted to meet me and my family because all our testimonies are extremely interesting. The Fiscal and Procurador agreed.
Then I was left with the second lawyer and told him that I work constantly in defence of political prisoners, that I visit Combita jail (one of the worst) and Buen Pastor (the women’s prison in Bogota) frequently and appreciate his professionalism and agree with his political (i.e. pro-leftwing) position, but pointed out that these people he is defending have turned a huge and previously committed leftwing region completely against the guerrilla because the FARC have killed and robbed so many innocent and poor peasants. He agreed with me and then walked off.
I was alone then and went to ask the judge’s secretary where I could get a copy of the files of proofs, conclusions and accusations that everyone else has access to, but was told I can’t as I am only a witness and must have a lawyer to request these papers. I already knew I’d get answered this way, so I’ll have to find a way around it all as we need to see our own words again to prepare for any possible cross-questioning at a later date.
Then I walked out, straight on to a bus for Bogota and felt very stunned and bemused all the way there.
The whole so-called ‘investigation’, which as I am sure you have noticed was, in content, extremely short and not very deep, took a LONG time as it had to be written and everything was said in a much more Colombian and complicated fashion than how I have written it.
Anyway, here’s another bit of Macondian wierdery (the reference. is to a book by Garcia Marquez, which is a parody of Colombian life):
At some point after the questioning, one of the spare lawyers there told me and Arnulfo’s lawyer that he was called in by the Fiscalia to defend Nelson Parra who was absent because the same Fiscalia omitted to have the prisoner transported down from Valledupar prison in the north, but the Fiscalia failed to tell the lawyer that his client wasn’t arriving. Arnulfo’s lawyer then informs me and this other lawyer, who is a ‘public defender’ paid by the State to defend people who have no money, that the extremely stupid female Fiscal who handles our case is accusing Nelson the miliciano of being Gonzalo, the FARC Commander.
This is totally ridiculous, and put me in the absurd position of defending one of our boys’ murderers, as Arnulfo’s lawyer said during the hearing: ‘Anne personally knows Gonzalo and she can tell us that this accusation is not true.’ The Fiscal, Judge and Procurador all listened for my answer, but I was so agog at the ridiculousness of this accusation and how it weakens our case that I just kept saying, ‘What the...?’ and then expleted about how stupid this accusation was and who invented it? Everyone on all sides nodded their heads in agreement. I said ‘I suppose someone in the Army wants to get a big bonus for catching a FARC Commander.’ Again everyone agreed and the Fiscal and Procurador rolled their eyes.
On top of this piece of nonsense, there was another lawyer present at the hearing who had been asked to come to defend the real Gonzalo, who although he is not in jail and no-one knows what his real name is, is one of the accused in the case. I’m sorry, I can’t get my head around that one either and neither could anyone else.
Personally, I still feel flummoxed by all that happened on the first day of the trial as it was all too weird. The casualness of how the hearing was conducted compared to the seriousness of the crime was too much for my mind. But I know I made Arnulfo and his lawyer angry by telling him he had blood on his hands and by insisting that if we talked it would be about the truth and it would be with all our group. I felt a definite flare from both of them when I said that.
At one point I said to both defence lawyers and quite loudly so others could hear, especially the killers, that this case shouldn’t be judged in a civil court as the FARC should have taken care of it themselves. They both agreed. I also told Joselito’s lawyer that this kind of justice is rubbish, and he grabbed my hand and shook it hard. (I was out of earshot of the state representatives when I said this).
Will We Win the Case?
Regarding whether we will win in technical terms, our case has many weaknesses, firstly because we have no direct witnesses, only hearsay, as everyone was naturally too terrified to testify. And some of the hearsay is confusing as we kept finding out new facts as we went along and often had previous information refuted. Also we didn’t clearly understand at the beginning that all the information we took to the Fiscal was considered as sworn evidence, and not as part of our investigation, that is, part of a gradual gathering of information. So therefore it could be used by the defence to say that we contradicted much of what we said and that therefore everything we said should be considered invalid.
I felt very positive about ’winning’ at the hearing. But now on reflection I don’t feel so sure as the judge may have to decide in favour of the killers because our side is technically weak. But I also feel it doesn’t matter so much and that what does matter is attending each hearing, and saying what we need to say. The murderers will be done for the kidnap case anyway, because as far as I know that one is watertight.
If you asked me what exactly is the importance of what we are doing, I couldn’t define it, but it feels important, I suppose because we are demanding justice yet being human about it. There was such a strong feeling from everyone, except the two prisoners of course, that they really appreciated and respected how we have handled everything.
The Day After the Hearing
I had a bad day, feeling dizzy and weak, I suppose the journey took it out of me. By a strange coincidence, I watched a very interesting programme on the BBC about reconciliation meetings in Northern Ireland between an IRA man and a British cop that he nearly killed, and between a British soldier and the sister of an innocent man he killed. I was riveted as it was very raw stuff and because I had just been through that situation in Melgar with two of ‘our’ killers the day before. The programme was tainted with religion as the facilitator was Desmond Tutu, the African bishop, but the feelings and tension were real.
A Dream About Tristan 20th Sept.(by Jenny)
I spent a long time with Tristan last night.
There was a group of us, all relaxed and lounging around. Tris was there, happy, pale, quiet, glad to be with us. The feeling was joyful, complete, one of total healing and fullness.
Then I started to get worried: will it be like all the other times, with Tris suddenly disappearing and us finding out he has been killed and that he will never come back? I needed to test this out, as I didn’t want to fall into any illusions or false comfort.
I glanced round the room at the other people and silently asked for permission, for a go-ahead, to push things with Tris, knowing full well the pain and shock I might cause him.
I went closer to him and held him loosely in my arms. He was completely relaxed and non-resistant.
I took a long time to dare to say to him what I had to. I started to form the words first in my mind, in order to practice: ‘Tris, do you know that something terrible happened to you a few years ago, that you were completely innocent, you had done nothing wrong and in no way deserved anything that happened to you, but some people without any reason attacked you from behind, without cause and...’. I couldn’t reach the last words, but even by me thinking all this as I was looking deeply into his face, his smile left him and a cloud passed across his face and he started to look worried. I held him close and breathed deeply to gain the courage to tell him he had been shot and killed.
The dream faded there and ended.
I woke up and could not for absolutely ages shake off the sensation that it had really happened. In fact, it had happened, quite clearly, with all the physical and emotional sensations. It wasn’t until morning came that with a jolt I realized it had been what we call a ’dream’ and ’not real’, and I felt how pathetic what we call reality is in comparison to the clarity of what I had felt, and I wondered as many people have done before me whether our nighttime experiences aren’t realer than this bright harsh world we live in.
Life and Labour at Atlantis Farm by Anne
The weight of the work needed to keep our farm going had always been just an interesting theory to me until a few weeks ago. Then through a combination of circumstances, Jenny and I ended up running it for about two weeks on our own, with none of the commune men there at all, the first time this had happened.
I learnt about a whole different level of physical work and tiredness, learnt to truly appreciate how nice my bed is, and that while women’s lib. has given us much, it is not that applicable if you live on a deliberately un-mechanized organic farm, as no amount of protesting and insisting on equality can give me the arm-, shoulder- and back-strength that your average man has. We worked non-stop from well before dawn (that’s Jenny’s time of day as she rises to light the fire and organize the kitchen about 4.30 a.m, an unthinkable hour for me) until well after dusk with just a few breathers.
It was hard-going but also extremely satisfying at the end of each day to look back and see that we had done it. I found I had reserves of physical stamina that I didn’t know about before, as it’s quite hard to explain to the rabbits and guinea pigs that you’re too tired to get them their next sack of weeds and grass, or to ask the goats would they please hang on to their milk until tomorrow. Vicente,a Guambiano Indian man who works with us, regularly tried to do the work of three men, well, he does that anyway by most people’s standards but he worked even harder, but still we rushed, chopped, weeded, washed, cleaned, cooked, planted, composted, harvested, watered, fed, swept, cut and carried sixteen hours a day. I could see - and feel in my aching muscles - why people who live in couples or alone on a farm might be tempted by the shortcuts that chemicals and machines seem to offer and the bank-loans to buy them, for who in their right minds wants to live a life with no time to play music, sew and talk or swing in a hammock in the sun now and then? A commune/tribe/big family/good neighbours are a must as far as I can see, to keep a self-sufficient organic farm going pleasurably without having to sell your soul, and I took my hat off to Jenny who has often kept the home fires burning with very little help and support for months at a time.
After a couple of weeks, Gary, Louise’s Irish husband, arrived from Popayan to help us, a strong young man who, after travelling all night and walking the three hour trek to the farm, took a few swallows of herb tea and couldn’t wait to go off and chop up a mountain of firewood for the kitchen stove, collect and carry tons of horse manure for the compost heap, cut sacks of animal food and then insist that he likes washing clothes. We rushed to serve him hand and foot, offering him as many cups of tea, coffee, dinners, and home-made cakes as he liked. I think he was a bit surprised!
Now I am writing from the city again where I’ve come to attend the first public hearing against our boys’ murderers. I feel frazzled at the end of the day but miss that lovely physically knackered feeling....
Rustic Medicine and a Plea for Supplies by Alice
Yesterday afternoon, a man called Ruben came rushing up to my house all sweaty and said could I do him a favour as his 10 year old son had had an accident. He was collecting wood and a trunk had fallen on him and he had a huge cut across the top of his head.
I went walking fast with the man for about half an hour, taking with me anaesthetic, alcohol, cotton wool, needles, and anti-septic creams. At first when I got there, the little boy was really frightened and started to cry, then we talked to him and explained what I was going to do and after that he was really nice and completely calm.
It took quite a long time to clean the wound, because his hair had gone into it. I had to shave that part of his head. You could see the bones of his scalp as the cut was really deep. It took about an hour to sew it up with six stitches, though it really needed more, but I didn’t want to torture him too much.
The whole family were really helpful, they helped me hold the wound closed while I was sewing it and the wife kept bringing me clean boiled water to wash the wound.
I felt really nice helping this poor family and of course didn’t charge them anything for the service. They gave me food and drink and asked me how much they owed me, but I said ’nothing’.
However, we are almost completely out of this kind of medical material, and if anybody would like to donate any sort of stitching gear, needles, local anaesthetic, any kind of antiseptic creams or any other medical items, including general antibiotics and painkillers for after the treatment, we would be extremely grateful, as we don’t have any kind of regular income but don’t want to charge the very poor people in our area for this amateur but much-needed service.
If local people were to go to the nearest small town, Belen, to be treated by a health worker, the first obstacle facing them is there is no transport, except one rickety very crowded bus once a week on a Sunday, so they would have to get a horse and this uncomfortable journey would take them about three hours, unthinkable for anyone bleeding or in bad pain or too weak or hurt to travel this way. Once there, they would not be attended immediately but would probably have to wait hours. They would be charged about 8,000 - 10,000 pesos for each stitch which is a full day’s wages for an agricultural worker. And they would be bullied into buying lots of expensive drugs and paying for injections. Also in the case of a child, the parent would lose a day’s work to accompany him. And of course doctors never treat people the same as we do, which is with care, calm and respect.
I asked 23-year-old Alice, who has never been to school, some questions about doing this kind of work.
What kind of training have you had, Alice, to enable you to dare to undertake these medical tasks?
Alice: I learnt partly through reading ’Where There is No Doctor’ and the rest was just experience starting when I was about 17, just through people with no money needing help and coming and asking. So I just had to improvise, and learn by doing it. Also I have helped deliver babies and have had lots of experience with animals which has given me confidence ... horses, cows, goats, rabbits, guinea pigs, chickens, cats and dogs, cleaning wounds, getting rid of external and internal parasites, cutting away tumours, injecting animals, and bringing up many baby animals who had lost their mothers.
I really like helping people in this way, especially when I have all the materials necessary to do it with. But I wouldn’t feel so good if I lacked these things and had to improvise say, with ordinary sewing needles and thread and worse still, without anaesthetic. I once tried to buy this kind of equipment in a Colombian town and was told I could not, unless I had some kind of medical certificate, a ridiculous state of affairs given the lack of medical attention for poor people, especially in the far-flung country districts.
Or Would you Prefer MODERN medicine in a MODERN world? - an anecdote from Anne.
An astrology client who had emigrated to the United States six months ago just rang me to tell me why she came back. She is an utterly conventional, normal person but could not relax after one of the first things that she experienced after renting a house in New Jersey, namely, she was handed a leaflet about what to do in the event of an attack or accident at the nearby nuclear power station and was shown the basement nuclear shelter in her son’s kindergarten and the pills they have to take to ’cure’ them of radiation sickness.
Then on his first day at kindergarten, her son got into trouble for touching other kids as they played. I know this kid, he is an energetic cheeky little bugger who can immediately be got under control by playing with him. Anyway the people who ran the kindergarten told his mother that he would have to take behaviour modifying drugs like ALL THE OTHER KIDS IN THIS KINDERGARTEN.
The woman also said that you never see kids in the parks or on the streets and that people keep their pets on these drugs too...So she came back home to Colombia, freaked out at what she had seen, and saying she’d rather face more familiar dangers like robbers or kidnappers.
With that, we bid you farewell till next Green Letter.
Jenny James and all at Atlantis Eco-Community, Colombia.
This list is primarily set up to distribute the ’Green Letters’ edited by Jenny James which give a running account of the activities and experiences of the Atlantis Community in Colombia since 1995.
Archived messages may be seen at
See also http://afan.org.uk/