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Saturday, March 22, 2008

COLOMBIA REFLECTION: Where things are worth more than people

22 March 2008

by Julian Gutierrez Castaño

Translated by Michele Braley

"…¿Adónde van los desaparecidos?
Busca en el agua y en los matorrales.
¿Y por qué es que se desaparecen?
Porque no todos somos iguales.

("Where have the disappeared gone?
Look in the water and in the brush.
And why do they disappear?
Because we are not all equal ...")

The sun warmed Washington, D.C. as did the colorful crowd that gathered in Dupont Plaza on 6 March 2008—an unusually balmy day. The Colombians, and the usual crowd of sympathetic "gringo" human rights activists, carried signs depicting the plight of the victims of the armed conflict that has plagued Colombia since the late 1940s.

A unionist displaced by the political right that holds power in Colombia gave testimony. So did the daughter of one of the many victims who were not supposed to proclaim that in Colombia inequality is perpetuated by the State, that the people are devoured by alligators (the state security forces) and crocodiles (paramilitaries), and, as if this were not enough, the people have to walk with care so to not be bitten by a snake (the guerrillas.)

Between the speeches of the unionist and the young woman, onto the stage jumped Negra Lucy. Into the midst of the collective sadness and the silence of hearts broken by so much injustice, she began to sing "Desapariciones" (Disappearances). She sang with Spanish of those who do not speak it as their first language, but with the astute melody of those who centuries ago found singing to be a door to freedom.

We closed with a minute of silence. I held the photo of the person I identify with most, Manuel Gustavo Chacon, the former trade unionist, poet, musician, and freethinker, who was assassinated thirty years ago in Barrancabermeja.

But my heart and my mind were in other locations, or perhaps Chacon took me to those places. During that minute of silence, I toured the Opón River and visited every family that has suffered displacement, murder, or the disappearance of a loved one. I toured the communities of Micoahumado and Tiquisio, who despite the murders of their sisters and brothers still demand the right to self-determination. I remembered the crimes of the Army and the FARC against the Awa people. I remembered Teofilo Acuna and Alejandro Uribe of the Southern Bolivar Agricultural-Mining Federation, displaced, and murdered, respectively, for defending their communities from the voracity of the multinational Anglo Gold Ashanti.

And I cried for this daily tragedy of broken dreams and brutality that we live in Colombia and in every corner of the earth where things are worth more than people—where things become a reason to annihilate us.

"… ¿Y cuándo vuelve el desaparecido?
Cada vez que los trae el pensamiento.
¿Cómo se le habla al desaparecido?
Con la emoción apretando por dentro…"

("… And when will the disappeared return?
Every time a thought brings them.
How do you speak to the disappeared?
With emotion squeezing you from inside… ")

Desapariciones, Ruben Blades