Conflicts & War

Colombians express deep sorrow for relatives who never returned post conflict

By Hugo Penso Correa

Barranquilla (Colombia), 26 Aug (EFE).- A deep pain for those who never returned after the Colombian conflict was expressed by each of the relatives of the victims who attended the act of petition for forgiveness made by three former chiefs of the paramilitary Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) in Barranquilla on Friday.

Mothers who never received confirmation whether the violence of the conflict took away their children, and people that still hoped to recover the remains of their murdered relative, were some of the testimonies during the day.

More than four hundred people attended to listen and in many cases reject the apologies presented by former paramilitary commanders Salvatore Mancuso – who spoke on video conference from a jail in the United States -, Edgar Ignacio Fierro Florez and José Gregorio Mangones Lugo.

In 1997, Atilio Vasquez served as rector of the Diogenes Arrieta Normal School in the municipality of San Juan de Nepomuceno, in the foothills of the Montes de Maria, an area in northern Colombia that for many decades has been prey to guerrilla and paramilitary violence.

“The militias took him away because they wanted him to indoctrinate the students to join their ranks and commit crimes like them. At the Justice and Peace hearings, I learned about what they had done with him: they kidnapped him, tortured him, and threw him into the river,” said Saturnino Vasquez, the victim’s brother.

Those responsible have already been convicted, but according to Saturnino “they are already free.” He attended the hearing as part of the “process of finding more information (…) There is no room for forgetting here, and forgiveness is a personal matter,” he added.

“What I ask of them is to give information about where some relatives could be found because there are many people who know about the whereabouts of those they captured,” says Saturnino.

Marciana Ricardo arrived displaced to Barranquilla from El Choco with his six children. The militias took one of them, a 16-year-old teenager, and recruited him. To this day he does not know how or where to find him.

“My son, José Omar Mena, was sold for seventy thousand pesos to Salvatore Mancuso, who took him in the ranks,” said Marciana, adding that after the AUC were demobilized, her son returned to irregular groups and since then there has been no news of him.

Teary eyed and frustrated, Marciana claimed not having got an opportunity to ask Mancuso where her son is. “I’m not looking for money, what I want is to be told if my son, who would be 32 years old today, still lives.”

Emiro Villadiego suffers from health problems that prevent him from leading a normal life due to retinal detachment of the right eye and 60 percent loss of hearing in the right ear.

Villadiego expressed hope that the state would help him recover his tranquillity after the AUC murdered his brother in Chalan municipality, in the department of Sucre.

He narrated that his brother William, a police inspector of a small town called La Ceiba, was murdered by the militias in 1997.

“When they killed my brother, I had to carry his body with my dad for ten kilometers and so far that death has not repaired,” said Emiro.

Despite all the difficulties that led him to emigrate to Venezuela because of the threats, he hoped that the process would move forward and expressed his forgiveness to those who caused so much harm to his family. EFE


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