Conflicts & War

DNA samples offer fresh hope for kin of Colombia’s missing

By Irene Escudero

Bogota, Apr 4 (EFE) – Doña Berta has spent 24 years searching for her son, Javier Rey Moreno, who would have turned 56 this month.

Yet despite all the time that has passed, the possibility that samples of her DNA will coincide with records in Colombia’s database of missing persons has provided her with a sudden new surge of hope.

“How long will it take to get the results?” the elderly woman asks impatiently. While she and Don Pablo are being told how the process works, she gets up from her chair, leans on her cane and then sits down again, trying to quiet a pain in her hip.

She and her husband answer numerous questions about their son, queries designed to help the forensic experts at Bogota’s Unit for the Search of Disappeared Persons (UBPD) fill in the gaps surrounding his disappearance and physical characteristics.

Doña Berta and Don Pablo then provide blood samples that will be delivered to the National Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences, the entity that manages that vast database.

“Photographs, birth certificates, baptismal certificates, medical records … everything you have will help us with the search,” the forensic expert tells her, but the mother explains with shame in her voice that a photo is all she has.

“I imagine they took him away with all his papers.”

“No one’s prepared for the disappearance of a loved one, no one has everything ready. We don’t want you to feel anguished because you don’t have papers,” said the official with the UBPD, which is gathering the DNA samples in a bid to identify as many of Colombia’s 104,602 missing persons as possible.

Javier was left-handed and stood about 170 centimeters tall (5-foot-7), information that is of value to investigators trying to match it with the genetic profiles of the 6,997 bodies in the forensic medicine laboratories.

That data also can be cross-checked with corpses still being unearthed on a daily basis from cemeteries, mass graves and ditches in a country where a decades-old armed conflict still persists.

“He went away and we don’t know where … in any case, going missing is terrible,’ Doña Berta said stoically, concealing the full depth of her inner pain. “I assume he already died, that they killed him. But what we don’t know is where he ended up.”

She added that at her age she only hopes authorities can provide her with some closure by handing over his remains, saying that would be a great consolation to her.

Berta, Pablo and Javier lived in a village in the Sumapaz Paramo, a moorland in the central department of Cundinamarca and an area the now-demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group used as a corridor to Bogota.

The mother believes guerrillas abducted him and took him away, although she realizes she will never know for sure. The topic is one they still studiously avoid mentioning for fear of reprisals.

Likewise, little was said about the disappearance of Frederikberst after he went missing 22 years ago from a village in the central department of Meta.

His sister, Albenis Tibaquira, who also went to the UBPD to have samples taken for genetic profiling, says her brother was riding around on his motorbike in the area and selling homemade ice cream that fateful day.

She added that their father died with the grief of not knowing what happened to his son.

“It was hard at first (to look for him) because (the area) was full of guerrillas,” Tibaquira said. Like many other relatives, they were forced to wait, and the passage of time made the search more difficult.

Every time she heard the sound of a motorbike passing by her house, she hoped it was her brother arriving home.

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