A mayor in a central Colombian town names a street after a paramilitary leader responsible for hundreds of deaths, prompting calls for an investigation.
Henry de Jesus Perez, a paramiltary who founded the Middle Magdalena AUC and is considered responsible for two massacres, has been commemorated in a mayoral project to celebrate famous local people in Puerto Boyaca.
In an interview with newspaper El Tiempo, the town’s mayor Fernando Rubio, described Perez, who has been sentenced to 20 years in jail for his crimes, as “a leader, for better or worse.” He proposed the name of the man many consider “the father” of paramilitarism in Colombia because “he is a character of the town. (…) To ignore history is to risk repeating it,” he said.
Town resident Gloria Matilda had been unknowingly walking down a street named after the man who ordered her mother’s murder. “She was eating in a corridor next to the kitchen when a man in long-sleeved shirt, poncho and hat came in and shot her four times in the head in front of me and my sisters,” said Matilda. Her father was a member of the Patriotric Union, a party aligned with the FARC, whose members were systematically assassinated until its destruction during the 1980s and 1990s.
A group of anonymous citizens has asked the mayoralty to take Perez’s name down, saying “If the country talks about reparation, it is absurd to honor murderers.”
Colombian Congressman Ivan Cepeda has gone one step further, demanding an investigation into Rubio’s actions. “The mayor should not only desist in his purpose but should prepare for possible disciplinary action. I will personally take all steps I can to avoid any type of homage to these criminals and call on the authorities to see if the mayor is committing any type of mistake that could lead him to be stripped of his title,” Cepeda told Radio Caracol.
However Rubio’s actions follows a history of celebrating paramilitary action, and Perez himself, in Puerto Boyaca. A town billboard reads “Colombia’s Anti-Subversive Capital;” and Henry de Jesus was awarded a medal of merit by the town council in 1991.
Puerto Boyacan and Colombian flags fly at his tomb in the town’s cemetery, the same place where Gloria Matilda visits her mother’s grave every Monday. Four shelves are full of flowers, and a plaque reads, “To the memory of the leader, the martyr hero of the struggle against subversion.”