A delegation of diplomatic spouses last week delivered what they called a symbol of strength and unity to the women of the troubled jungle of Colombia’s Putumayo department.
The Association for Spouses of Accredited Diplomats in Colombia (ACDAC) brought Gloria Ines back to her home department of Putumayo – a hotbed of guerrilla activity and narco-trafficking – after undergoing extreme facial reconstruction.
Gloria Ines was shot between the eyes almost two years ago by members of the rebel group FARC, when she refused to hand her 12-year old son and her land over to the guerrillas. The tiny woman, barely reaching shoulder height, had kept the FARC at bay until then by giving them supplies such as chickens and food.
“She was a leader, she knew her rights and wanted to stand up for them,” said ACDAC president Martine Vandoome.
However, this time there was no appeasing the guerrillas, and they shot her between the eyes. “The X-rays taken after the shooting were unbelievable,” said Vandoome. “There were no bones left in her face, just shards, just fragments of bone.”
Her land and her house gone, Gloria Ines and her young son moved to a bare cement-block building. Blind and unable to eat solid food, her palette blown out by the FARC bullet, the mother was forced to sleep on the floor with her son.
At this point, said Vandoome, the case of Gloria Ines was presented to ACDAC by Alianza Departamento Putumayo de las Mujeres, an alliance of women’s groups working in the area.
“Our organization is about the integration of people,” said the French Ambassador’s wife. “When we arrived in Colombia we set up the Antonio Nariño prize for human rights with the French and German embassies. Alianza won the first competition for their work in Putumayo. The strength of the women united together to fight violence in a neutral way is what caught our attention.”
ACDAC, which has been supporting social projects for vulnerable Colombians for over 50 years, drew upon all their contacts and resources to give Gloria Ines her new face. “Everybody worked together, the doctor donated his own time and costs, the clinics gave their space and equipment, the prosthesis for the eyes were free – the only thing we had to pay for were the bones because they are very, very expensive,” said Vandoome.
Surrounded by the diplomatic spouses from Japan, Egypt, Europe, Canada and Central and South America, the tiny hero arrived in Puerto Asis, a small shabby town which, according to the women’s groups, is “full of paramilitaries.”
The two-day celebration of her return was attended by the various women’s groups of the area. “We see her as a symbol for all women. We as women joined with them as women to make this success happen,” said Vandoome.
Gloria Ines, overwhelmed by emotion, spent the celebration clutching the son she had saved from the guerrillas with her bravery, and whom she hadn’t seen in months.
Before ACDAC’s intervention, life had been hard for Gloria Ines. “I lived very well before I was attacked,” she said. “I was fine, but now everything is different.” The injured woman is worried about the future. She said she filled out “victims papers” and sent them to the government many months ago with the hope of receiving support and assistance, but has yet to hear anything back.
“I owe two months rent where I live, I can’t work and my son can’t work,” she said. Most important for this brave woman is her adopted son. “I want him to stay in school and I will survive the hunger,” she cried, tears streaming from her prosthetic eyes. “Sometimes,” she said, “I will only eat once a day. I’ll sacrifice the food for him.”
According to Canadian ACDAC representative Fatima Martin, it is too dangerous for the Colombian to go back to her old home. “Gloria Ines doesn’t even exist. The guerrillas have her land. The FARC think she is dead.” In any case, a girlfriend of one of the guerrilla leaders is reportedly living in her house.
However, the international delegates are hopeful that things will change for Gloria Ines. “Lots of people came forward at the event to offer things. The mayorship of Puerto Guzman will give her a piece of land, someone else is giving her a prefabricated house. But right now they are offers, who knows what will actually happen and how long it will take,” said Vandoome, the ACDAC president.
The organization has made Gloria Ines the theme for their activities in 2013– 2014 which rests on the slogan, a “new face for peace.” ACDAC has pledged to grant four “International Solidarity Prizes” annually, highlighting the efforts of non-profit organizations that improve the lives of Colombians.
“Gloria Ines is a beautiful symbol of a new face for our department,” said Vandoome. She is “a new face for Putumayo, a new face for peace.”