Yesterday I was at the funeral of a peasant who was killed four years ago, probably because he was a leftist political activist. It took his wife four years to find out what happened and within those four years 15 months to get what was left of his body: shattered bones in a box of cardboard. His 11-year old son took the bones from the cardboard box to put them in the tiny coffin, which looked as if it were the coffin of a little baby. The boy was looking how the parts of the skull he found in the box would perhaps match. In the meantime his mother explained to some journalists what had happened.
The peasant was killed by the army and some soldiers are being trialed, luckily. According to his wife, a brave short woman, who was left behind with three children, he was taken to some place by the army, tortured, killed and disappeared. If she hadn’t insisted and had gotten some help, from the Prosecutor’s Office and an NGO, she would never have found out the truth.
The man seems to have been a victim of what are called the false positives. The army kills a person and afterward says the person was killed in a fight with the guerrilla or the paramilitaries. The dead body is put in a uniform of the illegal group concerned and is given a weapon to make the whole matter look more real. The same happened to this peasant.
Funny things happen by the way with these ‘dressing ups’. The dead body has bullet holes in some parts, but the uniform doesn’t. Or they put it two left boots, or two right. Or the boots are brand new. I don’t know how they dressed up this peasant, I only saw those sad shattered bones and I especially saw his little son putting them carefully into the coffin.
What will be the future of this little boy? He grew up in one of the most violent parts of Colombia, the province of Putumayo. Now he is in the capital Bogotá, where his mother will have extreme difficulties to find a decent living. She seems an intelligent woman who knows what she is talking about, but poor is poor, and it is known that poverty is one of the reasons that these little boys one day or another could decide to join the guerrilla or the paramilitaries, depending on who is in the neighborhood. Heaven forbid that this happens.
I also was thinking of my fellow Dutch citizen Tanja Nijmeijer, who was in the news 1,5 years ago, because it appeared that she had joined the FARC. Dutch media are still crazy to find out where she is, talk, have the scoop, obviously, well the whole thing. But this Tanja is a well educated young woman who had a choice. She got herself a problem and she has to deal with it.
Those little boys who grow up in Putumayo or Caquetá don’t have much choice in their lives and it is a lot more difficult if they lose their father in such a cruel way. Would be good if the army realized that: with their false positives they possibly also create more FARC, not terrorists, but children, victims of the circumstances.
Author Wies Ubags is a Dutch freelance journalist in Bogotá, works for media in her country and has her own weblog.