THE WOUNDS ARE NOT HEALED: In the 21st year of Impunity
( Translated by Dan Baird, a CSN volunteer translator)
[On 6 November 1985 a group of M-19 guerillas burst into the Palace of Justice in Bogotá, taking 300 people hostage. The army stormed the building, bringing up armoured cars and using automatic weapons. Over 100 people died. Eleven people, mostly cafeteria workers, were missing afterwords and a Truth Commission has now been set up to investigate their fate.]
As we convene this meeting, we wish to borrow a sentence from Jon Cortina, the Jesuit priest who helped find the bodies of several children who were disappeared in the most recent conflict to strike El Salvador. We have had the inspiration of another Jesuit, Father Javier Giraldo, who over the last 21 years has constantly found strength from within his own spiritual resources to celebrate memorial masses for our disappeared relatives and to help us cope with the sadness, the despair, the anger and the other emotions we have felt in the face of what seems meaningless and absurd. So too the Savadorean people have had Father Cortina. And Father Cortina rightly says: “It is only the victims – and not the State or the murderers or treaties or laws – who can finally say whether wounds are healed.”
You, who 21 years ago saw your relatives go off to work in the Palace of Justice but never return, do you believe that the wounds are closed? The elusive truth of their fate at the hands of the police and army charged with their protection - is that enough to heal the wounds? The man who was President of the Republic at the time himself says that, for good or ill, he personally took the fateful decisions, yet he is absolved of all responsibility by a commission of the House of Representatives headed by a Presidential candidate – do you believe that can heal the wounds?
Can the wounds be healed when we look at the subsequent lives and careers of those who directed and took part in the storming of the Palace of Justice? Let us consider these: a retired former President; the ex-Minister of Communications who ordered that a football match be shown on television during the attack and is today the Ambassadress to Spain; an ex- major in the Army who today heads the Colombian Association of Retired Soldiers (ACORE); an ex-colonel whom the present government has put in charge of National Direction on Narcotics (one of its most responsible posts); an ex-colonel and former contractor to the Directorate of Prisons; a major, who has become a general, former commander of the Omega task force and now military attaché in Chile.
These are only a few examples of those who directed and took part in retaking the Palace of Justice. They show clearly that the wound has not healed.
Any concept of a peaceful and developed society has to be inspired by truth, justice and reconciliation. Without these, it is impossible to contemplate a better society. The Colombian state still owes a debt to the relatives of the 11 disappeared of the Palace of Justice. As testified by reputable witnesses, those 11 people were taken alive from the building on the second day of the slaughter, as you will see in the film we will show you shortly, and of which you will be given copies. They were brought alive from the Palace by police and troops and then taken off to various military installations, to be tortured for days before being murdered and their bodies disappeared.
Let us recall what Father Cortina said about the healing of the wounds, and let us repeat that, even with the slight hope given us by the current administration at the Attorney General’s office, doubts remain about the real purpose of the present investigation.
We have had vital evidence such as the statement of Ricardo Gámez Mazuera, a former intelligence agent, dropped in the middle of legal discussions about territorial considerations, as if the important thing was whether the truth is known in Belgium or Colombia or in some other place. But what is fundamental is to bring forward a witness who has been maintaining for 18 years that the Cafeteria manager was brought out alive and the then Colonel Alfonso Plazas Vega ordered him to be tortured and reports made to him every two hours. Ricardo Gámez, according to this evidence, was telling lies in saying that no-one was had come out alive, since it is now admitted 21 years later that Carlos Rodríguez, Irma Franco y Cristina del Pilar Guarín were alive when they were brought out of the Palace.
It is necessary for the health of the judicial process that it investigates the matter of the disappeared of the Palace, and that the international community requires that evidence be taken according to the conditions laid down clearly at the outset but now confused in discussions of procedure.
To live with wounds is not healthy for the body or for the soul. In my own case, I should confess that I feel a deep sadness, and certainly not the healing of the wound, when I remember my dead father. In the area around this place where we meet today he used to look for my sister’s face among the insane people who wander through the centre of Bogotá, hoping to find in one of them his daughter Cristina.
It is not necessary to ask of Pilar, the wife of the disappeared Héctor Jaime Beltrán, who has raised her four daughters alone, if the wound has healed. Or to speak with Raúl Lozano, the son of Ana Rosa Castiblanco, to know what he feels 21 years afterwards when he learns that his brother was born in an army truck in the midst of the massacre, a brother he does not even know, because the child was taken away by a soldier. Or to ask Alejandra, the daughter of Carlos Rodríguez, when as a daughter she reads of the tortures inflicted on her father. This is to mention only a few of the horrors that the relatives of the 11 disappeared of the Palace of Justice carry with us every day of our lives.
Is a wound healed when the lawyer representing us, José Eduardo Umaña Mendoza , is murdered in his office on 18 April 1998 and there is complete impunity for his death.
Clearly, the wounds are not healed, and debts remain outstanding. That is why we ask today that the international community join us in the struggle to find the truth and justice and to obtain the complete reparation denied us for more than two decades.
For 21 years, the killers have been rewarded and the victims forgotten. As in the Macondo of García Márquez, we will always refuse to forgive or forget. We will always demand truth, justice and reparation.
THE RELATIVES OF THE DISAPPEARED OF THE PALACE OF JUSTICE, IN THE 21ST YEAR OF IMPUNITY
Colombia Support Network
P.O. Box 1505
Madison, WI 53701-1505
phone: (608) 257-8753
fax: (608) 255-6621