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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

War and its abuses: Semana.com

(Translated by Rudy Heller, a CSN Volunteer Translator)

Saturday, August 7, 2010



Armed Conflict Be it for revenge, to scapegoat or for simple cruelty, many women have been raped during this conflict. Most remain silent about it. Those who do come forward to denounce the act receive little support. SEMANA and the Red Cross International Committee joined forces to show the invisible countenances of the war.


At the end, when all had already taken advantage of her however they wanted, one returned and marked AUC's initials on her arms and back, and underneath each breast. "This is for you to show to your boyfriend, you daughter of a whore," was the final assault and they all broke out in laughter while they pulled up their zippers.


After taking semen and saliva samples, the forensic physicians who took care of the woman photographed the cuts and now the file is before an international court. But this case is years old, when the paramilitaries began to fight the guerillas for control of Medellin's peripheral neighborhoods.


In those days, when they entered homes in search of their enemies and did not find them, they went after their women, ferociously and barbarically. The same thing took place in other cities and also in smaller towns where the penis was an extension of the murdering rifle.


As the paramilitary groups demobilized and confrontation levels decreased, social researchers thought that sexual abuse related to the war could be overcome. But that was not to happen. The new criminal groups that took over the paramilitary strongholds continued using rape as a weapon of intimidation and subjugation. And it was not just them. Guerillas and soldiers of the National Army joined in the assaults. The following cases of victims helped by the Red Cross International Committee were perpetrated between 2007 and 2009, after promises were made that all those barbaric acts were a thing of the past.


Mother and Daughter


S is V's mother. V is a teenager with large brown eyes and long eye lashes. In 2008 the mother was 38 years old and her daughter 15. They were raped by three men of the Águilas Negras (Black Eagles) in a small Antioquia town. They were both raped at night on the same day. Around 1 am. S. had gone twice to the local Prosecutor to denounce that the new paramilitaries were stalking her daughter and were sending her threatening cell phone messages: "You are hot, my love. Watch yourself... a lot". "That's how we want them, serious homebodies. We don't like whores." "Don't go out alone, somebody could steal you."


The prosecutor saw the messages and laughed. He said that boys will be boys and that they should be ignored. The Águilas Negras, just like those before them, came and went through town being watched by everyone and they knew they were lords and masters. V was an excellent student at school. She was so good at math that she tutored her classmates. She did not have a boyfriend. Mother and daughter lived alone.


"One raped my mother and two raped me. It was dark and it was raining hard. There was thunder and lightning. After a half hour, they left," relates V in a Medellín barrio where she remains in hiding. She took ill several weeks after that night, suddenly. She had high fevers, felt weak and nauseous and vomited. She could not return to school and both women agreed that they would not tell what happened. "If you open your mouths, we will close them," promised the Águilas Negras, who would blast their car radios when they came by playing regueton, rancheras, vallenatos, and songs of unrequited love.


One day, in desperation because of her daughter's sudden illness, the mother asked the driver of a hog truck to sneak her daughter away. In the city, V continued weakening. The diagnosis was a molar pregnancy, having an amorphous fetus with no face, legs nor arms — a hard mass that threatened to continue growing. The extraction procedure was painful and did not bring the end to one nightmare but the start of another. V was then diagnosed with uterine cancer that soon metastasized and threatened her lungs and back. Could there be more cruelty in this tale? Yes, a bit more was still to come.


With knowledge of every step that mother and daughter gave, the Águilas Negras would call them to remind them not to open their mouths and they would proceed to list one after another, their relatives who lived in town, uncles and aunts, nephews and nieces/ To this day, with the exception of the Red Cross International Committee which is helping them with humanitarian aid, nobody, not even the doctors who have looked after V, know the origin of her molar pregnancy. V, against all odds and predictions, has been recovering. After chemo, her hair has grown back and her face appears calm. If the predatory Águilas Negras do not stop her, she will graduate from high school in December, and she already knows what she wants to pursue as a career: medicine, and afterwards, oncology. Her mother looks at her and smiles.


Another María


María de Jesús was raped by a guerilla because she had a son in the Army. That son is Javier Alonso and he is a counterinsurgent in El Caguán, in the Southern part of Colombia, in the former land granted to the guerillas after the failed peace talks between the government of Andrés Pastrana and the Farc's high command. The rapist was tall, strong and with "the devil's eyes", says her grandmother who will soon be 59 years old.  Her husband, Jesús Emilio, stands at her side. He is 63 and this morning he was cutting cane to take to a sugar mill where he is a day laborer. She had brought in the clothes from the outside line because it looked like rain. There was her husband's poncho, washed and folded. "He grabbed it, tied it around my head and began to undress me," remembers María, and she lowers her gaze. Jesús lends her his hands as if helping her to cross a ditch.


While he raped her, the guerilla insulted her yelling and threatening her. When it was over, she went to the back yard looking for the lemon tree, next to the bathroom. "I picked some lemons, cut them and wipe my entire body down with them — legs, chest, arms, my mouth," recounts María and she struggles not to cry. She also has not had the right to claim justice and in addition, as if the assault were not enough, she and her husband had to leave behind their country home, their animals, their vegetable patch in bloom. Now the State does not even recognize them as displaced people.


When her daughter took her to Forensic Medicine to formalize her complaint, the only thing the experts found were the burns from the lemon's citric acid. It happens all the time. In their urgent need to rid themselves of the filth, abused women get rid of the evidence that no rapist could refute: saliva and semen. It is as if the disgust that they produce in their victims ends up guaranteeing them impunity. But nobody seems to care too much, only human rights defenders, who are almost always under suspicion in their host countries because they insist in divulging the painful truth in a country that feels it is safe and without tragedies.


One small detail is enough to see how defenseless these abused women are in the midst of the armed conflict: if one of them opts to end a rape-produced pregnancy, even if the law contemplates that right, she runs the risk of going straight to hell, her own religious beliefs state. The question may well be: So there is another hell?




María is an 87 year old grandmother, with long hair tied in a pony tail. She is small, brown-eyed, small fingered with freshly cut nails. She wears a skirt and a slip underneath. Its pattern has flowers and birds. She wears black tying shoes with rubber souls. She was raped Friday, November 9, 2007, the day after a virgin from the Middle Ages was consecrated. Since then, María's look is almost always distant, hard and angry. It was a hooded soldier. He never took off his balaklava and he came to her to put his rifle on her chest. "Old lady, you scream and I kill you," aid this soldier assigned to a squad with the name of a hero from the Independence.


You can picture thin María screaming, and you know that in any case, nobody would have heard her, except for maybe her cat or one of the five hens she lives with. She has been alone since the guerillas tied up her son as if he were a steer and shot him dead — very near by. Her house is along the road between Medellín and Bogotá, a kilometer from a raging river that divides the mountain in half. The soldier pushed her on the bed and while he raped her rudely, he bit her neck, arms and breasts. The old lady used her hands to cover her face: "My enemy stayed a while and then he tired of hurting me," she remembers. María washed the bloody sheets and blankets and then soaped her entire body up. She told no one because the soldiers still hung around. And she could not believe any more than any of them were any good. Three days later, a neighbor, concerned because she had not seen her friend tending to her chickens as she usually did, went to look for her and found her seated on her bed, with a lost look to her. That is when the story got out and they called her other son, a bus driver in Medellín, whose bus has what seems a made-up run: it travels to Paris, a Medellín neighborhood. That was three years ago and the authorities still have no idea who was responsible. They say that there are 20 soldiers that are suspects. That's it.



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