In every province of Colombia, women long to know what happened to their husbands, to their daughters, to their sons. Children want to know what happened to their fathers, to their mothers.
Even Colombia’s associations of families of the disappeared have long estimated that at most the disappeared totaled 15,000. And many did not believe the toll was so high.
But as forensic teams are conducting exhumations following the partial paramilitary demobilization, prosecutors are interviewing paramilitary leaders, Colombia’s National Search Commission is soliciting information from the victims, and victims are organizing to know the truth, the scale of the human catastrophe is slowly being unveiled.
Colombia’s official National Forensic Institute, Medicina Legal, now lists over 35,000 disappearances, a number that is going up every day (although not all may be political disappearances). A senior Colombian prosecutor in October set the figure at over 27,000, attributing 75 percent to right-wing paramilitaries. The left-wing guerrillas and the army are also responsible. These figures far surpass the number of disappeared in Chile and are equivalent to the number of disappeared in Argentina as estimated by human rights groups. And the counting in Colombia is far from over.
But the disappeared are not numbers. They are fathers, brothers, mothers, sisters, friends, and children. On these victims’ associations’ websites, you can see their faces.
Asfaddes, the Association of the Detained and Disappeared, asks the Colombian government about student of literature Tarciso Medina Charry, detained and disappeared: “Why did you take him? What did you do to him? Above all, where is he?”
The Madres de la Candelaria advocate for the disappeared and the kidnapped, with the slogan, “We want them back alive, free and in peace” (“Los queremos vivos, libres y en paz”).
The National Movement of Victims of State Crimes (MOVICE) commemorates the disappeared with a banner, “We are still waiting for our loved ones” (“Todavia esperamos a nuestros seres queridos”).
Hear the Sons and Daughters of Memory and Against Impunity (Hijos e Hijas de la Memoria y en contra de la Impunidad) talk about their disappeared or assassinated parents and their efforts to construct a history which is not just “the official story.”
See how Colombian artist Erika Diettes evokes the disappeared “drifting away.”
And today, all over Colombia, people are still disappearing.