Edited and compiled by Max Schoening and Sibylla Brodzinsky, Throwing Stones at the Moon: Narratives from Colombians Displaced by Violence, offers a glimpse into the tragedy faced by the women, men and children who have had to flee their homes because of the violence affecting Colombia. Part of the Voice of Witness book series, Throwing Stones at the Moon: Narratives from Colombians Displaced by Violence is a compilation of stories from Colombia’s victims of violence, offering personal accounts about the effects Colombia’s internal armed conflict has had on civilians.
About the Book: For nearly five decades, Colombia has been embroiled in internal armed conflict among guerrilla groups, paramilitary militias, and the country’s own military. Civilians in Colombia have to make their lives despite the threat of torture, kidnapping, and large-scale massacres—and more than four million have had to flee their homes. The oral histories in Throwing Stones at the Moon describe the most widespread of Colombia’s human rights crises: forced displacement. Speakers recount life before displacement, the reasons for their flight, and their struggle to rebuild their lives.
Excerpts from the book:
MARIA VICTORIA, whose fight against corruption as a hospital union leader led to a brutal attempt on her life. In 2009, paramilitary-linked assassins tracked her to her home and stabbed her seven times in the face and chest. Since the attack, Julia has undergone eight facial reconstructive surgeries, and continues to live in hiding; none of her assailants, nor the people responsible for ordering her attack have been brought to justice.
“At that time, I felt protected, too protected, by my family’s position in the town. My grandfather was a local councilman for forty-five years, and had sold his farm to finance the then-mayor’s first campaign in 1995. I thought that the mayor had a lot to be grateful for, and during his first term, he’d actually helped me get my job. So I felt safe because of this, and because I was the president of the union and I felt the support of all my colleagues.
And the other thing is that the government couldn’t catalog me as a member of an illegal group. For a long time the government has said that trade unionists are related to the FARC, that they’re guerrillas or leftists. And I’m not a leftist trade unionist, by God. My family is Conservative. I even voted for President Alvaro Uribe the first time…
… [Describing her attack] Then I had a very strange premonition. I thought, What if I were here and two guys came and grabbed me? Right as I was opening the farm gate, two guys attacked me, one covering my mouth and the other hitting me. I thought that they were going to kidnap me, and I started biting their fingers. Then I freed up my mouth and began screaming, “Help! Help!” I dodged their blows and I kicked and screamed really loud until I fell on the ground. Then I looked up and saw the guys had masks on; they covered their faces until below their noses. As I looked up I felt the last blow against face. That’s when my mom turned on the house lights and ran out screaming, and the attackers took off…In total I’d been stabbed seven times: twice in my left side towards my kidneys; twice in my back, close to my lungs; once close to my spine; once in my breast, and once in the face. I lost the tissue in my breast and it looked crushed, as if I had breast cancer. The stab to my face cut my nose, upper lip, and left cheek. My upper lip had also been left dangling, but I hadn’t realized it when it happened…
…I continue to move around from house to house in Bello. I go to work and then I got straight home. I don’t have a life. I stay in my room by myself and I sleep with a kitchen knife, pepper spray, and a bulletproof vest next to my bed. Outside of work, my life is four walls. Sometimes I think that maybe it would have been better to have died.”
FELIPE AGUILAR, a lifelong farmer who after being driven off three farms by leftist guerillas, lost three children and his ex-wife in a 2010 paramilitary massacre. In his devastating narrative of losing his family in a brutal massacre, he said,
“The coffins arrived in Pasto four days after the massacre. A man from the funeral home opened the trail of coffins, box by box. My family. We were all alive, and now look. Half is gone, I thought. We were eight and there were four in the coffins…
…A prosecutor showed me photos of my wife and children on a computer in the Attorney General’s office. They were left looking ugly. They had all been in the house when two guys with their faces covered arrived shooting. Luisa had tried to run. The police found her face down on the bed with bullets in her back. She was sixteen years old.
Isabela was sleeping in her little bed. You can tell that they put the barrel up to her eye because she was shot in her eye and her face was burned with gunpowder. There was a huge hole where her eye was; her little face was destroyed inside. One cheekbone was up by her brow. I believe that she didn’t wake up, that she stayed there in a dream. She had the best death.
My wife died in the bathroom, on her knees. I don’t know if she was trying to stand up, supporting herself against the wall. Or maybe she was repenting and able to speak with God.
There was another man who had been there watching television. He was wounded but ended up dying a month later.
The boy was intelligent, sharp. Of all of them, Pedro was the only one who was able to flee from the house. He had run far away; he had escaped. But on the corner near the house there’s a lamppost. It was about eight at night and since kids don’t like the dark, he must have said, No, the dark, how scary! If he had run to the right where it was dark they wouldn’t have seen him, but he went to where there was light and they saw him.”
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