Sunday, 24 May 2009

Colombia: Making People Disappear

This week, Cambio has been tracking down one of the furnaces used to cremate Colombian victims of the paramilitaries.

There is one association and one association only with images like this, and you know it before I say it: the Holocaust. People whose lives somehow, in the view of the state at the time, don't matter any more, are pushed out of sight and then murdered, incinerated, and swept away.

Sure, we are not talking Auschwitz statistics: the estimation is that this furnace, built in an old sugarcane mill, was used to dispose of around 200 people. But you know, 200 is really a lot if you actually stop and think that each one was a living, breathing individual with a family. And this isn't the only furnace in Colombia; the article hints at others.

As is usually the case, local people knew what was going on. There is sometimes the misconception that state-sponsored acts of terror take place in utter secrecy. They don't, and they aren't supposed to. Establishing a state of generalised fear requires that people know that there is something to fear, and that they have some idea what it is. Their terror then turns them inward, away from society - people stop speaking and socialising freely and simply keep their heads down and concentrate on surviving. In this case, there were witnesses when the paramilitaries arrived and built the furnaces, but they haven't spoken about it openly until now.

This is a long article with some distressing details in the various testimonies, but worth reading for the Spanish speakers.

Cambio conocio los hornos crematorios que construyeron los paramilitares en Norte de Santander

Donde hay cenizas

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