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Colombia: a displaced mother who lost 2 sons: "you never get over it"

11-11-2009 Feature

Millions of people have been displaced over decades of armed conflict in Colombia, and tens of thousands are missing. Cruz del Carmen faces a triple tragedy: her husband was killed, two of her children are missing, and she was displaced from her farm twelve years ago.


  ©ICRC/VII/F. Pagetti/co-e-00487    
  Department of Antioquia, Chigorodó municipality, Pasatiempo village. Carmen lost two sons to the conflict in 1996-97.    
    My name is Cruz del Carmen. I’m from Puerto Lleras in Chocó. I have to raise my ch ildren alone, because my husband was killed along with two of my sons – one was 18 and the other was 22. In 1997, I was displaced with my other six children. I have been through so much.

At the moment, I have settled in Chigorodó. I have a small house here. We have all put something towards it. I had to sell the few pieces of jewellery I had brought with me. I also had to sell some of my saucepans: I sold everything I could to help pay for the shack we are now living in, but we still don’t have a proper floor.

Things are tough for us, the displaced. I don’t feel right in my house, sometimes I can’t sleep, and I feel that people look down on me. I feel as though I have been abandoned, but I carry on. When I was first displaced, I received aid so I could meet my basic needs; now I don't get anything at all, except help to pay for my children’s education. Luckily I was able to find work on a banana plantation, three days a week. I’ll do any type of work, whatever I can find. My current job involves arranging the plastic bags which are used to protect the bananas as they grow on the branches.

In Puerto Lleras I have 80 hectares of land. We had a herd of cattle. It was a beautiful place, and we had meadows. I haven't been back there since. Some farmers from the town are now returning there. One of my brothers went back and visited my farm. He said that it's completely overgrown; of course it would be, as no one has worked on the land for so long. My brother says I should go back too.

I don’t think I can. I would be too afraid to go back without any assurances I would be safe, after they killed my husband and two of my children. Armed groups can appear at any time, because it’s in the mountains. I would like to exchange my 80 hectares for land in a safer place, even if I only got 10 hectares in return.

  ©ICRC/VII/F. Pagetti/co-e-00488    
  Department of Antioquia, Chigorodó municipality, Pasatiempo village. Carmen, who lost two sons to the conflict in 1996-97, works on a banana plantation.    

My eldest son was 22 years old when they took him away, my other son was only three months away from his 18th birthday. It's so sad, it's a very difficult experience, you never get over it.

I never heard anything more about my children. I sold everything I had to try and find them. Without drawing attention to myself, I began looking for them in the places I was told they had been picked up. Some people said they had been killed, people say a lot of things, but I never found any trace of them anywhere. I kept on asking, but nothing ever came of it.

Finally, I stopped making enquiries, because people were telling me not to look for them anymore. They said they were dead, that an armed group had tried to recruit them and they were killed because they didn't want to go.

But I can't quite believe it, because I don't have any proof, I didn't see it happen. I can't say for sure whether they are alive or dead. I can't even say that I know where they are. No one has ever called me to say " I saw your son in such-and-such a place, " nothing. It's a void that can never be filled. It's very painful.