From the Deep Down of Colombia to the Senate’s Podium

(Translated by Martha Zárate, a CSN Volunteer Translator, Edited by David Van Den Brandt)
Source: Las2Orillas

by Iván Gallo

Alberto Castilla, a peasant born in the town of Convención, North of Santander, knows how to rally and strike. He will now learn about laws under the leadership of Jorge Robledo.
Last Sunday evening, while the majority of the candidates for the Senate and the House were impatiently waiting for the election results in their caucuses and were heavily protected by their bodyguards, José Alberto Castilla was accompanied by five people into one of his friend’s home in Ocaña, North of Santander, where he spent the weekend.
To pass the time while awaiting the news on the radio, they chose to watch a movie. Dressed in sport-pants and sandals, Castilla was calm and relaxed, harboring the satisfaction of having done his duty.

Lacking in funds, he had run a quick campaign, relying solely on his capacity to express his ideas. Promising neither highways nor soccer fields, he had simply told the peasants with whom he had shared sweat, marches, efforts and struggles that true peace would not come with the surrender of arms, but with social justice. “We are the ones who have suffered in our flesh in this conflict, so we are the ones who have the authority to talk about it. It is our problem and we demand solutions.”

At eight o’clock at night, the radio confirmed the news: with a little over 21,000 votes, Alberto Castilla was elected senator to represent the Left Democratic Party “El Polo”. He has come a long way since the days when he helped his mother, Doña Fidelia Salazar, with the small farm they had in Convención. With a lot of effort his family sent him to the university where he graduated as a technician in civil engineering. Amidst the daily confrontation of injustice, outrage and violence, it was not hard for his social awareness to flourish. Shy and introverted, he never considered politics; in fact crowds made him uneasy.

Castilla is supported by the two leaders of the Polo, Jorge Robledo and Iván Cepeda.
“The spirit of politics” was awakened in him by the Conservative Party member Adonias Quintero, here from Convención, remembers Jorge Jaramillo. Under Quintero he started working in different public positions. He was coordinator of the Department of Culture to which he was drawn by his taste for literature and music. His friends claim that Alberto is a great conversationalist and that he loves to read. His favorite authors are Mario Vargas Llosa and Fernando Vallejo. Each year he is on the alert as to who wins the Nobel Prize in Literature, to buy that author’s books. But, perhaps his greatest frustration is not having become a musician. He loves songs by Silvio Rodríguez, Víctor Heredia, Horacio Guaraní and Alí Primera. If anyone has a doubt about a song, he clears it up because he has a good memory and has learned all the names. Such is his love of music that in the municipality of El Tarra, (in the Catatumbo region) he helped a musical group of the popular ‘carranguera,’ a musical genre that he loves. The group’s name is “Folklor Tarrense.”

Castilla worked as the Government’s Secretary, and in 1995, at the age of 24, he became a member of the City Council, a surprise to all of us. His clarity of language is his strong asset. “He made people participate in decision making. He is always in favor of the peasants and in defense of natural resources. These are the concerns that always accompany him in the social and popular struggles,” recalls Raúl Marmolejo, the leader of the party “Poder de Unidad Popular” from the city of Cúcuta. Marmolejo led his campaign for Senator there.

As for any citizen in North of Santander at the end of the 1990’s, violence could not be absent from Castilla’s life. He was one of the thousand peasants who were forced to abandon their homes and seek refuge in the cities to flee from the paramilitary groups that erupted in blood and fire in 1998. In Bogotá, he started his second life.

There, Castilla devoted all his strength to the creation of the Committee for Social Integration of the Catatumbo Region and in the creation of the “Congress of the Peoples.” He has been, of course, at the head of the Agrarian Strike, an experience that, according to him, would help the peasants take to the roads, join forces, rally together and think over the problem. The strike experience became the theme of his campaign among the peasants in the Departments of Nariño, Cauca, Arauca, Antioquia, South Bolívar, César, the Catatumbo Region and the city of Bogotá.

From the paths, ravines, wetlands, and dusty Colombian roads, Alberto Castilla will be at the podium, with the microphone and the strict rules of Congress. There, he will be inspired by the Left Democratic Party of “El Polo” with Jorge Robledo and Iván Cepeda, from whom he has a lot to learn.

(This translation may be reprinted as long as its content remains unaltered and the source, author and translator are cited.)

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