The Families of the Massacred Deputies Pass From Weeping to Praying with the FARC

“I feel relieved, because I have turned my sorrow over to them”, said Fabiola Perdomo, the wife of Juan Carlos Narváez


(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

2:30 p.m., September 13, 2016
“First Carolina stood up, and she said to them: “I am Carolina Charry, the daughter of Carlos Alberto Charry, the one that you murdered.” Next, Diego got to his feet and he said: “I’m standing up because that’s the way my brother Alberto Quintero died, with dignity. In spite of the mistreatment and humiliation, he never gave up or bowed down.”

This is the way Fabiola Perdomo described the meeting that the families of the 11 Valle Province Deputies who were kidnapped in April of 2002 had with the leaders of the Farc. The Deputies were in the guerrillas’ power until their deaths were confirmed on June 18, 2007. This is the testimony of what the families experienced last Saturday in Havana, on the day that was exactly nine years since they had received the bodies of the murdered Deputies.

“When Diana, the daughter of Ramiro Echeverry, greeted ‘Joaquín Gómez’, she did not release his hand. She held it the whole time and she cried out, looking him in the eye: “Why did you kill him? Why? Why?’ It was very hard. We were all crying. It was five hours of reliving the pain of all those years, five hours of crying . . .

It was just last Tuesday when we found out that the Farc wanted to meet, in answer to our June letter in which we asked for a meeting to learn the truth and to see if the leaders of the Farc were willing to admit they had done harm, to ask our pardon . . .For us, the process of atonement and healing is very worthwhile.

“They answered that they were anxious to do it; they arranged it with the Government, through the office of the High Commissioner, and in coordination with the Art of Living Foundation, the Government of Norway, and the United Nations.

“The meeting was on September 10, the same day that we received the bodies nine years ago. We worked out the agenda, how we would take part, where we would sit; we did not want to be interspersed with them. They sat on some benches and we sat on some armchairs. We wanted to see their faces, watch their movements, their hands, their gestures, their eyes; We wanted to know if this was really a sincere gesture or if they were trying to get out of it, or just smarting off.

“The Church accompanied us, headed by Monsignor Monsalve (Darío de Jesús), and Fr. Francisco de Roux. Also Alvaro Leyva, who has been very close to us and nine years ago came to us with the 11 bodies. We had breakfast at 7:30 in the morning and then they took us to a house. They told us ‘They’re coming now’ and we started to feel nervous. It was a very tense moment. Imagine: sorrow, nervousness, anger, anxiety. That felt like a bomb. Some of us felt like vomiting; others had stomach pain; we were sweating, we stood still. We didn’t know how we would react. We were very fearful of their reaction.

When they were walking in, we started to cry. Not because we had planned to do that. It was a very powerful emotional release. We greeted them, still weeping. The first one to enter was ‘Iván Márquez’. Carolina did not want to give him her hand. She said no, no, and she began to cry. When ‘Joaquín Gómez followed, Diana, Echeverry’s daughter, gripped his hand and would not let it go. She cried out: ‘Why did you kill him? Why? Why?’ It was very hard. We were all crying . . .

“They sat down. And the priest began asking God and the Holy Spirit to accompany us in this meeting, to give us peace and wisdom to be able to understand this moment.

“We asked ‘Iván Márquez’ to tell us the purpose of the meeting. He said that they desired to come together with us and to give us answers, but most of all to admit the harm they had done and to ask for our forgiveness. After that, the families began. In seating order, Carolina was first . . . she said: ‘I am Carolina Charry, the daughter of Carlos Alberto Charry, the one you murdered.’ That was very powerful. Next was Diego, who said: ‘I am standing up because that’s how my brother died. With dignity . . .; and so each one expressed their feelings.

‘I was third; I started by telling them who Juan Carlos was, who that great man was that they had taken away from me, who had given Daniela to me, who had prepared himself to be a father to Daniela. Then I talked about Daniela, what she means to me, how it hurts me to see my daughter unhappy; to see the sorrow and suffering that she has had to bear, the same as all the rest, because of this ridiculous war.

“Finally, I wanted to focus my statement on a letter that Daniela had sent so that it could be read in this meeting. Her letter is deeply felt. She tells about what it has been like for 2 ½ years, but all in all, the letter is hopeful. She says that despite all the sorrow and suffering and despite not being completely happy, she is sure that it will be for the best to forgive, to be able to go forward, and forgiveness also means helping to build a peaceful country. She does not want other children to experience what she has experienced. It was very moving and it made ‘Pablo Catatumbo’ and ‘Joaquín Gómez’ cry.

“After that, they admitted what they had done and asked for forgiveness. They said they were embarrassed, that they were ashamed. They said that this was the act that had made them reflect on the war, that they were not proud of what they had done; they felt that it was a disgrace. And they spoke with their hearts in their hands. They asked pardon, asking that in truth we could forgive them.

“So the pardon was accepted; we agreed on an event in Cali where they would ask pardon not just from the families of the Deputies, but from all Valle and Cauca society. It will be in October but we will have another meeting first for other families that want to attend because we realize that getting together is the only thing that allows a person real healing. It is healing to look in the face of the person who harmed you and tell him about all the pain that you feel.

“And as for the Attorney General’s detention of Sigifredo López on suspicion of taking part in the kidnapping (of the Deputies), the Farc leaders responded that that was infamous, that he had been a victim, completely innocent, and that his only crime had been that he was still alive.

If at any time it was thought that the deaths were caused by a rescue attempt, or that the military was nearby, they said no, that was not true. The responsibility was entirely and exclusively theirs, because it was friendly fire. A group of guerrillas approached and by mistake, they started firing.

“I feel relieved now, because I was able to convey my sorrow to them and I could see their regret, that is a kind of relief . . .

“When, after five hours of weeping, of pain, of anger, we hoped for some calm when we said good-bye. Monsignor invited us to pray; he took us by the hand, the guerrillas on one side and we on the other side, and on our own initiative, we joined with them. We prayed the Our Father and then another prayer, and that made all of us cry, including them.

“ ‘Pablo Catatumbo’, ‘Joaquín Gómez’ , ‘Iván Márquez’, in that order . . said: ‘Lord, give them eternal rest, and shine your eternal light on them’ . . . I don’t know what that means, that the victimizer asks for forgiveness. At that moment I felt that we were asking Juan Carlos, ‘forgive them, Juan Carlos, for what they did to you . . .’ We didn’t stop crying and I felt that at that moment we were saying farewell to our loved ones: ‘Lord, give them eternal rest and shine your eternal light on them . . .’”

El Tiempo Correspondent

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