By Catalina Ruiz-Navarro, EL ESPECTADOR, February 3, 2021

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

Hernán Giraldo, the greatest sexual aggressor in all of paramilitarism, has just returned to this country after serving 12 years in prison in the United States for drug trafficking. He has at least one conviction in effect in Colombia, but it’s also possible that he will be released soon, because the time he spent in prison is more than the eight years established as the maximum penalty for those demobilized from the AUC, according to the Justice and Peace Law.

Giraldo had numerous aliases, but his favorite was El Taladro (The Drill), referring to his project of systematically raping girls that were younger than 14 in Magdalena Province, to make them pregnant and so have an army of sons and daughters who could also be paramilitary chieftains. He was the leader of the AUC’s Tayrona Resistance Bloc for at least 20 years. During that time, according to the investigator and human rights defender Nora Vera, he abused some 200 girls, most of them “virgins”, because Giraldo used to say that “going to bed with (the girls) strengthened his masculinity”. He looked for victims that were light-skinned and blonde, voluptuous with wide hips, from very poor families that could not file a complaint or resist his demands, because doing that would be a death sentence.

His objective, in Vera’s words, was to “to have a powerful intergenerational organization that would guarantee his bloodline, and his control over the territory through children of his own blood.” And he achieved that. Giraldo had more than 50 sons and daughters, even though he has admitted only 35 sexual crimes. Those descendants are the leaders of the neo-paramilitary organizations in the region; for example, Amparo Giraldo, his first-born daughter, is the current commander of the “Pachencas”[1]. According to Vera, more than 30 of his sons and daughters are continuing to commit crimes, and they control the extortion, the drug trafficking, the micro-trafficking networks, and other businesses like the “gota a gota”.[2] Even while he was in prison, Giraldo maintained the management of the territory through his heirs and, if he is freed, in Vera’s opinion, “he will have ideological power” to join together all of the illegal groups in that region.

Giraldo’s strategy is nothing new; it’s a legendary practice in war that came to be known as the droit de seigneur[3] or ius primae noctis. It is thought that it comes from a Germanic “custom” called Beilager[4]. It was justified because there were supposed to be “magical properties in the blood of deflowering”, and it was also for the purpose of controlling the territory. That domination is not obtained not because the sons and daughters, through their genes, are going to follow their father inevitably, but rather because it destroys the lives of the women and girls who make up the social fabric of a community, and forces all the inhabitants of a territory to give in to the most violent varieties of the law of patriarchy. This can only be understood when you think of the war from the perspective of gender, and that is why it was so revolutionary that our Peace Agreement recognized that violence in the midst of the armed conflict as a crime against humanity.

At first sight, it looks as if what Giraldo did was a barbaric and anachronistic practice, but it has more sophisticated versions that are more common than they appear. For example, the feminist sociologist Dora Barrancos has said that the environment experienced in the acting business, in which the young women have to pay influential men “a kind of a toll” which consists of putting up with abuse or sexual harassment in order to advance in their careers. That’s just an elegant expression for the right of the first night. “The males have created the idea that female bodies exist for them; they are their patrimony,” says Barrancos.

The return of Hernán Giraldo means dread. And it also urges us to have a conversation about how violence against women, when all is said and done, is a strategy to maintain the vertical and patriarchal power structures, which were born in war but remain in our everyday lives.

[1] A criminal, drug trafficking gang.

[2] Literally “drop by drop”, a loan-sharking business.

[3] The lord’s right to a bride’s first sexual experience.

[4] “Beilager” is a German expression for “nuptials”.

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