By Jineth Bedoya Lima, EL TIEMPO, April 8, 2020
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
“A woman is destroyed, not by losing her virginity, but by losing her soul,” she said.
The Supreme Court approved the extradition of Daíro Antonio Úsuga David to the United States, and President Iván Duque signed off on his delivery to them. That makes the departure of the drug trafficker imminent. His lengthy criminal record leaves behind thousands of victims of every type of crime, including very serious cases of sexual exploitation. This is one of the stories of that anguish.
The bus that Lucía boarded that morning on April 7, 2012 didn’t have any brakes. Six hours passed before they picked her up, along with 12 other young girls in downtown Medellín. Then the engine started misfiring and they crashed into a rock in the road leading from Tarazá to El Bagre (Antioquia Department).
“It would have been better to have died that day. Really died. Not breathing at all anymore, to save me from that whole nightmare.” Lady Marcela is the name she received at her baptism in the Church of San Antonio de Padua on December 6, 1997, when she was barely four months old. Sadness is attached to her every word. “I’m a Virgo and the astrologers say we are characterized by having a healthy life . . . the astrologers are liars,” she adds, while she takes just one sip of her drink of cognac.
At this moment, she is only 20 years old, but her aspect is that of a woman of 35 or so. Her stay in Spain was illegal, like the drink she was having, because her status of “in transit” while she was being deported to Colombia, or being sent to Mexico, the country she applied to through an organization that defends the rights of trafficking victims, to give them asylum or refugee status, doesn’t allow them to take liquor and other such things.
Asylum or refuge, a controlling decision for her short life, but the concept doesn’t matter to her, if it doesn’t come down to one thing: to get as far away as possible from her pimps, and never again have to hear the words “Los Urabeños”.
This was a sunny afternoon, but chilly, in December of 2017, in the city of Barcelona (Spain), and Lucia Rodríguez, the false identity given her by the boss of the trafficking network (human trafficking) has to go back to that April of 2012 to put together the puzzle of sexual violence, unrestrained and brutal, that she lived with the last five years of her life. She is there because she was rescued, in an operation by Interpol that was coordinated from Colombia, thanks to several informants that furnished the coordinates to the Police Intelligence team in Bogotá.
They found her in a house in the Andalusian city of Marbella, drugged, beaten, and with her clothes torn. In the same room, which had double locks outside, there was a Dominican girl only 16 years old, two Cuban girls, and another girl who had arrived from Colombia eight months before Lucía. The pimps force them to inhale “Popper” (a psychoactive drug), but also “perico”, (reduced cocaine). They drugged them so as to be able to control them, and also to increase their “sexual productivity”. Sometimes six clients the same night, depending on their requirements. Their physical and emotional condition were the least of it; that’s what the drugs were for.
“I didn’t feel the same as when I inhaled “boxer” (glue) in Medellín. I had to do that to endure the hunger and the cold in the early morning. There, in the street, we arrived with my older sister in 2010 after they murdered my father in the Commune. My mother had to go out to work as a cook in a restaurant in Poblado. And we had to sell any kind of snacks or sweets. But one day they took my sister away in an SUV and I was left alone, just with my girlfriends. I never saw her again.
For months, Lucía was guarded by the other girls so that the pimps couldn’t touch her, but it was impossible to escape that fate and one day they sold her to some foreigners for a weekend. “They were gringos. Sure they paid Leonardo and El Negro very well; they were in charge of taking care of prostitution issues in the collection office downtown. At that time it was managed by the Envigado Office. I’m talking about 2009.” She was a little girl 12 years old. Her pay: a little something that included a bottle of aguardiente from Antioquia and a new dress.
That was nothing to feel good about. The weekend was a mixture of horror and sadness and later, desolation. “They hang a cross around your neck. You have to wear it all the time and now you can’t get out of there,” she added, and took another sip.
At that age, 12 years old, she started fighting not to be dragged into the drugs, not to lose herself indefinitely in the indifference of the streets, and to be able to help her mother and her two younger brothers. When she talks of them is the only moment in which her eyes fill with tears, because in the rest of the story her look is abstracted, and seems to hold back the emotions furrowing her face.
“I fought hard to protect myself from the street that has taken everything away from me. I learned to defend myself with a razor, to talk back roughly when I didn’t want something. To divide my bread or my doughnut or any food I could get; I tried not to stop reading—Lucía sighs—until the death of my father, my brothers and sisters and I went to school, and I always knew that I wanted to study. But at that time, the circumstances were different. What is a basic right turned into an unreachable dream for me. . .”
This woman, who has a mix of Colombian accent and beat-up Spanish, reaches into her purse for a paperback book. “La Razón de Estar Contigo”, by W. Bruce Cameron. She puts it on the table, and puts her hand on it as if were a Bible, and continues her story.
“There were groups in the City offices that some weekends took us to group homes. They bathed us, picked out the lice, gave us something to eat and something to read. Once a nun gave me a book: it was a novel, “La María” by Jorge Isaacs, but when we had to go back to the street, El Negro took it away from me, tore it up, and slapped my face. He told me that that was for “decent girls”, and that whores don’t have any right to touch those. I think that was the second time I felt like I was dying.” Lucía’s face changes again, as if she were covered by a dark fog. Then she stirred, went back to her purse (a Chanel knock-off) took out a rubber band and tied up her hair. She had long hair dyed the color of burgundy. Later she confessed that the first thing she did, after her rescue by Interpol, was to get rid of the platinum blonde that her exploiters liked so much.
“The days, the months, the years were passing in those same circumstances until 2012. Negro had been replaced by Martín. Everybody called him ‘Tintín’. The place where we were working was under the total control of the people from the ‘Urabeños’; we knew there were some powerful men, who, at the end of the day collected everything that we had received: the payment of the ‘vacuna’ (extortion) for being in Berrío Park, or for using a room. There was always someone watching us, later they took the money and at the end of every week we got something. The only thing they gave us in the mornings was a pintadito (coffee with milk). The rest we had to grab it when nobody was looking. Until that April 6 of 2012.”
Lucía recalls that ‘Tintín’ arrived on a motorcycle with another man, took several of the girls to a cafeteria near the park, and he told them that they should be happy because they had won the lottery. “Some well-off men, from Caucasia, are looking for girls with your characteristics, but since you’re not virgins, we have to suck it up, and we’ll give you some lessons so you can be a Top.”
That was the announcement of the “happiness trip”. ‘Tintín’, whom the Police investigators identified as John Freddy Ramírez, was another of the pimps in the Daíro Antonio Úsuga, “Otoniel”, organization.
“The got us up at 3:00 in the morning of April 7. We had to bring three changes of clothes and nothing else. I got on the bus with excitement; I thought it would be good pay, and when we got back and they gave me permission to visit my mother, I would tell her to pack up everything, grab my brothers and we would get out of Medellín. But the ‘lottery’ was really the road to the most cruel hell that a human being could suffer.” Another sip of cognac. Another time that a wrinkled brow contained her misery.
“After the accident, two SUV’s picked us up and took us to a farm in Caucasia. We were kind of worn out, scratched up, black and blue . . . A woman let us in, gave us some good food, and told us how to look as innocent as possible but still compliant. She was wearing a really nice outfit, another women fixed our hair and our nails and, when we were ready, we started out on another trip, this time to Chocó. It was in Acandí, in the most luxurious house I had ever seen, with a view of the sea, and a lot of armed men. That night there was a big party and I met the “big boss” . . . (Otoniel).”
Lucía’s story makes your skin crawl. She decided to tell her story in order to exorcise all of demons that appeared in her life that night and the following nights, and the previous nights. Sitting in a bar in Spain, with a journalist who had shown her her own wounds some hours before, was a catharsis, but two hours wasn’t enough to set free that much pain.
“They told us that getting back to Medellín would depend on how well we behaved with the big boss. Zero questions, only silence and obedience, meeting his needs, and complying with his cravings and those of the other bosses (his men), for two weeks . . . you know? That breeze here from the Mediterranean takes me back to that farm. Everything in my daily life, takes me back to those days in one way or another. I imagine that will die with a person—decided Lucía. When they left there, uniformed man, armed, in their launches, I thought that it was the worst thing I would experience in my life. I was mistaken.”
The men in charge of the network left the girls at the farm for a few days, staying in the servants’ quarters while they got ready to leave Colombia. “They even let us take the sun and get a tan. I thought that was like a vacation, but another man came, Javier Linares (‘El Papi’). He interviewed us, one by one, the eleven girls that were there; I was one of those in the middle, I was 15. There were two that were 14 and the others were 17; he said that there was a great opportunity, that the big boss was happy and he was going to give us a present but, to get that, we would have to do some paperwork and he would coordinate all of that from there for the sake of security.”
‘El Papi’ warned us that for a while, supposedly, we couldn’t communicate with our families, but that would be the least of what we should be thinking of, because we were going to see other places, outside of Colombia.
“I was excited, like when the nun gave me the book by Jorge Isaacs. It was incredible! Me, getting into an airplane, eating airplane food like in the movies, pulling a suitcase that has wheels . . . the next week they took our pictures. They set up a studio in one of the rooms in the house, brought outfits, put make-up on us, and took our pictures for an album, then the passport photos, and they gave us the documents with permission to leave the country. They signed the names of our fathers (false names) and then I saw my new name: Lucía Rodríguez Gómez. Laydi Marcela died giving birth to this moment.”
After training us in what we had to say and how we should say it at immigration, they took us to Medellín, then to Bogotá, and from there we flew to Spain. “That was the beginning of this new story. At first we were in Madrid for a week, also locked up securely so that we wouldn’t try to escape. We went out three times, ‘El Papi’ showed us the city, bought us some clothes and make-up, and then we traveled to Marbella. But by that point I now was nobody, I had no identity; I didn’t even know where I was, or how to get around. The drugs kept me stupid all the time. And what was going to happen in the house in Marbella? Imagine the worst nightmare you have ever had in your life and multiply that by a thousand. I don’t even know what I was called or what I wanted to be called.”
Four years have passed since that conversation in the Port of Barcelona. Lucía, now MP, which is her new name and she requests confidentiality for obvious reasons, has been key to understanding the monumental organization of a human trafficking network like “Los Urabeños”, or “Los Úsuga”, or the “Clan del Golfo”. They have shifted it into one of their greatest crimes, from the foundation of the criminal gang, the residue of the former paramilitaries from Urabá.
She is in a place somewhere, trying to remake her life. In the midst of so much dregs and dross, she is a fortunate survivor. She studies and reads. She reads a lot; her pain is a little lighter now but it’s still there. Using the telephone, she notices that her laugh has changed. It’s spontaneous. However, the name of Daíro Antonio Úsuga strips it all away, and that’s why she authorized the publication of her testimony.
“I decided to forgive myself, not him. When I saw him on the news, captured, I thought that’s what he deserves. Not death, because that would be rewarding him. I won’t let him back into my life, but when a woman is destroyed, not as they say, destroyed for not being a virgin, if her soul is not destroyed, her body is not destroyed, there’s no way to go forward without feeling that the past is tugging at their shoulders and their ankles pulling them back. You have to drag that weight.”
Lady Marcela, Lucía, or MP. It’s the same woman and the same tragedy. Her name doesn’t matter, but her story does matter, because it’s the same story for hundreds more that remain kidnapped, or hundreds more of those who will be able to read this story.