By Jhoan Sebastian Cote, EL ESPECTADOR, May 19, 2022


(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

Twenty-five years ago today, the pair of Cinep investigators and protectors of the environment, Elsa Alvarado and Mario Calderón, were murdered in Bogotá. Mancuso and alias Don Berna pointed to government security forces, a hypothesis for investigation, but with no progress.

The biologist and professor Elvira Alvarado approached the Center for Investigation and Popular Education (CINEP) building with a letter in which she revealed intimate details about her father, Carlos Alvarado, an engineer and environmentalist who was murdered in Bogotá 25 years ago today. He was one of the three victims of criminals passing for agents of the CTI[1] and who, apparently with the complicity of government agents, pursued the CINEP investigators Elsa Alvarado and Mario Calderón and riddled them with bullets.

Elvira Alvarado concluded that the motivations of her sister, Elsa Alvarado, should never be shut down, least of all in the context of a perpetual national war. The victim, a journalist and professor, wore a smile in both sun and shade, and had a particular love for protecting the Páramo of Sumapaz. And, in general, the water sources that originate in this country and enable our lives. Twenty-five years ago, they silenced her. Don Berna, the boss of La Terraza, confessed that he aided government security forces. Mancuso confirmed that last year. Juan Carlos González, one of the hitmen, is serving 40 years in prison for the crime against humanity.

The act of commemoration began with a poem by Eduardo Galeano. An analogy of the way your sister and Mario Calderón lived, a couple of dreamers, who worked for the communities. What did Elsa Alvarado leave for us?

Elsita possessed two facets that are important here. One is that she was a person who, through communication, was dedicated to take up what was popular, to teach it to the people; she came from community radio, she came from community workshops. She didn’t work with just anybody; above all she worked with the people, the mothers that needed help. Elsita was the person who brought them information, empowered them.

And the other facet was the environment. A really strong environmental consciousness, where they purchased some lots and lived to protect the birthplaces of water. And at the same time, they were with the campesinos in the region. When they killed Elsita, the next day she did not attend several workshops she had set up with the mothers in the community. Her life was not an institution, it was a service to the community. For people that needed knowledge.

Today marks 25 years since the crime. When can you feel that the government has provided justice?

What agencies like the Attorney General’s Office, the JEP, and the Truth Commission have done is to force some people to tell the truth. However, the more they collect those people, the more easily they escape their own responsibility. There’s no way to force open the layers, but the ideal would be to insist that the people who know what happened tell the truth about what’s behind this. Hold onto them until they sing.

And the laws and the regulations should be much stronger, so that people would be obliged to tell the truth, just the way those recent soldiers of Catatumbo stood up and said, “We’re guilty of having hunted down and killed innocent kids.” That’s how we should compel the ones who know the truth to tell it. We are expecting the truth. There can be no reparation.

You have suffered from this crime these 25 years and have been present for some others. Now that we are in CINEP, do you think  that “night and fog” (the periodical that documents serious violations of human rights) will continue to fall on Colombians?

This is how we were born. Our homeland was born with killing, revenge, intolerance, disrespect. As long as we are unable to understand, tolerate, and respect a person who thinks differently, we are going to continue between night and fog. Where are we going to see light if the only truth is our own truth? Ever since we’ve known each other, this is where we are. You can read the history of Colombia, and nothing has changed. We go on with the same and I believe it’s a lack of education. We need something more social.

Everyone thinks that both Elsa and Mario were, really, very good people. What would happen if we Colombians were more like them?

We need more like them. We need people that think about others. We have to get rid of “Me first”. Mario went to work as a bricklayer every Sunday, brickwork that built houses. And he didn’t have to do that. Elsita helped and traveled, and everything she did was for others. To the extent that we stop being such selfish people, and learn to live as a community, as others were trying to do, we will improve. We need more people like them and like my father. 

Why do you think that it was so important for Elsa to translate her research into language that anybody could understand?

Mario and Elsita could talk with erudite people and with campesinos. Always in language that really communicated. Elsita, since she was a little girl, even without using words, could get ideas across. With expressions. She had the gift of word

For years we have seen how criminals like Alias Don Berna and Mancuso have talked about the crime, in hearings that are hard to access. What has it been like to face those truths that seem to be hidden?

I know about Don Berna, who incriminated an awful lot of people until he was sent away. I haven’t listened to Mancuso and actually, he ought to be kept hidden away. It’s important to keep talking about Elsa and Mario because at the time, they were the first couple of environmentalists working in a human rights agency who were massacred. They were important to the family, but they weren’t personalities like Jaime Garzón. They weren’t public figures. And so they murdered them to silence others, to frighten them.

They were seized as sacrificial lambs to provide a resounding blow and silence all of the agencies that worked on human rights. They were sacrificed and their figures are the record of how the killing started and how it continues, senselessly, for the defense of others, the trees, the water. I think it’s a warning bell that ought to be resounding in the entire world. We have to defend the mountains. We have to defend the campesinos. And this is what they were. Remembering them is to remember the kind of human beings that we ought to be.

[1] CTI is Colombia’s Technical Investigation Corps, attached to the Attorney General’s Office.

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