By Ricardo Silva Romero, EL TIEMPO, February 24, 2023

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

That Leyner Palacios fears for his life is terrible and unacceptable, but it’s normal in this place.

Colombia’s context is war. Of course, we have been able to think about this horror in the abstract, and even to explain it to ourselves, so as to come to know the glory of those everyday lives. But those disgraceful conflicts, with their hellish statistics, with 16 massacres, 26 kidnappings, and 17 social leaders murdered so far this year, are the collection of the circumstances that surround us.

Our routines from Monday to Sunday, no matter how tiresome or sensible, no matter how complex or untroubled they turn out to be, pass right through blame, and in spite of the war—and its culture of extermination—and if all the things going on in this country sometimes seem absurd to us, from its dystopian inequality to its corruption as if there were no tomorrow, it’s because we tend to take it out of that context. The fact that Leyner Palacios fears for his life is terrible and unacceptable, but it’s normal in this place.

Out of what kind of country does a social leader, well-known in  the attentive world of peace, have to leave immediately, instantly, for the day-to-day defense of his life?  The admirable Leyner Palacios is the barefoot son of a Police Officer in Pogue, a tenacious student who gave himself the name he has because the paramilitaries regularly murder people who have that name, the survivor who has lost twenty-eight relatives in the explosion and the danger and the cross-fire of the massacre in Bojayá, the kinsman who two decades later keeps on identifying the unearthed bones in the common graves, the definitive voice of the Truth Commission who insists and keeps insisting on denouncing the abandonment of the human rights defenders by those co-governments of the legal and illegal troops. But there’s no use for the survivor, or for the worn out, or for the well-known in a country at war.

Palacios received a chilling death threat, one more, just last Sunday. He had gone back to Quibdó, the land that’s ruled by the criminal gangs, to present the Truth Commission’s Final Report, but a few hours later, he had a message in his hands from who knows what gang, ordering him to get out and not come back. He had to leave. He wrote his call for help on Twitter. “I’m really scared, and I’m going to hide so they don’t kill me.” He went to Bogotá to say, in the UN office, that Colombia is still a racist world that abandons its ethnic peoples, that the country had not taken the Final Report to heart, that he’s afraid all the time of what could happen to so many leaders who aren’t able to speak up, that he’s not the problem; it’s the country: “if they would protect the communities, I wouldn’t have to leave,” he said.

After the holidays, I read the volume of the Report that documents hundreds of thousands of exiles. “The Colombia outside of Colombia”. It’s there inside the macabre propagandas, the pamphlets sent to those who are leading the social transformations, the persecutions by those who recruit children, the tortures, the suits worn just for the funerals of friends, the little virgins left to their fate, the treacherous paths to banishment, the limbos where they arrive, the insolence, the afternoon when you just can’t cry because you don’t know when the mourning began, the unceasing machismo, the nights when you think “I’m going back now”, the personal objects, full of stories that you had to leave behind forever. Is it strange that former Commissioner Palacios has been living the road to Calvary that he’s been on for months? No. In a country at war, no.

We would have to start with the end of that road. Escaping from this country should have to be, certainly now, unnecessary and abnormal. No defender of the minimum should have to live in fear.

But the Peace Agreement has to be implemented. The recommendations in the Commission’s Report have to be followed to the letter, as the President has promised. The necessary “total peace” has to be serious and unbreakable.

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