This essay is part of a series of articles from the Americas Program on the on-going human rights crisis in Colombia and its relevance in the debate over the Free Trade Agreement with the United States currently before Congress.
The author is Diana Gomez, the daughter of Jaime Enrique Gomez Velasquez, a union leader and member of the political opposition who was disappeared and murdered in 2006. She is a member of the organization Sons and Daughters for Memory and Against Impunity (Hijos e Hijas por la Memoria y Contra la Impunidad). As has happened with many other families, Diana has never stopped seeking justice in the case of her father, in spite of having received threats on various occasions. Her personal testimony below shows the human cost of the routine use of assassination as a means to stifle opposition in Colombia and the lack of justice in political cases. These words of a grieving daughter, which can be multiplied by thousands, reveal that the human rights situation in Colombia is far from acceptable. The Americas Program thanks Diana for her courage in offering this testimony and her perseverance in seeking justice.
My father, Jaime Gomez, disappeared on Mar. 21, 2006. He was kidnapped during his morning walk through the hills surrounding Bogotá. Today marks five years since I received his remains, after a long month of searching for him, desperately hoping he was still alive while. Since that time my life, and that of the rest of my family and my close friends, has been radically transformed.
The story I’d heard so often from other women in Colombia came to be my own reality, right in front of my eyes. I had to face my grief at losing him, the fear instilled by forced disappearance, the anger caused by the impunity and injustice that occur permanently in our country, and uncertainty about my own security.
My brother and I lost a father, a friend and a teacher. My grandmother lost her oldest son — a grief from which she has not been able to recover. His wife lost her life’s companion, while the rest of the family, his friends and the country not only lost a good human being, but an intellectual and a person committed to a different kind of Colombia.
In March 2006 my father served as advisor to Senator Piedad Córdoba. He was also a historian, a political scientist, a grassroots leader and a politician. He was a trade unionist in the Telephone Company of Bogotá since the 1970s, for around twenty years, during which time he served several terms as union president. He helped create the United Workers Central (Central Unitaria de Trabajadores-CUT). He also served as a City Councilman of Bogotá in the 1990s, and taught in various universities in the capital.
At the time of his disappearance, other events occurred in different parts of the country that reveal a series of acts of intimidation against Citizen Power (Poder Ciudadano), the political group led by Piedad Córdoba within the Liberal Party.
After his disappearance, the family used every possible legal mechanism established by the government in cases of forced disappearance and sought to meet with government officials to demand that they return him alive. We met with the High Commissioner for Peace, Luis Carlos Restrepo, who suggested that the disappearance of my father could have been executed by ultra-right anti-chavistas, the remnants of paramilitary groups reorganizing in the Capital Bloc, and/or intelligence agents of the Army and/or the police. Various pieces of information collected by the family during the period of my father’s disappearance corroborated these hypotheses.
For example, my father visited Suacha, a city on the outskirts of Bogotá, campaigning for the election of candidate Piedad Córdoba to the Senate. Days after his visit, paramilitaries circulated information saying that they didn’t want to see anyone from the Senator’s team campaigning in that zone. During the period when my father was missing, Senator Córdoba received an anonymous call hinting that my father was being held in a military compound. The intimidating relationship that various government offices established with the family and irregularities that occurred have led us to believe that some of those government officials are involved in the violation of my father’s human rights. The first prosecutor of the investigation, who determined that they were effectively dealing with a homicide, was making progress in addressing the hypotheses related to the action of paramilitaries and ultra-right groups.
During the entire process of the search, the government’s ineffectiveness became clear–including the negligence of government and institutions, as well as certain irregularities that revealed the lack of guarantees or respect for the human rights of my father, of us as family members, and of party members of Poder Ciudadano. Interrogations carried out by authorities like the Criminal Investigation Section (SIJIN) of the National Police and the Army’s GAULA groups (Groups of United Action for Personal Freedom) were directed more to putting pressure on the family than to gathering information for the purpose of finding my father alive. The tone of these “interviews” was characterized by its accusatory nature and the tendency to blame him for his disappearance or to push the hypothesis that he feigned his forced disappeared. This type of attitude, and others that we’ve encountered in the ordeal since my father’s disappearance, we perceive as violence or psychological intimidation against us.
In meetings with government institutions it was common not to consider the disappearance of my father to be a forced disappearance. For us as his family, it has been exceedingly strange that his profile as social leader, the work he did with Piedad Córdoba, the other things that happened around the country the same day as his disappearance and the evidence that was being gathered were not taken into account.
The institutions of the state, in spite of being obligated in cases of forced disappearance to work in a coordinated fashion, did not and there was no sense of urgency in the collection of data, witness testimony or the search for my father. This negligent attitude was common not only when he disappeared, but also during the recovery of his body and during the subsequent five years that investigation has been open.
My father’s remains were found April 23, 2006–a month and two days after his disappearance, in an area that had already been searched by specialized groups and in a place where my father never used to go. Because of this, we the family believe that the body was transported from the place in which he had been assassinated to that part of the National Park to continue to cover up the forced disappearance. Again, as is a common occurrence for us, there were grave anomalies in how the body was recovered, how it was transported to Legal Medicine and in the information put out by the media. Of great concern were the assertions made by the Director of Legal Medicine, Máximo Duque, who insisted to the press that what happened to my father was due to an accident. While he spread this story, forensic experts contacted by the Colombian Commission of Jurists, who represented the family, concluded that it was a murder caused by a blunt instrument.
Days after we buried him, then-President Uribe defended the Free Trade Agreement in the United States, telling Democratic Senators that he could prove that what happened to my father was an accident. From that point forward, the anomalies in Legal Medicine increased to the point that the submission of crucial exams for the investigation that corroborated homicide, torture, the movement of the body from one place to another, and the time of death, were delayed too long without any justification.
Other violent events that occurred in the country at the same time received more expedited treatment than my father’s case. At that same time, the sister of ex-president Gaviria was assassinated. The prosecutor established the motives and those responsible within a short period of time. They managed to do this by offering a reward that exceeded by an exorbitant amount what was offered for information having to do with my father’s disappearance. While we waited for more than two years for the entomological and botanical exams to establish the time and place of my father’s murders, after the deputies kidnapped by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) were found dead, those same exams were completed in the record time of less than two days.
I could continue recounting a series of anomalies that add up to a framework of impunity that was consolidated with the passage of time. In spite of the fact that in October 2007 the Prosecutor publically admitted that my father was murdered, by March of 2011, the sixth prosecutor assigned to the case announced that the investigation should begin again from zero. The political causes of the assassination continue to be ignored, including the fact that my father appears on the lists of the Administrative Department of Security (DAS) of people from the political opposition who should be targeted as subjects of illegal monitoring.
It is alarming that five years later, the system of justice in Colombia and the way in which impunity functions question not only the fact that my father was the object of forced disappearance, but also that he and his family have been victims of the violence in Colombia. We view with alarm how forced disappearances are silenced, so that the remains of the disappeared appear but the crime is never recognized, and with that lack of recognition, the legal and symbolic recognition of the deed disappears. In this way, it’s easier to argue that in Colombia the human rights situation has improved by denying the existence of grave violations to human integrity and the right to protest.
This is even more obvious when, as his daughter, I have been the object of systematic intimidation, tracking and harassment, which have caused me to abandon the country after written threats from the Black Eagles [a rightwing paramilitary organization] in March 2008. Each time I visit my country I receive intimidating calls in my mother’s house, or I am made aware that various government institutions are following me. Astonishingly, when I return the calls that I’ve received at my house, institutions like the Prosecutor, the Gaula and the police answer. In my case, as a self-respecting daughter who has lost her father by violence, all I seek is to maintain the right to the truth and to justice for crimes that should not occur in countries calling themselves democracies.
Diana Gomez is Colombian, daughter of Jaime Enrique Gómez Velásquez, and is a member of the organization Sons and Daughters for Memory and Against Impunity (Hijos e Hijas por la Memoria y Contra la Impunidad).