Our children’s blood?

Jenny James – who has lived and worked in the Colombian rainforest since 1987 –
brings news of a tragedy in a one-off return to her Letter from Colombia.

My grandson Tristan and my ‘son-in-law’ Javier, both 18, were murdered in Hoya Grande, Icononzo, about half an hour from where we used to live.

Tristan was about to go to Ireland and wanted to say goodbye to his half-brother who lives with a peasant family in Icononzo. Javier, native to the area, went to say goodbye to his parents as he had decided to join our community forever and come south with us.

Anne first noticed something was wrong when the boys didn’t turn up for a theatre engagement a week later. Tristan has always been one of our best actors, a very moving, natural mime artist; a conjurer, comic, dancer and acrobat, unicycle and juggling expert.

Javier - 18

Javier joined us during our forcible removal from Incononzo by the guerillas a year ago by helping Anne get our old bus unstuck from a mud-patch. A beautiful, tall dark-skinned boy, it didn’t require a psychic to predict that he would fall for my rather gorgeous blonde daughters and they for him.

When I first got the news in Puracé that the boys had been kidnapped, I entered an unreal world. My heart and breathing stopped; when I thought of writing to Tris to tell him how much we all loved and cared about him, I knew I would not be writing to anyone; and I began to prepare myself for news of his death.

Anne’s meeting with the leader of the assassins in Icononzo and his absurd and brutish lying left her in no doubt. She was probably very near the boys’ bodies as she watched him wriggle and concoct and contradict himself. And threaten her.

For days, weeks, we cried, agonized, philosophized, went to hell, came back fighting, phoning, always phoning: the Red Cross, the FARC (peasant army) headquarters, the press, the United Nations, talking on TV, on radio, to newspapers, to the public prosecutor, to the leaders of the Communist party. People on the street and on buses recognized us from TV news programmes. A man who sells newspapers on the corner of Anne’s street refused payment when she went to buy a paper with our report in it – and has refused payment ever since. Neighbours and friends rallied round with love and assistance. People we barely knew asked what they could do to help.

I would wake at some unearthly hour to the disbelief and torture of a new day. I gave myself the task of convincing the children and Javier’s parents to give up hope, that hope only prolonged the inevitable agony of knowing that Tris and Javier were gone forever. It was my way of trying to believe it myself. We were powerless to help our boys, but we could help all the other people bound in terror and silence in that region of Tolima; peasants used to being cowed by both sides in the war. Don Pedro, our beloved friend, was murdered by the same gang, so was the local nurse and her husband, killed after Tris and Javier. Gonzalo, the brutish commander who forced us out of the area – so people say, to steal our farm – and his cohort, a peasant neighbour called Anita de Jesus Caro and her two delinquent sons, together with a large band of miliciancos using the FARC name and weapons, were running the region as a private enterprise, murdering anyone who stood in their way. We have every reason to believe she was implicated in instigating the murder of our boys. War always gives a moment of terrible power to embittered souls.

Young Louise and Tristan

Now, about to leave Tabio forever, I am endeavouring to bring on the future, something I thought I could never find the strength to do. I have gone through Tristan’s clothes, found his books in Spanish on marine-engineering, astral navigation and sea-diving. I have noted the immaculate way he kept his things, I have seen his queer spelling (academic subjects did not come easily to him), I have given away his possessions, I have slept under his duvet and called his name aloud in helpless desperation. I have agonized a hundred times over the terror the boys must have felt when they realized they were trapped by murderous lunatics; I have tortured myself over the morality of having the kids here in the first place and I have wept over Katie’s nascent song about him. She can get no further than the line, ‘I will never forgive the years they stole from you.’

When all the sharp and crippling pain of a new and violent death has dulled just a little, the mind’s clouds begin to clear. Tristan wanted to live, to find a girlfriend, to go to Ireland to seek his roots; he cared not one whit for politics, he hated the FARC; and he frequently disagreed with his granny’s choices. He was careful, conservative and materialistic. We were absolutely respectful of his differences and were doing our all to facilitate his return to Ireland. Several people, including Javier’s parents, the adoptive parents of Tris’ half-brother, and our friend Gilberto – the last people to see the boys alive and happy – begged them not to go out that fatal night, begged them to wait at least till light of day. Even Javier said they shouldn’t go. But Tris was a Taurus, strong and stubborn.

The boys walked into sudden, mind-numbing, senseless death. We have all died with them, over and over again. But now we must live.

Soon the youngest kids will go to Ireland; the rest of us are opting to stay in Colombia through the war ahead and to go to where we are most needed. To the area the Americans in their infinite arrogance and stupidity are about to attack – the zone de despeje, where they are using the excuse of their fictitious ‘war on drugs’ to rearm the corrupt Colombian Army backed by ruthless paramilitaries, to seek and destroy the FARC. And of course an indiscriminate number of peasants who happen to be in the way.

Tristans last picture

The irony of our situation will invite disbelief: we have lost two farms and forest reserves and now two cherished young men to maverick FARC commanders. And yet we are thinking of accepting their request to help them with drug-crop substitution and organic and ecological agriculture. The FARC are bending over backwards to see justice done. They know that had we chosen to, we could have handed the British and American governments an immediate excuse to get even more aggressive in their intervention. We have respect for the serious nature of their leaders which is in stark contrast to the brainless gunmen we have had the misfortune to cross at local level. The paradox of the Colombian situation is that for all its hideous mistakes, the FARC is the only force in Colombia we know of that is seriously capable of bringing about a vital radical change.

On television, we were asked time after time: will you all be leaving Colombia now? We answered: ‘No, our children’s blood on this land ties us to this country more than ever before.’

Tris, forgive us. We were not there to save you, to stand in front of your self-appointed executioners and say, ‘You’ll have to kill us first’. We let you go off on your young man’s adventure, and like many a young mountaineer, motorcyclist or soldier, you were cut down before you began to live. And now your outrageous grandmother, and your talented aunts, and your carers and helpers amongst the grownups are going to work with those whom the media would love to label the Devils in this story.

But the truth of this country is subtle, sophisticated, ever surprising, deep and hopeful amidst all the death and destruction. And so we are choosing to walk into the eye of the hurricane to honour you, your sacrifice, and our chosen path. ~ End 1 ~

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