LA SECRETA, Colombia – When Colombian militiamen carried one of their countless massacres 18 years ago in this small northern hamlet, they cut short the lives of several people and left three young sisters – the Castillo triplets – parent-less.
“The conflict has left nothing but desolation and orphans,” said Daniela Castillo, a survivor of that Oct. 13, 1998, massacre perpetrated by a group of paramilitary fighters who had taken control of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, a highland region near the Caribbean coast.
Someone had apparently accused her family of collaborating with leftist guerrillas, and that was all the proof the militiamen needed to come to her town of 89 families and kill her parents, one of her brothers and a group of people who were working at the family’s rural property, or finca.
“I’ve forgiven them. The process was very painful, especially to accept and learn the reality ... We’re human, and I hope they won’t repeat the error they made,” Daniela said.
The Castillo triplets had to flee to a town in central Colombia’s coffee region because word had spread that the paramilitaries would come back for the triplets and their four brothers.
After one aborted attempt, the girls eventually returned to their home village for good along with an older brother and gradually learned the truth of that fateful day.
“I found out because I saw a newspaper from that time that told about it,” said another triplet, Dania, who now lives on her family’s finca in La Secreta, a hamlet that is part of the Cienaga municipality, Magdalena state.
“It was very sad and painful, but I’m not anyone to judge the people who did that to our parents,” said Dania, who is now seven months pregnant.
The third triplet, Dalia, who is four months pregnant, also said it was very painful and sad knowing that she and her siblings had grown up without their parents’ love and affection.
“It’s hard to remember and talk about this,” she said crying.
The triplets and their four brothers have submitted one of 6,301 land-restitution requests received by authorities in the Caribbean provinces of Atlantico and Magdalena.
While waiting for a response, they are continuing to plant and grow coffee beans and looking forward to the arrival of two new lives on the same finca where their parents lost theirs.
The AUC federation of right-wing militias killed more than 250,000 people between its founding in 1984 and its ostensible dissolution in 2006, according to an estimate cited in a U.S. State Department cable disseminated by WikiLeaks.
Numerous criminal organizations comprising former members of Colombia’s disbanded rightist militias have formed in recent years.
On Thursday in Bogota, representatives of President Juan Manuel Santos’ administration and the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, guerrilla group will sign a modified, final peace deal, the fruit of a years-long peace process.