SEMANA/Armed Conflict | 10/23/2008 12:00:00 AM
Machuca’s open wounds
Ten years ago the ELN, the National Liberation Army guerrilla group, blew up an oil pipeline that killed 84 people. In Machuca victims are waiting for reparation, and don’t want to be forgotten. In the picture Marcos Ramírez, who lost part of the movement of his body because of the wounds he suffered during the fire.
Although Jose, his wife and the newborn- who from that moment on would be known as the “fire girl”- were able to climb the highest hill and escape the fire, two of their younger sons were burned to death. They lived close to the river Pocuné, the same river which in the early hours of that October day would become a river of flames.
Helpless, the survivors watched the devastated town landscape from a nearby hill. Animals, vegetation and more than 100 houses were burned down. Eighty-four people were dead and another 30 were injured.
Last Saturday marked the tenth anniversary of that massacre and few things have changed since. The route joining Segovia and Machuca is full of eight-meter high cracks and holes 10 or 15 meters deep, and the road can only be used by small rural buses in the dry season, miners and mule drivers.
Once one reaches the town, things do not change much. There are a hundred half-built homes and their inhabitants tell how the isolation and poverty remain - despite what happened a decade ago-. The village lacks a sewer system, home telephones and a health center is only now being built. The only school has been under renovation for months and its great pride is the radio station “Machuca Estereo”, which started nine years ago thanks to the help that arrived to the town after the massacre.
Perhaps the only difference between the Machuca before the massacre and the present one is the stigmatization of its habitants. They are no longer recognized for being experts in building wood-framed houses (bahareque construction), but rather for being a village where everyone has scars on their skin.
Mary Estrada lost her husband, and although she and her son survived, they still have scars on different parts of their bodies. She says that all these years, the most difficult aspect has been the abandonment in which they have lived. “Every year, when another anniversary approaches, they promise us the same things.”
Marcos Ramírez is 85 years old and he lost his four sons and a grandson in the fire. Today he lives alone in a straw hut without water or electricity, and the scars stop him from moving about like before. He says that the only promise that he wants for them to keep is that of providing surgeries for his legs and arms.
La Comisión Nacional de Reparación y Reconciliación (CNRR), the National Reparation and Reconciliation Commission, has decided that starting this week, Machuca will be a pilot case of collective reparation, and community leaders will be able to decide what the ideal reparation for its residents would be.
Last Thursday, during a commemorative ceremony, all the victims anxiously awaited the former commander of the ELN “Francisco Galán”, who was going to attend in an act of contrition. But “Galán” never showed up. For now, Machuca still suffers from open wounds: without reparation and still forgotten.