Story of Stubborness

Chapter 1. Born in Chaos

Until recently, when I dug deeper into the history of my country, I thought I had been born during a period of peace. In reality, I was born in 1953, right in the midst of the tumultuous era historically known as 'La Violencia'.

It started with the assassination of a popular leader, Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, on 9th April 1948, after decades of undertow war between Conservatives and Liberals - the two main political parties in Colombia. The subsequent revolt, known as 'El Bogotazo', was but the beginning of an era of assassinations, riots, torture and partisan persecution.

The violence in Bogota was vicious, but, under the conservative government of Laureano Gomez, it became a blood bath in the countryside where poor peasants and land owners became warring factions in what developed into a civil war.

The levels of imagination and creativity exhibited to devise ever more complex and horrendous means of torture, still shock whoever dares to look at the many books and documents with very explicit images and descriptions that are testament to a shameful period of our history. I happened to play the female lead in the film El Hombre de Acero (Focine 1984) about one of those tortuous killings. But that is another story.

Of course, I haven't got any real memories of El Bogotazo or of the subsequent period of violence, but there is a jumble of quite vivid images in my mind, a mixture of stories, horrendous, graphic real life photos and, probably my vivid imagination.

On the 13th June 1953 General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla, headed a Coup d'etat intended to put end to the horrors, I was but four months old. Sadly, the General, after promising Peace, Justice and Freedom, as it tends to happen in the history of the world, he soon became a dictator, banning and persecuting communists and liberals,, ending with the closing down of the two main liberal newspapers.

My family was liberal. My parents and eldest siblings, who experienced first hand the effects of the violence, used to tell us stories of riots, assaults on people and property, armed persecution of whoever dared to oppose the regime, and how my parents shared their food with their less previsive neighbours. My mother had always kept a stash of long life groceries in the larder, ready for emergencies, habit that she kept until the day she died. We used to mock her about it, but I have inherited it in some measure and in recent months, it has proved its usefulness.

Throughout those years, curfew was the order, not of the day but of the night. Shootings were common and my father nearly lost the top of his bold head, sticking it out the door at the wrong time. He was also forced to spend a rainy, cold night, standing on a brick in the middle of the Plaza de Toros under the watchful eyes and guns of a group of armed police, alongside a handful of unlucky or careless folk who hadn’t made it home in time.

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