Colom­bia searches for bod­ies of ‘dis­ap­peared’ youths

Be­gins dig­ging up ur­ban land­fill look­ing for mass grave

Cape Breton Post - - WORLD - MEDELLIN, COLOM­BIA

The last con­tact Mar­garita Restrepo had with her daugh­ter was a hur­ried phone call on Oct. 25, 2002. The school day was over and 17-year-old Carol Vanesa was go­ing to meet friends at a metro stop near the sprawl­ing Co­muna 13 hill­side slum.

Restrepo and her chil­dren had fled the vi­o­lent Medellin neigh­bour­hood a few days ear­lier, right be­fore it was taken over by thou­sands of Colom­bian sol­diers try­ing to fer­ret out left­ist rebels. She begged the girl not to risk re­turn­ing there, but the teen went any­way. Nei­ther she nor her two friends have been seen again and, to this day, no­body knows who is re­spon­si­ble for their dis­ap­pear­ance.

Thir­teen years later, Restrepo and dozens of oth­ers who have miss­ing loved ones are closer than ever to clo­sure thanks to a pro­ject to re­move 31,000 cu­bic yards (24,000 cu­bic me­ters) of rub­ble from La Es­com­br­era, a de­bris land­fill on Medellin’s out­skirts where the re­mains of as many as 300 peo­ple are be­lieved to have been dumped dur­ing one of the dark­est chap­ters of Colom­bia’s long-run­ning civil con­flict.

At a cer­e­mony Mon­day to re- mem­ber the miss­ing and kick off the search ef­fort, of­fi­cials joined more than 100 women who dressed in white and car­ried black, plas­tic sil­hou­ettes to rep­re­sent their loved ones. Af­ter years of si­lence on the part of the gov­ern­ment and much of so­ci­ety, sup­port­ers of the fam­i­lies wel­comed the start of the work.

“This is the site of one of the most atro­cious episodes that weigh down our history and is a stain on our na­tional iden­tity be­fore the en­tire world,” Javier Gi­raldo, a Ro­man Catholic priest and hu­man rights ac­tivist, said fol­low­ing a Mass to hon­our the vic­tims.

Hu­man rights ac­tivists say La Es­com­br­era could prove to be the largest mass grave ever found in Colom­bia and the dig rep­re­sents a glim­mer of hope that jus­tice will be re­al­ized. But the search will be com­pli­cated. De­spite more than a decade-long clam­our by vic­tims’ fam­i­lies that the land­fill be closed and ex­ca­vated, gi­ant trucks have con­tin­ued to dump con­struc­tion waste daily.

“If that light doesn’t shine for me, I hope it does for one of my com­pan­ions,” Restrepo said.

AP PHOTO

Rel­a­tives and fam­i­lies of miss­ing peo­ple ar­rive a cer­e­mony to re­mem­ber the miss­ing and kick off a search ef­fort in La Es­com­br­era, on the out­skirts of Medellin, Colom­bia, Mon­day. La Es­com­br­era is a land­fill where the re­mains of as many as 300 peo­ple are be­lieved to have been dumped.

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