Colombia searches for bodies of ‘disappeared’ youths
Begins digging up urban landfill looking for mass grave
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.
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.