Los Desplazados: Survive Against the Odds

Uncover true and chilling narratives from Colombians displaced by violence.


| November 2011


For nearly five decades, Colombia has been embroiled in internal armed conflict among guerilla groups, paramilitary militias, and the country’s own armed forces. The oral histories in Throwing Stones at the Moon (Voice of Witness, 2012), compiled and edited by Sibylla Brodzinsky and Max Schoening, describe the most widespread consequences of Colombia’s human rights crisis. Uncover the true narratives of three Colombians displaced by violence in this excerpt taken from the introduction. These brave men and women share stories of sorrow and survival against the odds. 

We sat in gloomy silence as our taxi wound around 8,000-foot-high moun­tains from the southwestern city of Pasto to the airport for our one-hour flight home to Bogotá. The sun seemed too bright, the mountains too lush.

We had just come from the apartment of a local human rights activ­ist, where we met Felipe Aguilar and Mariana Camacho. A quiet, gentle man, Felipe described to us how a group of paramilitaries gunned down his ex-wife and three children a few months before. Leftist rebels had pre­viously driven him off three different farms. “Everything I’ve loved, my God has taken away,” he said, summing up a life of loss.

We then turned to Mariana, who had been waiting to talk to us. A plump, meek-looking woman, she surprised us with the ferocity of her pain and anger. Right-wing paramilitaries killed two of her sons, and disappeared her husband in 2001. A decade later, she learned that he had been cut into three pieces with a chainsaw while still alive, and then buried in a clandestine grave.



Felipe’s and Mariana’s stories had overwhelmed us. Even more over­whelming is the reality that, for the four million Colombians who have been uprooted from their homes, there are similar tales of loss, cruelty and violence, equally matched by determination and defiance. Fleeing from murder, massacres, threats, forced recruitment and countless other abuses, Colombia’s forcibly displaced—los desplazadosmake up one of the largest populations of internal refugees in the world.

Colombia’s armed conflict pits left-wing guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries and government forces against one another; drug mafias battling over smuggling routes add to the general violence. The coun­try’s last remaining Marxist rebel groups, the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), rose up against the state in the mid 1960s. In the 1980s, right-wing paramilitary groups mushroomed throughout the country, representing a loose alli­ance of the Colombian military, cocaine traffickers, and wealthy landown­ers, all set on eliminating guerrillas and suspected supporters.














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