It feels somewhat a privelage to be able to come here and be able to spend time among ther people who work here. As I mentioned before El Salado was subject to an horrific massacre 10 years ago. Paramilitaries came into the town and killed 64 people over 3 days, but it is the manner in which they committed their brutal acts that was so shocking. After they left so did the majority of the people. The town went from a population of around 8000 to around 400. Now there are just over a 1000 people here and charities like CIREC, with whom we are working, are encouraging people to return and trying to ensure that another atrocity does not happen again.
Richy, who invited us here and who is also part of FairTunes Colombia, has been setting up a media program which includes workshops in radio, music and photography. The long term goal is that this can be handed down to the people of El Salado and they can run theri own radio station and have the facilities for other projects as well.
I guess the horror truly hit home the after speaking to 2 different inhabitants, who happen to be cousins. The first was Edgar, a local farmer, who declared to us that he wanted us to hear his story after sharing a few drinks with him one night. Edgar escaped 2 massacres in the town, the 1st in 97 when he was out when the paramilitaries came looking for him. The second time in 2001 he was in town when they came. The paramilitaires killed the 2 friends he was with whilst Edgar fled from house to house as the men came looking for him. Eventually Edgar found a hiding place for three nights in a drain where he lay covered in excrement as he listened to the chaos going on around him. For three days the paramilitaries butchered people, forcing them to line up as they killed ever 30th person, and making the women parade in gross beauty pageants to see who would be raped.
Once some paramilitaries were chasing a chicken and it sought refuge where Edgar was hiding and he thought his time was up, but fortunately the chicken moved away and he remained undetected. Edgar was lucky and he and his family fled but he returned to tend his land and animals, but unfortunately his wife would not return and now he has no contact with the daughter who was born just one month after the massacre.
It was amazing that Edgar wanted to tell us this, the community doctor who was there said that he never talks about what happened to him to anyone. Indeed, many people are afraid to tell outsiders what occured on those dark days for obvious reasons.
Gilbert spoke about the atrocities but was tewarful when he did so. He escaped into the surrounding hills but many of his family were not lucky enough to do so. I will not mention some of the things that Gilbert told us that happened to some of his relatives, they are unspeakable.
Gilbert is now a proactive leader in the community, in charge of the education of young people. He works directly with CIREC and the projects they are undertaking. Hopefully in the future projects such as this will prove to the displaced population of this town that there is no longer anything to fear and that it is possible to build a life without the possibility of being hacked to pieces in front of your own family.