Last Friday, I met with the jurors of the creative writing contest at my son’s elementary school; I have sponsored this event for the past three years. In the fourth grade stories’ pile, there was one handwritten in blue ink. The title was “Carito“–short for Carolina in my home country, Colombia.
Immediately, I remembered the name of a famous song and thought: “I bet this is has something to do with Colombia.” I was right.
The author (names are kept hidden during the selection process) tells the story of a young girl, loved by her parents. Due to their precarious financial situation, the father had to go to work at a lumber plantation far from home.
He writes to his wife every week, religiously. Suddenly, the letters stop, and the mother fears the worst. The Colombian armed conflict is ramping up throughout the area, yet the mother decides to travel with her daughter and search for him. When they arrive at the plantation, they only find his personal belongings. His co-workers confirm that he vanished without a trace.
The narrator continues the story, saying that mother and daughter continue their lives without their beloved husband and father, working hard, and dreaming about a better future. At the end, a rhetorical question: “Do you know who this girl was? She is my mother“. I choked while my eyes filled with tears.
“Carito” was unanimously declared the fourth grade winner. The awards ceremony is on the 30th of January, and I can’t wait to meet the young writer who touched our hearts.
Forced disappearance of people has been utilized systematically in Latin America, especially during the autocracies in South America and the armed conflict in Colombia.
In Argentina, it is estimated that, between 1976 and 1983 more than twenty-five thousand people were forcibly disappeared by the military dictatorship and the government’s force known as Triple A.
In Colombia, after half a century, the number is more than triple. According to the official National Historic Memory Center’s data, 84,472 victims have been registered, of which 79,245 were civilians, and 1,221 combatants. The presumed perpetrators are para-military forces (26,284 cases), guerrillas (10,441), post-peace accord groups (2,541), and law enforcement and military forces (2,401) (See illustration).
When the body count is so high, warlords prefer to vanish the corpses in an effort to erased them from their conscience, if they have any. Although forced disappearance of people is a coward’s tool, it is greatly effective to root terrorism in a population controlled by fear.
The topics chosen by the other participants were about animals, intergalactic adventures, and princesses. All appropriate and predictable for third, fourth, and fifth graders. Nonetheless, the author of “Carito” chose to share a subject extremely advanced for her young age and alien to the American society.
The author paid homage to her mother and grandmother, who by example taught her the courage to write the story. And to her grandfather, who will always live in their memory.
Thank you for reading and sharing.
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