Sunday, December 14, 2008

Becoming a godparent

Dear friends,

My friends Alba and Eulices asked me to be the godfather for their son Kuss Bryan, who was baptized on December 8 (see attached photo). It was a joy and an honor to become part of their family that day.

Alba is an amazingly strong and resilient person. Her left shoulder was shattered in the bombing of Santo Domingo in December 1998 when she was 16 years old, her father was killed by FARC guerrillas in March 2006, and her spouse Eulices was imprisoned during the mass arrest in Fortul in August 2006.

Residents of Santo Domingo were holding a bazaar on December 13, 1998 to raise funds for their community. Planes and helicopters began circling overhead and the people gathered on the highway that runs through town, waving white cloths to indicate that they were civilians. Two cluster bombs were dropped alongside the highway – killing 17 people (including seven children) and wounding 25 others. Yesterday was the commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the bombing.

Shrapnel from the bombs tore into Alba’s shoulder and into the right leg of her sister, Xiomara. As we sat in their kitchen after the baptism, they began talking about that day. “We’re lucky to be alive” said Alba. Xiomara then showed me the large scar on her upper leg.

Wilson Garcia, their father, was the community president. “There wasn’t a phone in Santo Domingo,” said Alba, “so he went to Betoyes (when the planes began flying overhead) to call the Red Cross. He saw us as he was coming back and we were leaving on the truck with the wounded. He didn’t know which one of us he should attend to first.”

The cluster bombs were manufactured in the U.S. and the coordinates for the bombing were given by U.S. crew members operating a surveillance plane for AirScan. Occidental Petroleum (based in Los Angeles) contracted AirScan (based in Florida) to provide security for the pipeline that transports oil from Occidental’s Cano Limon oilfield in the state of Arauca to the Caribbean coast. I found myself thinking about those connections as I looked at the scar on Xiomara’s leg.

I met Wilson my first day here in Saravena in June 2004. I was impressed by his soft-spoken manner and deep commitment to his community. He told me what had happened to Alba and Xiomara, and it was obvious that he loved them both very much. Two years later, on March 22, 2006, Wilson was killed by the FARC. As Alba and Xiomara talked to me about their father, tears welled up in their eyes.

Alba gave birth to her first child, Kuss, on December 1, 2005. Eight months later, Eulices was arrested along with 15 other people in Fortul. I met Eulices in Arauca City when I traveled there with a human rights lawyer, two days after the arrests, to visit the prisoners. I met Alba two weeks later when she came to the Joel Sierra Human Rights Foundation office in Saravena to discuss his case.

Eulices was charged with rebellion and terrorism, and the prosecutor’s office alleged that he was an ELN militia member and recruiting for the FARC – not a very plausible accusation given the fight between those two guerrilla groups in Arauca. He was in prison on Kuss’ first birthday and he was finally released on June 9, 2007.

After Kuss was baptized, Eulices turned to me and called me “Compadre” (the godfather of my child). During the reception in their home, Alba also started calling me Compadre. I expressed my appreciation to them for inviting me to be Kuss’ godfather and Alba responded, “We couldn’t think of a better person.”

In love and solidarity,


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