A year ago today, I met the Aragon family in the Humanitarian Space of Puente Nayero in Buenaventura. I learned that they had been threatened for standing up against the forced recruitment of young people into the paramilitary groups that are terrorising the region. Doris and Ezekiel had recently returned to their home, a wooden shack built on stilts over the sea, after spending a year in exile with their 4 children because of the threats.
That evening, their 17 year old son, went out with his mates, against the advice of his parents, and never came home. Cristhian Aragon was tricked into meeting with members of a paramilitary group, where he was beaten up. He was then brutally murdered, shot several times in the back whilst trying to escape his captors.
I met the family again that evening, at the hospital where Cristhian’s body lay on a gurney in a courtyard; that sight will stay with me forever!
The family were quickly moved to a safe house, but the threats continue. Just 10 days ago, Doris received a phone call from one of the killers, saying that she will ‘pay with her life’ and claiming to have friends in the police who will find her. He blames her for ruining his plans and thanks to her, 3 of his best men are in prison!
This was a shocking experience for me, but these threats, acts of terror and violence, and forced displacements are common place all over Colombia. Cristhian represents so many others who have been the victims of injustice, forced displacement and violence, many for economic or political gain.
I will always remember Cristhian: his death and his family’s stance against the violence impacted me and changed me. I want to stand up for justice, and stand with the people of Puente Nayero as they remember their victims. The Humanitarian Space is a haven of peace in a city of terror; if Cristhian had stayed in that space, he would probably be alive today. The people in that neighbourhood won my heart, their courage and strength are inspirational.