AOn a Monday evening in October, Luz Marina Giraldo was attending an online seminar at her home in Villavicencio, Colombia, when shots rang out. Men on motorcycles targeted the building and their car, in which their bodyguards were sitting. They shot back, the attackers turned away, nobody was injured. “You never know when they’ll attack you,” says Giraldo, a determined-faced woman in her 40s who used to be with the FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. She does not know how the men managed to break into the guarded building complex in which she lives. To be on the safe side, she lives somewhere else for the time being.
Almost 360 former FARC fighters have been killed since the November 2016 peace deal between FARC guerrillas and the Colombian state, more than one a week. Trying to understand who is committing these murders is like stepping into a particularly twisted and violent episode of the Netflix series Narcos. One of the dead is Alexander Parra, Luz Marina Giraldo’s husband. She is now fighting for his memory – and for her own survival.
Three weeks before she is assassinated, Giraldo comes to a meeting in a café in the capital, Bogotá. She gets out of the black car with the tinted windows together with two bodyguards who are provided by the state. In the café, she sits with her back to the wall and during the conversation keeps checking the window in front of which her protectors are parked.
Giraldo’s scarf reads “Sin Olvido”: the name of her foundation, with which she supports guerrilla widows and which she dedicated to her husband. “Sin Olvido” means “Don’t forget”. “Because people only really die when you forget them,” says Giraldo. She wants Colombia to remember Alexander Parra: not as a former guerrilla murdered three years ago. But as a man of peace who had renounced armed struggle and paid for it with his life. Giraldo’s story is closely linked to the armed conflict that has plagued Colombia for decades. But it is also a love story.
In 1984, when Luz Marina Giraldo was six years old, a paramilitary group carried out a massacre in her birthplace. The paramilitaries had emerged from self-defense groups against the FARC and ELN, the country’s two largest guerrilla groups. The guerrillas were formed in the 1960s after 200,000 Colombians had been killed and millions of peasants displaced in conditions similar to civil war. At some point, guerrillas and paramilitaries turned into criminal organizations that expelled, kidnapped and murdered people and made money from the drug trade. Those were dark times.
Giraldo had to watch as the paramilitaries murdered her father. Penniless, the mother left the finca with her two children and fled to Vichada, a region on the border with Venezuela. The guerrillas ruled there, and money could only be made from drug cultivation. Mother and son helped the local farmers with the coca harvest, Giraldo supported the mother in the household. Men kept coming by who wanted to persuade her and her brother to come with them.