I am a Victim, and I Believe in Peace

My Name is:

Leocadio Banquez Estremor. I am 62 years old, and I was born in Libertad, Sucre. I am part of the community council in Libertad, and it’s been 20 years since I was displaced by paramilitaries.

My story begins here.

As I told you before, I was born in Libertad, Sucre 62 years ago. I lived with my parents and siblings on one of the most prosperous farms in this part of the region, with 41 hectares where we grew plantain, cassava, coconut, yams, rice, beans; we also raised animals like hens, cows, pigs, etc. This farm was so prosperous that it provided food for many towns. People from places as far away as Cartagena would come to buy from us. It never occurred to me that all of this was about to change my life and the life of my family.

On March 14th, 1997, they killed Pastor Jesús María Banques, my brother, one of the first victims of para-militarism. This filled me with anguish, fear, and pain. Together, my family decided to make a decision, and it was to move and begin a new life in another place.

I had to go on July 20th, 1997 and leave behind all the years that we had worked, struggled, and spent on the farm. I was saddened when I saw for the last time the animals, the crops, and the things that had been part of my daily life as a farmer. This affected my mother so much that on October 27th of that same year she died. My father suffered from dementia, and he died in 2003. My nine siblings migrated to other parts of the country because the fear and anxiety of death overpowered them.

My struggle and new life

My life has been very difficult as I had to start over and face whatever came my way. I stayed in my community living in a rented house that was my father-in-law’s together with my wife and children. These were very hard times seeing as there was no food, and the economic situation became harder and harder. I had to take the kids out of school because of this hard reality. Here in the community we lack sources of income, and landowners, who were protected by the paramilitaries, have the lands that can be cultivated. But, we had to continue surviving with struggles and needs in this community (Libertad) with resilience, living the cruelty and barbarity of the paramilitaries from the years 1997 until 2004.

How is your comprehensive reparation process going as a victim?

It makes me sad to say it because up until today I have only received 270,000 pesos (approximately 90 USD). Since then I have been in meetings for victims asking to borrow money for the tickets to travel, for consultations, and nothing, no help from the government. As the first person displaced in this region more than 20 years ago, I feel re-victimized because the only thing they do is make appointments and appointments for me at the victims offices to fill out documents and to fill me with illusions with projects that had never been done, knowing that I’m registered in the RUV (Registro Único de Victimas or Sole Register of Victims in English). And they know everything that I’ve gone through and I’ve lived, but there are problems with everything, and up until today I feel abandoned and like I have not been compensated by the government.

How do you feel after the signing of the peace deals with regards to the vote in the plebiscite?

Very sad, disappointed. I didn’t like how it happened. I didn’t like how the Yes and No process happened, but through all of this, it made me happy that the guerrilla has the disposition to continue dialoguing, and what many people said would happen, that if the FARC lost in the Plebiscite they would take up arms, didn’t happen. We saw that it wasn’t like that; on the contrary, they’re looking for possible solutions, looking at and rethinking what positive points they could add to the peace process. For me, as a victim I see this as something positive because the president has had the will to continue supporting the peace dialogues despite the many attacks and critiques they’ve received.

What’s your dream for your community and your country?

I dream of a Colombia in 2020 without guerrillas, a country with peace, without indifference, presenting itself for development, compensated families, productive projects. As a victim, I hope that reparations begin in this new year 2017 and that the means of reparation arrive along with good development in roads, health, sports, education. I want to live in peace and in harmony with my community.

We want to thank Mr. Leocadio Banquez Estremor for his life story, his time, and his cordiality sharing about the very difficult topic of being a victim of para-militarism in Colombia.

For reflection.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27 NIV.

 

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