About “One Year in the Time of Violence”

One Year

from: One Year in the Time of Violence

In November, news of Russian missiles in Cuba got pushed to page three because the guerrillas had made a brutal slaughter of a busload of travelers on the road to Palmira. The Violence found a bloody home in the Valley. The front page and page two were filled with photos of the killing. Twenty travelers—men, women, children, all gunned down while standing beside the bus. In the photo, you saw the destination sign on the bus—Cali – Palmira – Bogotá. It was torn apart by machine gun fire. Two bodies had been chopped up in a peculiar way that had no name. Not even the Colombian editors could make up a name for it and the guerrillas did not try. The bodies had been hung upside down by their heels from the luggage bars on top of the bus and an incision made from pelvis to throat, while a second cut had been made across the belly so that the guts spilled out of both victims, and the blood had pooled under their heads showing that they had first been strung up then cut while alive.

The photos on page two were of the children lying in the dirt beside the bus their bodies twisted harshly by the cut of automatic weapons. One detail showed the front door of the bus that had somehow escaped the fusillade. The glass had an image of the sun and a photographer snapping pictures of the killing.

I was absorbed with the Violence. I looked at the bodies and read about the butchery and the techniques for killing. The favorite mutilating cut of the guerrillas was the corte corbata. A victim was first shot with a small caliber pistol like a .22 and then while he was still alive his throat was slashed with a machete and his tongue pulled through the cut until it hung on the chest like a necktie. Corte corbata means the necktie cut. Every killing site had at least one victim of the necktie. Usually it was a man, sometimes a woman, never a child. The photographers at the killing scenes loved the look of the necktie. Blood from bullet wounds sometimes didn’t show. A bullet to the head didn’t show unless it was with a shot gun. Then the face was gone, chopped to a hideous sight, unthinkable.

The photographers were good. They got very close to the corpses. Bloated bodies lying in the sun. Usually they got to the killing before the Army showed up.

The guerrillas left one survivor to tell the reporters what had happened and how it happened. You see unresolved grief in the eyes and face of that single survivor. The guerrillas started this practice to keep government agents from posing as insurgents and blaming it on the rebels.

I read the account of the survivor — a woman, about twenty-five, a maid from Cali on her way home to visit her sick mother — and she talked in detail about the killing and the blood and how the comandante told her what to say and that if she lied she would be killed no matter where she was, and so she begged the politicians in Bogotá to hold elections and to free the people and then in another article there was a quote from a leftist in the Senate who asked why the Army is always late at the killing scenes and why can’t the army protect the highways and why, he wants to know, why does the right hold back? The truth, he says, is that everyone knows the army will not fire on the guerrillas as long as the guerrillas do not attack the army. It is a sensible way to conduct a civil war.