My mother was barely a teenager when Gaitan was assassinated on April 9, 1948. His death generated a wave of political violence throughout the country. This topic and the violence that occurred, was never discussed at home. What I do know is that after it happened my mother moved from Anserma to the city of Cali, where she first worked as a maid, and then reunited with my father who had also left the conservative town of Anserma, in the department of Caldas.
By Jhon Sánchez
The story of April 9th that all Colombians have studied in textbooks, is now told to us as a novel. A novel that is tied to historical description hour by hour, but which is simultaneously enveloped by myth. This is Mi Pequeña Eulalia en una Patria sin Dueño (“My Little Eulalia in an Ownerless Country”). We had the opportunity to talk with the author Aida Yepes, whom I have known since she was a child.
Aida, thank you very much for granting us this interview.
JS: The novel is told from two narratives: the strictly historical narrative and that of the Lorenzana family in Frontino, Antioquia. Why did you choose this way of telling the story? Is this something you have been experiencing with before?
AY: Indeed, this style characterizes the two novels I have written, “La Impronta” (“Imprinting”) and Mi Pequeña Eulalia en una Patria sin Dueño (“My Little Eulalia in an Ownerless Country”). Both are told on two levels: the historical and the fictional levels, and I have chosen this structure because the fictional part allows more attention to be focused on the story and makes it flow more when reading it; while the historical part provides balance guide points to the fictional part, stopping it from overflowing.
In the specific case of Mi Pequeña Eulalia, the fictional part is starred in by the Lorenzana family, who through all their adventures and misadventures reveal the psychological and human component of the members of a family.
JS: I imagine that the historical part took a lot of effort. How did you get the historical data and how did you fit it into an hour-by-hour narrative?
AY: It was a time-consuming task to gather all the information. I resorted to archive material, recordings of the National Radio Station, journalistic notes, newspapers of the time, documentaries and interviews with people who played a leading role in many of the events described. I then arranged the events in chronological order, organizing them day by day, hour by hour.
Readers can be confident that every fact described is true and has a serious documentary reference, as required by historical research.
JS: You choose an omniscient narrator with a main character, who is Eulalia. All the characters contribute to the narrative including the point of view of the dog and the mule. I find it very difficult to write from the omniscient point of view. Can you comment on this? Besides, the novel reminded me of Dostoyevsky’s works. From the literary point of view, I wonder who your influences have been.
AY: “My Little Eulalia in an Ownerless Homeland” has a strong psychological accent, because it explores the inner worlds of all the characters, regardless of whether they are people or animals, as each of them bring with them their own dramas. It also describes the political, social and religious context of a particular period, in a particular geographical environment, so, I think, My Little Eulalia reminded you of the works of Dostoevsky.
Out of the works of this great Russian writer, I have had the opportunity to read Crime and Punishment and I was really impacted by it, but I have been equally impressed by other writers who have addressed different topics, including social, romantic, traditionalist and religious subjects, to name just a few. But I cannot say that I follow a stereotyped line of writing or that I am under the influence of a specific style, a theme or a structure. My only influence is the commitment I have to the story and to my own story.
As to the point of view, My Little Eulalia has an omniscient narrator. I could not have told it differently, because the historical plane of the novel determined that I use it. The degree of depth of this narration allowed me to show, in addition to the historical events themselves, the customs, values and beliefs of the time. This narrator has the ability to be everywhere at once, hence the leaps made from the capital of the republic to Antioquia and from the different municipalities of the department of Antioquia to Bogota.
JS: You quote Laureano Gómez during the speech he gave in Medellín on June 25, 1949. “And so we have the greatest phenomenon that has occurred in recent times, April 9. It was a typically communist phenomenon but executed by the basilisk”. Doesn’t it seem to you that this is an accusation that is always repeated in our history when there is a social uprising?
AY: Yes, I totally agree, this accusation launched by Laureano Gómez is a constant in our history. We saw it in the 1920s, when the indigenous people, enclave workers, settlers and peasants mobilized in order to improve their working and living conditions and were combated by the State with counter-insurgent policies, justified by anti-communism. Likewise, in 1928, the banana workers’ strike was brutally repressed (causing more than a thousand deaths) and days after that massacre, Decree 4 of December 18, 1928 was promulgated, by which the banana workers who participated in the strike were declared: “gangs of evildoers conforming to communist and anarchist doctrines” and all to justify the death penalty that was applied to them, a death penalty that legally did not exist. And not to go that far, let us return to the regime of Laureano Gómez who reinforced the military link between Korea and the Colombia Battalion with the signing of the Military Assistance Pact, in 1952, with the argument that Colombia was facing a communist conspiracy, embodied in liberalism.
In this way, the repression was legitimized and it became significant for the spokespersons of the regime to resort to stratagems of dirty, psychological and political warfare.
JS: And we read the novel today in 2021, during a time of many social protests in Colombia. It is inevitable to make a parallel and for me it is inevitable to distrust the current government and I think of the novel as a reaffirmation of my distrust. Moreover, you yourself write, “all the fiction that is woven around the repression is an excuse to cover up the barbarism of the system itself.” (Page 201). You may comment on this.
The quote on page 201 is an affirmation of the Friar of the Panopticon and with it he means that it is a characteristic of the regime to put veils of mystery so as not to reveal its true intentions.
In this order of ideas, the author now speaks: the system confuses, misinforms, causes polarization, configures a biased public opinion and all of this goes in a straight line: extrajudicial executions.
JS: Colombian mythology is a very important part of the novel. The presence of the devil incarnated in Belzebuth, but the origin of the violence goes beyond the evil figure as Belzebuth. There is evil on the part of the government, the conservatives, the church and the guerrillas. Why do you incarnate the image of the devil?
AY: In My Little Eulalia there is a very strong mythological component, but sticking completely to your question, I affirm: Belzebuth is nothing more than a character, one of many that personifies evil. Evil, if we call it the devil, is represented in many of the characters.
And you are absolutely right, the origin of violence goes beyond the perverse actions such as those propitiated by Belzebuth. The causes of violence are already entrenched in our society and every day they become more and more encrusted due to the repetitive actions of perverse minds that manipulate, steal, embezzle, corrupt to favor their own interests, even at the expense of the basic needs of the defenseless population that literally goes hungry or is unable to study due to the lack of basic living conditions… These corrupt people are indeed possessed, they are the devil in disguise.
Without exception, the devil is present in the positions of power, hence the negotiations, agreements and pacts are shaky. Wherever we see strongholds of good, it is because on the other side of the scale an edifice of evil has been built.
Therefore, I do not speak of the devil as the collective imaginary of the population, something that forms part of their regional identity. The figure of the devil goes beyond a simple cultural significance. I believe in his existence, but I do not believe is that he is tucked away in his cave. He is latent among us: in the phenomena of nature; in affective relationships; in the lines of command, be they governmental, political, guerrilla or religious.
JS: I have been thinking about the other names besides Belzebuth: Joseph Mary, Jacob, Raphael, Augustine and even Eulalia herself, I think they also represent stereotypes, am I right or was it based on real people?
Your assessment is absolutely true. Most of the names of the fictional characters in the novel have a religious connotation: to highlight the belief and values in the culture of the time, when most children were baptized with the name of the saint of the day or selected by the parish priest who provided the sacrament. So much so that Belzebuth was to be named Ignacio (the name of a father of the Catholic Church) but ended up being so named due to the condemnation of a priest.
In addition to this, the names chosen are adjusted to the roles they must play, with an example being: the personality of Eulalia and the age she was when the story began; the protective character of Michael, Gabriel and Rafael; the names given by the grandmother Gabriela to all of her children, ending in John the youngest like the apostles; the name of Jacob marking three generations.
JS: And José María, one of the main characters, is disappeared. This is a drama that we have been living through for as long as I can remember. The State always looks for ways to avoid the rules of due process. In the United States they invented the prisons in Guantanamo, Cuba, to torture and imprison hundreds of people without charges. And in Colombia we have what you describe as, “In order for the regime to survive, anyone who opposes it must be killed. The only acceptable verdict for treason is death; so, if the regime considers you guilty of treason, the only conclusion it should have reached is that you must suffer death as a traitor.” In Colombia, simple opposition is enough to be a public enemy and to be disappeared, isn’t it?
AY: This quote also corresponds to a part of the dialogue between the Friar of the Panopticon and José María, a conversation that leads to the equation: opposition = forced disappearance + extermination.
Let’s remember that José María Lorenzana is a fictional character, in the development of the novel he was for most of the time imprisoned in the Panóptico of Tunja (a center of terrifying confinement of the time), and his companion in prison was the Augustinian Friar, known in popular history as “El Espanto del Panóptico” (“The Fright of the Panóptico”).
There are historical records that during the Rojas Pinilla regime, while the country was flooded by a language of reconciliation, on August 24, 1954, through an act of treason, army troops captured Franco and eight of his men, he was held incommunicado in a cell of the Colombian Intelligence Service in Medellin; then he went to La Ladera prison in Medellin and later to the feared Panoptico in Tunja, where he was imprisoned until the end of the Rojas government.
As these events occurred after the historical period outlined in the novel, I did not want to waste these resources on denouncing the recurrent behaviors of the regime, so I turned these circumstances on a fictional character: José María Lorenzana.
Therefore, I reaffirm what your question deduces: the contrary voice, dissent and opposition are risky positions.
JS: And you tell us about horseback transportation and describe each town starting with Frontino. Don’t tell me that you made that trip to write the novel just as the muleteers did?
AY: The novel is set between the years 1948 and 1953, from that time to the present day, the advances have been very marked both in infrastructure and communications; the bridle paths where Ludovico’s muleteers traveled no longer exist; the distances between the towns have been shortened considerably. Hence, the description of those roads and the conditions of abandonment of the villages crossed by those same mule trains, with their references to the environment such as climate, vegetation and fauna, were studied in detail in different texts (essentially monographs) and virtual explorations.
JS: Scientists talk about transgenerational trauma. Trauma that is passed down from parent to child. One of my short stories, The Fragrant Flavor of Strawberry Rhubarb Pie addresses the issue. I think you do the same; at the end of the book, you leave us thinking that we are all children of that violence of April 9, that all Colombians have Belzebuth in our genes. Is there a cure?
AY: Just as transgenerational trauma is transmitted from parents to children, the causes of violence extend over time, repeating patterns of behavior from one decade to the next.
My little Eulalia in an ownerless homeland is overloaded with postures of evil, of children who were engendered within the so-called historical fringe, which was characterized by state neglect and iniquity. Then those children grew up and reproduced cyclically until we arrive at today, dragging their imposed genes due to hunger, unemployment, lack of opportunities.
As for the specific question: Is there a cure? Yes, there is! Eulalia wrote it in the following terms: “I read in the books of Erasmus, your father, that peace will only be achieved when we have the necessary ways so that food does not rot in the fields and education is not only repressed in the city; when in our people the existing parties are extinguished and there are new forces that do not found their foundations in blood; when governments really work for the people with a social function and religions respect each other” (Page 184).
Grandmother Gabriela also said in this regard “the chains will only be broken when the injustices arising from the mismanagement of the rulers are corrected and when the souls of those who appropriate the tithes are cauterized” (Page 168)
JS: What are you writing now?
AY: The novel “Cuando se estremezcan los orbes” (“When the orbs tremble”). A literary bet marked by two planes, like Impronta (“Imprinting”) and Mi Pequeña Eulalia (“My Little Eulalia”), but this time I am working with both the physical plane and the spiritual plane.
JS: See you in Colombia
AIDA LUZ YEPES ARRUBLA was born in Caicedonia Valle, Colombia, in 1962. She is a lawyer, specialist in labor law and social security, with studies in political science and a master’s degree in local development management.
Her first novel is La Impronta, published by Artnovela in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Mi pequeña Eulalia en una patria sin dueño is her second novel. She has written fables and poems -some published and others unpublished- among which are the following: Fisgón y Rodeora, a fable published in English and Spanish by the Municipal Library of Pleasanton, California (USA); Retablo de mi cuarto, a poem that is part of the compilation Vivir Soñando and the poem Legado de Ana that is part of the book Aires de Libertad, compiled and published by the Centro de Estudios Poéticos de Madrid, Spain.