Ruth Sosa at the sustainable farms workshop of the Asociación Madres de la Candelaria
In the second installment of this series of four chronicles, Ruth de las Misericordias will return 22 years later to tell the story of her son Nodier Alberto, who disappeared in the Santo Domingo Savio neighbourhood in Medellín, Antioquia.
Ruth de las Misericordias Sosa de Sosa arrived before ten in the morning, just in time for her appointment at the office of the Asociación Caminos de Esperanza Madres de la Candelaria on 9 March 2020. She sips an aromatic water while she waits for her companions to start a project in which they will learn how to create a vegetable garden at home through sustainable means.
Ruth wears a red blouse, black trousers and a pair of tennis shoes the same colour as the trousers. Her white hair and the wrinkles that furrow her face reveal part of what her life has been like since 19 years ago, when her son, Nodier Alberto Sosa Sosa, disappeared.
Nodier, at that time, was a young man with a thick, broad build, wavy brown hair, a dark complexion, a scar above his right eyebrow and brown eyes, according to his mother’s description. Three years ago, he had lost an upper incisor tooth after a fall while doing various trades. He was a man of few friends and had neither children nor a partner. His mother remembers him as a cheerful person and a good son who always helped her financially. Known among the neighbours as “Pachito”, Nodier was helpful and, on many occasions, the payment he received for his services was a simple plate of food.
In 2000, Ruth had received a threat from the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) for not collaborating with the group. She was forced to leave Comuna 1 of Medellín (Popular), in order to protect her life and that of her other family members who remained in that area of the capital of Antioquia.
Ruth recalls that her eldest son, 31 years old, had been left looking after his aunt Martha Elena’s house in the Santo Domingo Savio neighbourhood, afterwards she died in August 2000. By this time, Nodier was already engaged in construction work for his daily sustenance.
On Saturdays, as his sister Mariana de Jesús recalls, “Pachito and I shared the afternoon and part of Sunday when he came home from work. He had the house ready and lunch ready. I worked as an intern in a family home in the south of Medellín and every weekend I would go to see him and tell my mother how he was doing.
Mariana de Jesús still remembers the first weekend of November 2001. She arrived at the house her brother was looking after in the afternoon and didn’t find him; “I thought he had gone somewhere nearby to work”. That’s how Saturday and Sunday went. When she returned to the house where she worked on Monday, she called her mother, who lived in Santa Rosa de Osos, in the north of Antioquia, to tell her that “Pachito” had not arrived at her late aunt’s house at the weekend and, furthermore, the neighbours had not heard from him.
Pact of silence
Ruth de las Misericordias and her son Nodier
And so a year went by since that weekend in November 2001 when Ruth, anguished at not knowing about her son, could not sleep, she felt helpless and cried every day. She hoped that her son would appear at any moment, as she contemplated the idea that the guerrillas had taken him away and, therefore, at some point he would look for her or, pessimistically, she would find him wounded or dead on a rocky and desolate road in the Santo Domingo neighbourhood.
Having had no news of her son afterwards, Ruth returned to Santo Domingo in 2003 to look for clues about Nodier and to turn around the house she had had to leave abandoned. When she arrived, she found that the house had no roof or bathroom, it had been ransacked. No one seemed to remember having seen Pachito. It was as if a collective pact of silence had been imposed by force in the neighbourhood, caused by the disappearance of several young people in the area, according to a neighbour.
Before leaving again for Santa Rosa de Osos, Ruth remembers that Socorro, a neighbour of her sister’s, told her: “they say that her son didn’t want to keep some weapons, that’s why some men came to the house that Pachito was looking after at one in the morning and removed it with his hands tied”. With this scant information, Ruth had to return to Santa Rosa de Osos.
Tears roll down Ruth’s pink cheeks as she remembers that moment. She pauses and takes a deep breath so that she can continue talking about her son: “it is not easy to wake up every day without knowing about him”; she drinks some water, is silent for a few minutes and wipes away the tears that have begun to evaporate.
On the way back to Santa Rosa de Osos, the shadow of the armed groups continued to follow Ruth’s family. This time they were after her youngest son, Jhon Fredy, whom the paramilitaries had come to their house on 3 March 2003 to recruit him in exchange for three hundred thousand pesos a month. At first Jhon refused, but after five days he had no choice.
He spent nearly three months working for the paramilitaries in the village of San Pablo, a hamlet of Santa Rosa de Osos. On one occasion when Jhon had to go to collect firewood, one of his daily tasks, he decided to blow himself up with two companions. He ran to hide through the bush, while the two young men went to a nearby river. There they were found and killed.
When Ruth heard the news, she had a feeling that her son would be dead too. Anxiety gripped her and again sleeplessness took over her nights. Around eight o’clock in the morning on 11 June 2003, her mobile rang. She now sighs and smiles before continuing her story. The voice of her daughter Mariana on the other end of the phone brought her soul back to life: “Mamita hermosa, I know you are preoccupied with Fredy, but he arrived today at half past one in the morning at the grandparents’, so don’t worry”.
Ruth smiles again at the memory of that moment of relief and adds: “I couldn’t stop thinking that two children had been taken away from me and that I would never hear from them again. And when I knew that Jhon Freddy was alive, I could sleep without forgetting my other son.
Eight days afterwards Freddy escaped from the paramilitary ranks, Ruth was threatened and displaced for the second time. This time, she could only take with her the clothes she was wearing; “I didn’t have time to pack anything. At first, my other children and I went to live in Moravia. Then in 2017, we returned to Santo Domingo to the house I have there”.
A door opened
After the heavy losses that the war left her with, Ruth suffered from depression. Her children encouraged her to carry on, despite the disappearance of Nodier and the two displacements of which she was a victim. Ruth recalls that “I wouldn’t leave the house, I didn’t want to get out of bed, I just cried”. So, Socorro, her sister’s neighbour in Santo Domingo Savio, knowing that Ruth was in a state of sadness, invited her to the office of Madres de la Candelaria, located in the centre of Medellín, as the neighbour had heard about them from a sister of hers who was receiving support from the Association after her son had disappeared.
Ana de Dios Zapata, a relative of a disappeared person and in charge of receiving people who come to the Association, recalls that Ruth arrived on 26 August 2008 at the headquarters of Madres de la Candelaria. She says that “it was difficult for her to talk about what happened to her son. She was very quiet and didn’t look into his eyes”. She now talks to the other mothers and family members who attend the talks, workshops and trainings she receives at Madres de la Candelaria.
Ruth had not reported the two forced displacements, the forced recruitment of her son Jhon Fredy or the disappearance of Nodier. In this situation, Ana Zapata opened a folder with her case, kept Nodier’s photo and recalls that “I accompanied her to file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office, the Procurator General’s Office, the Ombudsman’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office’s Unit for the Search for Persons and to take a DNA test”.
In the weeks that followed, Ruth Sosa began to participate in the sit-ins, which were initially held on Wednesdays, but were later changed to Fridays*. She also attended counseling sessions with the psychologists and social workers who work at Madres de la Candelaria.
While there, Ruth learned to embroider, attended workshops to become an entrepreneur, began to learn about the existing legislation on the crime of forced disappearance, as well as her rights as a victim and, little by little, she integrated with the other mothers.
The mass grave
Ruth hoped that her son’s disappearance would be clarified; however, time passed and the Prosecutor’s Office and the Search Unit had made no progress in her case. However, in 2009, eight years after, a clue to a possible mass grave where the remains of Nodier Sosa Sosa Sosa were presumed to be, reached Madres de la Candelaria.
Claudia**, who indicated the location, told Ana de Dios Zapata that “Pachito”, after being forced to leave his aunt’s house tied up, was taken near the Gente Unida Educational Institution along with other young people. The illegal armed men then had the group dig a grave, which they subsequently filled with their bodies.
Before handing over the coordinates to the Fiscalía, Teresita Gaviria, director and founder of the Association, recalls: “I went with the bodyguard assigned to me and the person who gave us the coordinates to Santo Domingo Savio, where Nodier’s remains were supposed to be”. On returning to the Association’s headquarters, Teresita wrote a letter to Gustavo Duque, at that time the Prosecutor for Justice and Peace in Medellín, informing him of the coordinates and asking him to set up a search and exhumation team to find and exhume the remains of “Pachito”.
Prosecutor Duque accepted Teresita Gaviria’s request and set up a team two weeks afterwards. Thus, on 20 July 2009, Teresita and the former vice-president of the Association, Dolores Rengifo, together with the exhumation team and Prosecutor Duque, went to the grave where they hoped to find the remains of Nodier Sosa Sosa; while Ruth Sosa stayed at home waiting for news from Teresita Gaviria.
While the morning passed, the professionals of the Fiscalía carried out the exhumation, which, according to Teresita Gaviria, took about four hours. The remains of three people were found and taken to Medicina Legal for it to make DNA tests.
Two months had passed since the search without Medicina Legal giving an opinion on the procedures carried out on the skeletal remains. Teresita therefore asked the Prosecutor’s Office in Medellín, which is in charge of cases of forced disappearance, and Medicina Legal, to find out what state the tests were in. “I went once a week to the office of Prosecutor Duque and I stayed there until he contacted Legal Medicine and they gave him a response, because Ruth had become ill as she had no response to the tests they were carrying out on her son”.
Ruth began to receive accompaniment from the psychology service of the University of Antioquia, from the moment that the Fiscalía told Teresita Gaviria that the search team for the remains of her son Nodier Sosa was ready; however, she “could not sleep thinking that she had to give Pachito a nice burial”.
Six months passed between constant visits to Prosecutor Duque’s office, until Teresita had the opinion of the tests carried out by the National Institute of Legal Medicine. “When I received the letter, I was speechless, I had to read it twice because I thought I had made a mistake, but I hadn’t.” The results were negative, “Pachito was not among the remains found,” said Teresita.
Three days after learning the results of the tests, Teresita Gaviria received advice from the psychologist who was accompanying Ruth on how to break the news to her. The next day, Ruth was summoned to the Association’s office at nine o’clock in the morning and, after drinking some aromatic water, Teresita and the psychologist told Ruth that her son was not among the remains found. At that moment, Ruth began to cry and recalls: “I couldn’t believe that it had all been an illusion. I was back to the beginning, without knowing anything about him”.
After this failed search, Ruth visited the Bellavista prison in the municipality of Bello, Antioquia, together with Teresita Gaviria, in 2010, with the aim of talking to the paramilitaries held there, to find out if they had any information about the forced disappearance of her son. After confronting them, she recalls that they replied: “No, Doña Ruth, we did not take your son, nor did we kill him”.
Since then, the investigation into the forced disappearance of Nodier Sosa has not made any progress on the part of the Public Prosecutor’s Office. Ruth de las Misericordias is still waiting to know where her son is so that she can give him a dignified burial, while she continues to attend the workshops of the Mothers of Candelaria who have been her support in these difficult times. In the meantime, she keeps a Nodier bag next to her bed as one of her most precious possessions.
Teresita Gaviria as representative of the Asociación Madres de la Candelaria and other experts on the subject such as Adriana Arboleda, lawyer and director of the Corporación Jurídica Libertad, agree that “the results of the tests carried out by Medicina Legal on the bodies of the victims of forced disappearance take longer than the established time and, on many occasions, there is no will on the part of some officials of the Fiscalía to search for the victims of forced disappearance”. Arboleda adds that “since the beginning of the Duque government, the number of cases of forced disappearances has increased and 90 percent of these that are in the Prosecutor’s Office have been archived”.
At five past ten in the morning on 9 March, an agronomist arrived at the headquarters of the Caminos de Esperanza Madres de la Candelaria Association. He gathered the workshop participants together and began to explain how to sow lettuce in biodegradable tubular bags, with side openings that allow up to 18 seeds to be sown, in order to have a daily sustenance. Ruth Sosa Sosa carefully observes each step in preparing the compost. Then she takes a break with the others and smiles amidst the jokes of her companions in struggle and survival.
* The sit-ins of the Asociación Caminos de Esperanza Madres de la Candelaria used to take place on Wednesdays, but since 2010 they have been held on Fridays from 2:00 p.m. to 230 p.m. in front of the church of La Candelaria. The change is due to the fact that on Wednesdays they plan activities or talks.
**The name of the source was changed at the request of the source.
This chronicle is part of the degree work of Aldana, S. (2020). Mis ojos aún te buscan en la penumbra. Historias de desaparición forzada de la Asociación Madres de la Candelaria (Degree thesis. Universidad de Antioquia). Bibliotecadigital.udea.edu.co