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Ghosts of the Past

and Terry Gibbs

Looking out over the muddy banks of the Río Atrato, Macaria tells of nightmares of mangled bodies, spiraling flames and the cries of dying children. Trying desperately to grasp the hands that reach out to her through the darkness, she awakens to nothing but silence. Macaria has been working with a UN-sponsored psychologist for months struggling to come to terms with the tragedy that struck this small Afro-Colombian community over a year ago. From the departmental capital Quibdó, Bellavista is a four-hour motorboat ride down the Río Atrato through military and paramilitary checkpoints. As one approaches the riverbank near this remote town, it is difficult to believe that so much suffering has occurred here. Dugout canoes laden with bananas, pineapples, sugarcane and miscellaneous packages vie for space near the dirt embankment as lively exchanges take place between people calling instructions back and forth. A large poster, which was placed strategically on the riverbank by the army, reads: “On May 2, 2002, the FARC assassinated 119 people here. We will never forget.” A larger than life boy’s face peers out from beside the words. Almost one year after Bellavista’s residents returned to the homes they abandoned following the attack, community members are still trying to process what happened that fateful day.

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