Francisco Javier Quiceno: The disappeared man who recovered his name 15 years later | International

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With an act through the streets of Samaná (Caldas) the family said goodbye to Francisco Javier Buitrago Quiceno, who disappeared in 2007.Search Unit for Persons Given by Desa

For 15 years, Francisco Javier Quiceno's family prayed in vault 43 of the Samaná cemetery, Caldas, a town located in the Magdalena Medio region of Colombia. They did not know, however, if the body that lay there was actually the boy who died on a farm when an explosive device fell in the middle of a combat between the Army and the guerrilla.

A peace process had to take place with which the Search Unit for Missing Persons was created, at least 300 bodies were unearthed in various cemeteries in the region and 120 DNA tests and years for that peasant family to end the uncertainty. This Saturday, they received the identified body of the boy and buried him as they expected two decades ago. He was the first identified among the hundreds of thousands sought by the Unity and the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, after the Peace Agreement between the government and the extinct FARC guerrilla.

But not only that. The relatives toured the town with Quiceno's chest, his photos to “clean the memory”. “It was something historic also in that sense of clearing the name of so many people who at the time were murdered, disappeared, brought to these cemeteries and placed in vaults as unidentified people, without names, without dignity, without history, without family. It is worth it because we found the truth”, said Carolina López Giraldo, from the Center for Studies on Conflict, Violence and Social Coexistence (Cedat).

Samaná is a municipality of 22,000 inhabitants affected by the armed conflict. According to the Single Registry of Victims, 85 percent of its inhabitants have had family members murdered, injured by antipersonnel mines, or disappeared. For years, the 9th and 47th fronts of the Farc, commanded by alias Karina, and Ramón Isaza's paramilitaries clashed there. Both were feared commanders who put the population in the middle of their bullets.

What is known of the history of Francisco Javier occurs in this context of bloody combat. According to his family, the boy worked as a farmer and was on the farm of his uncle Jesús Quiceno when an explosive fell on the house, killing him and another young man. He confronted the Army with the guerrillas. The bodies, the relatives have narrated, were removed by the military and buried as NN in the San Agustín cemetery, in Samaná.

The boy's father searched by his own means, asked for help in different institutions, but had no response. Until he inquired with the gravedigger of the time, he gave him clues about his boy, the clothes he wore, the dates he died and he told him yes, they had taken one with those characteristics and he was in the vault 43. The father marked it with his son's name.

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Colombia is a country where many people have received the wrong body or pray to the dead person who is not. Some have disappeared from the Palace of Justice or with bodies from the Bojayá massacre that left a hundred dead inside a church. Therefore, the doubt that Quiceno's family had is almost natural.

Francisco Javier Buitrago Quiceno, disappeared 15 years ago in Colombia, was buried in that vault.
Francisco Javier Buitrago Quiceno, disappeared 15 years ago in Colombia, was buried in that vault.Search Unit for missing persons

“When they told us that they identified him, my family felt very happy because we were uncertain that it was not. Personally, I who continued in this search with you (the Unit) am calm, ”said Jesús Quiceno, uncle of the victim and owner of the farm where he died. The land was destroyed and the man had to flee along with the rest of his family.

“I would hope that this would not be repeated, that this war would not continue and, incidentally, that the Government make reparation for the damage they have caused us. For example, I lost my home”, he said in Samaná. According to López, the case corresponds to an extrajudicial execution at the hands of the Army. And it is still under investigation by the JEP, which ordered the protection of several cemeteries in the area.

In 2020, forensic experts from the Unit with the support of the JEP exhumed 24 bodies in Samaná. Among them was that of a 21-year-old boy whose remains showed 50 traumas resulting from an explosion. The investigators traveled to the village of Yarumal to carry out DNA tests on the parents of the disappeared person, who were so old that they could not travel to the town. The Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences studied them and found that they coincided with the remains of the young man.

His discovery - said the director of the Luz Marina Monzón Unit - was the effort of the family and other civil society organizations that helped gather information for this case. "It is a source of pride that in this short time of work we can deliver the body with dignity and that this family, at least in relation to this son, can have certainty." This is the first of 5 other deliveries of identified remains.

Although the family is relieved to have found and buried him in the middle of a religious ceremony, it is an incomplete joy. They are still looking for two other brothers of Francisco Javier, who disappeared in 2005 also in the midst of the armed conflict. “That the two missing nephews continue to be searched for. If we find this one, let's keep looking for Duberney and Rubén, dead or alive,” says the uncle.

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