Friday, August 2, 2013

A Mother's Long, Futile Fight for Justice

In August 2007, two United States soldiers met Olga Castillo's 12-year-old daughter in a restaurant in the town of Melgar, took her to their base and raped her, Castillo says.

Castillo with a friend on Plaza Bolivar.
Since that day, the alleged crime has consumed Castillo's life. She lists off a long series of Colombian government and international human rights institutions she's appealed to - and had the door shut in her face: the ACNUR, the U.S. Embassy, the Defensoria del Pueblo and others.

Worst of all, the U.S. military men she accuses of attacking her daughter had diplomatic immunity and quickly returned home, where they're out of reach of Colombian law and Castillo's efforts.

The U.S. military did its own investigation of the case. But, according to a late 1989 news article - the most recent I've found - the U.S. never even showed the report to Colombian authorities.

All this despite a Colombian police report finding that the girl had been raped, and witnesses who saw the Americans' car arrive at the base late at night and drop the girl off near a public park the next day.

An unsophisticated person who makes her living selling handicrafts at fairs, Castillo - who is 40 but appears a decade older - seems confused by the many different agencies she's appealed to and received no help from. She's also frustrated because she doesn't understand computers.

"If I only knew how to use the Intenet, I could put international pressure on these people," she
believes. (If it were only so simple.)

While I have no independent evidence about what happened to Castillo's daughter, the woman seems to brim over with sincerity, and her feeling of trauma and injustice are palpable.
'Displaced by the Plan Colombia,' says Castillo's sign.

"What hurts most is that (my daughter) hasn't finished high school," says Castillo. "She should go to college. It's a daily torture."

Her daughter, now a young woman with a little girl of her own, doesn't like to talk about what happened to her that day in 2007. However, the trauma may have impacted her life far after. Castillo says that her daughter's partner beat her, injuring one of her kidneys, which had to be removed.

A man helps Castillo pack her tent on Plaza Bolivar.
She has not been given a permit to protest on the plaza.
Castillo believes that police and government institutions are actively shutting doors to her, and even accuses them of threatening her. Perhaps she's paranoid. Perhaps her long and unrewarded fight for justice has made her so.

Personally, I'd bet that Colombian and U.S. military authorities feel so certain that Castillo will get no help that they just ignore her.

The facts of this case aside, Castillo's situation is indicative of the injustice suffered, often unnoticed, by victims of crime by U.S. soldiers overseas, where they enjoy legal immunity.

After all these years of unrewarded effort, many people would have given up Castillo's fight as futile. But Castillo continues her battle, desperately seeking assistance of some international agency.

"Only when I know that (the soldiers) are in prison will I rest," she vows.

U.S. soldier's immunity clouds 2007 Colombian rape case (McClatchy News Service)

Investigan a dos militares de E.U. por violación de niña de 12 años en Comando Aéreo de Melgar (El Tiempo)

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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