How Walter Ochoa Guisao became “El Gurre”

For decades Colombia has been plagued by violence with the countryside littered with different types of guerillas, militias, and paramilitary forces. There is also the national army and police but often they behave little differently from these other groups. At the moment in Bogotá you can visit the audiencia, where the leaders of the paramilitary group the Autodefensas Campesinas del Magdalena Media (ADMM) are being confronted with their crimes. Under the terms of the Justice and Peace Law, passed in 2005, most paramilitary groups agreed to demobilize and confess in exchange for reduced sentences (a maximum of 8 years). El Gurre (the Armadillo) was a commander of the Omar Isaza Front, one of the five fronts of the ADMM, along with McGuiver whom you met in our last post (here). The photo below shows the organization of the ADMM with El Gurre’s front second from the left and McGuiver’s on the right.

The organizational chart of the Autodefensas Campesinas del Magdalena Media (ADMM).

But Walter wasn’t always called El Gurre. Here is his story about how he became a paramilitary.

When he was young he was living with his mother in a farm in Ciénaga Barbacoas in the eastern part of the department of Antioquia, close to the Magdalena River. At that time he would not know how to differentiate guerrilla from the army but he does remember that lots of armed guys would show up in the farm and he would overheard the administrator of the farm saying: “here come the guerrilleros again asking about the owner of the farm”. He would hear that the administrator would not be friendly with the guerrillas and he would not inform the guerrillas when the owner of the farm was around. The owner no doubt feared having to pay la vacuna, “the vaccination”, which is what you have to pay in rural Colombia to avoid being kidnapped or killed. One day, El Gurre recalled:

The administrator went to do some shopping; he went to get meat. Three days later the shopping showed up including a pile of meat but the administrator never arrived. My mum would complain because the meat would shrink once she fried it and was not good quality. One week later an armed guy showed up and he asked all the workers to meet with him including my mum. He asked: “What did you think about the meat?” and my mum in a very innocent way replied that: “it was not a good quality meat since it would shrink”. The guy then told her: “Human meat is like pig’s meat, it shrinks when you fry it and that was the meat of the administrator the one you ate all week. So the message for the owner of this farm is that he better pay or report himself.” That night my mum decided to leave that farm, even though it was late and did not have anywhere to go we left the farm with my youngest brother. We walked starting at 10pm until 5am when we reached the river. She said she was not going to wait to be killed there.

We tell this story not to defend the actions of El Gurre and the Omar Isaza Front, which are not defensible. But it goes to show how the stateless anarchy in rural Colombia forces everyone to take one side or the other.

A fictional but very realistic depiction of this life in rural Colombia is in Carlos César Arbeláez’s film Los Colores de la Montaña (the Colors of the Mountain): see the trailer here.

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