María Elena Gallego Ríos’s heart beats loudly in her chest every time this fervent mother, who has been searching for her daughter who has been missing for 12 years, thinks of her as her miracle of life.
And although he has suffered several losses and has expressed them in writings and messages, his heart broken by sadness tries to maintain hope for his miracle, for Sandra Viviana Cuéllar that gave her back that desire to be a mother, after her first baby died the same day she gave birth.
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For this reason, the woman, who has shown strength in this decade, has been actively participating in carnivals for life for Sandra with human rights organizations, every year on the day of the disappearance. The lady has not stopped asking why and who took Sandra Viviana from her on February 17, 2011, when she was a young woman of 26 years old and an environmental engineer from the National University of Palmyra.
It was that Friday 12 years ago that the lover of dance, rivers and teaching, disappeared when she was going to meet a professor from her university. The last thing that María Elena and José Dúmar Cuéllar, the father, learned from the environmentalist that she was going to take a bus, after 10:00 in the morning, on the road from Cali to Palmira. This is the Paso del Comercio area, remembered for the social outbreak, as protesters and police clashed there, leaving fatalities in their wake.
In that place it is as if the earth had swallowed Sandra. Twelve years later, authorities do not report what happened to him.
The mother’s heart of María Elena Gallego It began to accelerate more when the day after the disappearance, Saturday, February 18, they were notified that they had found the bag with their daughter’s cell phone and other belongings. Nothing was missing. But there was no trace of her. So, there was no robbery, it was something else. And the concern was greater in the hearts of the woman and her husband who have raised her family from a barn or store in the humble Sucre neighborhood, in the center of Cali, seeking not to fall apart even more.
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Sandra Viviana She inherited that strength from her mother to raise her voice in the fight for the conservation of the Cauca River, for better working conditions for cane cutters, for the protection of wetlands, the preservation of natural areas in the El Hormiguero district and the defense of the land by indigenous people of Cauca. That passion for environmental causes was sparked when she joined the organization Censat Agua Viva. She was 24 years old when she began to be part of the entity.
One of the letters written by Mrs. María Elena and kept in the records of the Truth Commission dice:
“I write this letter because I want you to know what my life has been like. I am a humble woman, born on March 17, 1961 in Versalles (Valley). I have very dedicated parents, very responsible and they taught us all. We were 10 children and those of us who knew how to take advantage of the study did so.” Every word is preserved in the Truth Commission where her mother’s cry to find answers to a forced disappearance is alive.
I became pregnant again; I had another daughter for whom I fought and tried to give her a study in what she liked most: being an environmental engineer.
“I got married, a month later I became pregnant, I had my first daughter and she only lasted eight hours and died. With the sadness and grief with my husband that she was not going to serve as a mother, I became pregnant again; I had another daughter for whom I fought and tried to give her a study in what she liked most: being an environmental engineer. She worked in the water referendum, defended the felling of trees, the recovery of wetlands, doing social and cultural work, she was a great dancer.
“I’m talking about Sandra Viviana Cuéllar Gallego, who disappeared on February 17, 2011 on the Cali-Palmira stretch. Since then, my family disintegrated and I have taken on the task of investigating it. Go here, go there, go to workshops to learn how to look for my daughter because what I want most from her is for her to appear, for me to be given an account of her, since the work she did is very important for humanity.
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She wrote it in 2019 and since then, Mrs. Gallego Ríos has also written more words, those that she has repeated in those annual carnivals of life, thinking that Sandra, from somewhere, can realize the love of her family, of her parents. , his brother and his friends who have joined forces to join those demonstrations that seek to make visible to the more than 8,240 disappeared in Valle del Cauca, in these 12 years.
Thinking that Sandra, from somewhere, can notice efforts to unite for her and that seek to make visible the more than 8,240 disappeared in Valle del Cauca, in these 12 years
“We have not forgotten you, my girl. My world. I know that he was worried about the cutting down of trees, the monocultures. “I was wondering what that is?” wrote the lady.
In 2021, Ánderson Gallego, cousin of the missing young woman, wrote other heartfelt words. 10 years had passed, at that time.
“Ten. Since that moment of terror on my sister’s face when she found out by phone that my cousin was not showing up, that Sandra had left for Nacho in Palmira but she had never arrived at her destination.
From that moment until now we have spent 87,600 hours waiting for an answer as to why they disappeared and where my cousin Sandra Viviana Cuéllar Gallego is.
Nobody has given reason. Nobody.
“Article 12. No one may be subjected to forced disappearance, torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” reads our Constitution. And what good is that for us? About what?
It is inhuman that my aunt, Sandra’s mother, holds back her tears at every family gathering, longing for Sandra to be with us. I cannot fathom the pain that she has carried all this time, the uncertainty, the helplessness, the frustration, the anxiety that not getting an answer produces.
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“And I understand her – although I cannot do so in the maternal/paternal sense -… because Sandra had to be here, continuing her fight, defending what is just, what is sensible, what must be defended. Giving and receiving love.
“I would also like my cousin with us. Sandra made my family gatherings even more happy, she was a personal reference in many aspects, and her empathy and nobility never left my heart.. Because he laughed with her. She represented joy to me. She still does it, but I can’t see her smile. I can’t hug her. They took that possibility away from us.
“Year after year I publish something on the anniversary of his disappearance and on his birthday: a song, an article, anything to keep his image alive. Maybe it’s a form of catharsis, or a commitment to what she represents for us, I don’t know for sure, but a feeling of nostalgia and sadness always invades me on those days, no matter how much I want to remember her with joy.
“Today marks a decade that no one asked for or desires. Today it hurts me more to feel how year after year we have seen that hope of seeing her return safe and sound fade away, because surviving Colombia seems not to be an easy task, especially if you decide to go against certain predominant forces (…) Forbidden to forget”ends the letter. The most recent letter from Sandra’s mother, despite having a broken soul and trying to catch her breath daily, was written to her for her birthday. It was last October 24:“Today, October 24, this beautiful girl, the queen of my heart, Sandra Viviana Cuéllar Gallego, turns 39 years old. You are a wonderful and beautiful being, noble and very intelligent.
“Who would have thought that you, my little girl, would be such an important person in this world, so full of so many qualities that you only thought about helping the most vulnerable, humble people and the environment, the most important thing for you.
“Every day I remember with love and nostalgia every moment I shared with you, every celebration of your birthday with your entire family.
“Today more than ever I want to tell you that I love you immensely, that I feel proud to be your mother, to see the great woman that you became, but what I ask most of God and the Virgin Mary is to have you with me again, to see you coming home and continuing to see you succeed, grow and be able to shout to the world that you came back alive, safe and sound after so many years.
“This would be the best gift that I wait for every day with faith and hope. Happy birthday to my beautiful girl, God bless you always wherever he wants you to be and this message reaches you.
With love, your mom
“María Elena Gallego.”
This case is added to the 544 missing persons that the National Institute of Legal Medicine reported between January and September of this 2023, in Valle del Cauca (405 were in Cali alone).
This case is added to the 544 missing people that the National Institute of Legal Medicine reported between January and September 2023, in Valle del Cauca (405 were in Cali alone), and the more than 700 that there were in 2011, when Nobody heard from Sandra Viviana again. Although this dramatic story reached the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR)everything remains under the most complete mystery.
The IACHR granted precautionary measures on June 22, 2011 for this forced disappearance. One of these measures covered teacher Hildebrando Vélez, who was Sandra Viviana’s mentor, because he also began to look for answers, but in that desperate desire came death threats and harassment.
As the family and friends say, the process was paralyzed from the moment of the disappearance. There is no indication of where the young environmentalist born in 1984 is.
The only thing left for them is to continue crying out, is not to give up in the search, continuing with the organization of the carnivals for life for her, but with the wish that next February 17, María Elena Gallego’s tears will not be again for the absent daughter, but to celebrate the return of a surviving woman.
EL TIEMPO CORRESPONDENT