The murder of Yuliana Andrea Samboní has shocked the nation. Daniel Ogalde argues that it is a reflection of inequalities that have been exacerbated by conflict, and that the peace agreement is only the first step towards healing Colombian society.
Colombia is in uproar and rightfully so. The brutal rape and murder of seven-year-old Yuliana Andrea Samboní has shaken the country. The crime could not have been more symbolic, nor more representative of the deep divisions in this society.
A rich, white, middle-aged man from a more affluent part of Bogotá has been charged with kidnapping, assaulting and murdering a little girl from one of the capital’s many slums. While president Juan Manuel Santos was receiving his Nobel peace prize in Oslo, Yuliana became not only a victim of a psychopath’s sick perversions but also a symbol of the challenges that face Colombia with its newly signed peace treaty.
And let us begin there. Yuliana Andrea Samboní was not any random girl. Along with many other children, women and minorities, she was another victim of the country’s fifty-two-year-old armed conflict. A conflict that has seen children forcibly recruited and transformed into perpetrators, women and young girls falling victim to sexual violence and the targeting of minorities such as LGBT groups, the indigenous, and afro communities.
There are still echoes of the country’s colonial heritage in the shape of racism, sexism and elitism, and at times diversity is not a seen as a strength but rather an unwelcomed deviation punished with exclusion and discrimination.
What the accused – Rafael Uribe Noguera – was looking for that day was not any child. If that had been the case he would have grabbed one from his own upper class neighborhood. But children from rich families are protected: they grow up in gated communities, play in enclosed playgrounds and go on to party in the VIP sections of the best restaurants and clubs. They have bodyguards, chauffeurs, nannies and housemaids to serve and maintain that bubble of luxury that so few in Colombia have access to.
So Yuliana Andrea Samboní was not any child, she was prey, and an easy one at that. If it wasn’t for the unusual series of events that led to the arrest of the wealthy architect, she would have become yet another anonymous number added to the crime statistics that barely make it into the news.
Yuliana belonged to an ethnic minority and her family was poor. While these groups have received certain recognition in the Colombian peace treaty, these are people who remain forgotten and overlooked. They do not – and are unlikely to ever – be able to access the resources, nor the political or legal influence that are available to the family of the man accused of the crime.
This is one of the challenges for Colombia’s new fragile peace. The war might have ended but there are still huge injustices and inequalities – many of which are consequences of conflict – that ordinary people have to face every day.
President Juan Manuel Santos needs to find ways to implement these fine words in real life. The brutal assault and murder of Yuliana not only highlights the gulf between a privileged minority and a more vulnerable majority.
Perhaps the public reaction to this crime marks a point of change. Perhaps the public outcry we saw as Rafael Uribe Noguera was escorted out of the hospital under a rain of stones, bottles, threats and screams from a furious crowd was testament to a public who are no longer willing to tolerate such iniquity.
Perhaps Colombians have had enough of violence, death and injustice. Colombia is so much more than drugs, weapons and corruption and when a brighter future is so close, people won’t settle for less. President Juan Manuel Santos returns from Oslo to a country in uproar. The near future will not only test his abilities to uphold the peace but to lead his country, with all its citizens, towards a more peaceful and, most of all, a more just future.
By Daniel Ogalde