Now that the news of the reparations are finally public, I thought it would be fun to share a little of the behind the scenes activity. After all, it’s not every day that a reparations process takes place! Although, in the case of Mampuján, hopefully we will get to go through it all over again shortly for the 40% of people that did not receive their payment. This is a long entry, but it was a long month.
Regarding those 40%, here’s the first big paperwork hurdle and the reason there are a lot of people still waiting to receive reparation. The court order does not contain cedula (citizen identity) numbers, but only the names of those who are to receive payment. Names here are tricky, and are mainly spelled phonetically. That means that the cedula can say one thing and the way the person normally writes their name, or the way it might be written in Bogota can be completely different. For example, the name Esther has a silent h, so in the sentence it may be as written Ester put the person’s cedula may say Esther. Without the cedula numbers to verify identity, who is the person who is to receive reparations, Esther or Ester? At least 40% of the people listed in the sentence of some sort of written error in their names, from one letter to entirely different last names, to last names in the wrong order, to missing middle names. None of these people can receive anything because the government, supposedly, cannot pay anyone if they are uncertain of their identity.
So, we aren’t sure what is going to happen. The judges who issued the court order and are in charge of follow up, are going to have to become involved, and may potentially have to issue an appeal or something to officially change the names in the sentence. All of this will probably take a long time, and, cynically speaking, who knows how much of an excuse it all is to avoid paying the rest of the money. But there are people who are anxiously waiting, especially watching those around them buy motorcycles and fridges and rebuild their homes.
However, for the actual payments, a whole month full of activities was planned. At the beginning of August, we received news that the payments would actually be happening, but only for those with correct names. We were sent an excel spreadsheet, and, as at that time, I was the only one with a computer, I was in charge of verifying who was on the good list and who was on the bad list. Therefore, at any time of day or night, I had a crowd of anxious people wanting to know what list they were on, what list their siblings were on, what list their dead grandparents were on, what list their neighbours were on. People who weren’t even part of the sentence arrived, wanting to know if there was some possibility that they were on some sort of list for receiving some sort of something. It was great to actually get to concretely orientate people, but it was also exhausting, as there was no break and my house became my office. People are still showing up two months later.
The leaders, and myself, also had to attend a number of different meetings in Cartagena, where we discussed and debated exactly how the payments would take place, from in what order people would go to the meetings to how to ensure people heard all of their options and received all of their rights.
And then, we had community wide meetings. In the first round, everyone was required to listen to lectures about safety, wise investments and planning with the family. People showed up, signed in (attendance is huge here), tried to sign in every relative that they have, got a snack and heard some lectures.
Then, in the second round of meetings, people had to open bank accounts. For the majority, this was their first time ever opening an account, and it was a big deal. Three different banks were represented, including the local bank in Marialabaja, Banco Agrario (someday I will write a separate post all about the Banco Agrario, where I also have an account). Before, the event, bank officials received special training in dealing with a displaced population and people who are not financially literate, some not even literate. Everyone was required again, to sign in, and then to listen to a lecture about the different offers from each bank, and then pick a bank and open an account. Every single person opened an account with Banco Agrario, because it was the most familiar and conveniently located. At one point, the Unidad de Vicitimas, who are in charge of the payments and all the meetings, had to stage an intervention with the other banks to convince them that community leaders were not telling everyone to open the same account, but were actually encouraging them to think seriously about which banks were offering them the most for their money.
Behind the scenes, community leaders and the Unidad were frantically dealing with more paperwork problems. When a Colombian turns 18, they are supposed to get a Cedula, a national identity card, with their number on it, which they will use for all important transactions in their life. They can apply for this card at the notary in most municipalities, and it should be ready a few weeks after applying. A new card can also be issued if the old card is lost, and a temporary contrasena is issued while they wait. The problem is that the notary in Marialabaja is extremely incompetent at handing out cards- some people have been waiting for over six years. In some instances, instead of doing the right paperwork, people are given a new card with a new number. However, possessing a double cedula is a crime. Additionally, anyone with a constrasena cannot receive reparations. So, we spent a lot of time making a list, sending it to the Unidad, getting people to go to Cartagena for special meetings with a different notary, and much more paperwork. It’s still not that effective- just last week, someone showed up at my house with a new number, which means the paperwork needs to happen all over again.
The cases of people who have died before receiving their payments also presents another dilemma. Who receives the money? And how? Some of the cases are very complicated. For instance, a friend came to visit me to ask me about the case of her husband who has passed away, leaving her with 10 children. I couldn’t offer any advice, but I listened. Less than two hours later, another friend showed up at my door, with the same problem, only this time with five children. What complicates these two dilemmas is that both women were referring to the same man. To which of his two families does his reparation money go?
The snacks on the days of payment were the best. There was actually a thermos of coffee available at all times, which I freely used, as I got up at 6:30 to show up by 7:00 to help organize and accompany the community on two very exciting days. Actually, the payment process started the day before with the most well attended community meeting in history, as we read the list of the order in which people would receive their payments, although we were temporarily interrupted by a giant thunderstorm and had to seek cover. The day of, people showed up, listened to the national anthem, were verified and checked off using my computer, received their cheque, got their picture taken, and were then ably to directly deposit it in the bank. Thanks to all the hard work put in before hand, it went extremely smoothly.
Then, 48 hours later, people could access their money. There was a line in the bank for the next two weeks straight, and the bank kept running out of cash and people would have to wait for the emergency cash helicopter to arrive. Vendors arrived selling things, and two new furniture stores were opened People have been buying motorcycles, fridges, land, getting braces and fixing their houses, among many other activities.
Throughout the entire process, we have had a team of psychologists and social workers going house to house visiting people to ensure that they would, and will, make wise choices. After all, the process is not over yet. Who knows what will happen next? Only one thing is certain- it will be interesting and involve a lot of paperwork and meetings.
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