Bernardo Jaramillo Ossa and the Death of Alternatives

The presidential candidate of the Patriotic Union fell to a 15-year-old boy. It was one of the most sensitive deaths among the constant harassment of the party's militants

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“We would not want history to be marked by this. We wouldn't want to tell the young people that this happened like this, but we can't hide the story.” When Patriotic Union Senator Aida Avella recalls the deaths of her party's comrades and supporters, her voice breaks and fills with heaviness.

The Patriotic Union was founded in 1984 as an attempt to open a political wing to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP) that would eventually lead to their definitive demobilization. However, since its birth it was seen in a grim way by certain sectors of the population and its members were victims of a kind of purge that, according to figures from the National Center for Historical Memory (CNMH), left 4,153 people killed.

Figures such as José Antequera, Teófilo Forero and Manuel Cepeda were assassinated, as were presidential candidate Jaime Pardo Leal. Even with that background, Bernardo Jaramillo Ossa decided to run for the 1990 presidential elections, perhaps one of the most impacted by violence in Colombian history.

Aida Avella remembers him as “a young man, very charismatic; he could have easily enjoyed the presidency of the Republic. A lawyer, extraordinary parliamentarian, perhaps one of the best senators in the country.” In fact, Jaramillo Ossa won his law degree from the University of Caldas at age 26, became a senator at age 30 and was barely 34 when he was attacked on the Bogotá Airlift on March 22, 1990.

Bernardo Jaramillo made the most of his young years and university life. Since high school he was interested in improving the lives of the less fortunate through social struggle. He was a member of the Communist Youth of Colombia and union leader in the banana sector.

He was a founding member of the Patriotic Union and was elected representative to the House and Senator. Jaime Pardo Leal, president of the party, was killed in 1987 after the car in which he was traveling with his family was shot. Bernardo Jaramillo assumed the direction of the UP.

After the death of Luis Carlos Galán in August 1989, Senator Jaramillo had made the decision to become an alternative for progressives in the next presidential election. It was well received in the communities and was close to building bridges with other applicants, such as the recently demobilized Carlos Pizarro Leongómez, of the M-19, who was killed just a month later.

Like every progressive politician of the time, Jaramillo began to be threatened with death. The State's response to these threats was to assign a team of escorts from the Administrative Department of Security (DAS). For Aida, the cure was worse than the disease: according to her, that was the common denominator of the murders of the candidates of that time.

“We, from the Patriotic Union, felt that murder firsthand because they were the same people who were murdering those of the Patriotic Union in the company of the same people who were doing it with the militants and candidates of the Patriotic Union. Later, in the course of the events, it is seen that the same escorts of Dr. Galán helped and Bernardo's same escorts helped his death; and if we go back later to Carlos Pizarro, some of the same escorts who were escorting Bernardo became Carlos Pizarro's escorts,” said the senator.

On March 22, Bernardo Jaramillo went to the Air Bridge with his escorts to travel to Santa Marta, where he would spend a few days rest and prepare the details of his campaign. “This was not understood, because if there are places that are really protected in any way they are airports and the airlift,” says Aida, also recalling that José Antequera was shot at Bogotá's El Dorado Airport in 1989 in the presence of Ernesto Samper, who was injured.

“When you see the video we have about Bernardo's death, you see that the DAS escorts open a field for the boy to enter and shoot,” recalls the senator. The boy he refers to is Andrés Arturo Gutiérrez Maya, a hit man born on June 19, 1971. He was 15 years old on the day of Jaramillo's death.

According to the newspaper El Tiempo in 1992, Gutiérrez was the third child of an impoverished family and dropped out of studies at a military school in Medellín because his father lost his job and he had to help around the house. In the mornings I sold fruit and at night I looked after cars. He also went through a billiard chalk factory and a brush factory.

Then the bad company came. Gutiérrez Maya began to disappear with a man named Fernando. Apparently, this person promised him help and money if he committed this homicide. There are no big names when there is hunger; he accepted. They taught him how to use the machine gun and promised that they would help him get out of the airlift unharmed.

Twelve guards who did not react and four shots by Gutierrez ended up with Bernardo Jaramillo Ossa. The promise was not fulfilled: according to Aída, he was wounded on the spot and was later killed. “They kill him very quickly, because as he was a minor they gave his father the possibility of him going out for a few days. In one of those outings they murder him.”

He was supposed to be in someone's custody, but no one is very clear from whom: the juvenile judge and the Capuchin priests washed their hands after he and his father appeared dead in the trunk of a car. Nor is it clear who ordered Bernardo Jaramillo to be executed, because neither Pablo Escobar nor the Castaños attributed it to them.

Aida justified with this death the fact that they stopped receiving escorts from the DAS. “Everything was done in such a way that the agents of the State who participated in this were practically mimicked,” he recalls. Six years later, she herself was the victim of an attack with a bazooka on Bogotá's northern highway with 141st Street. Her long exile to Switzerland today allows her to tell the story of those who no longer accompany her.