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Saturday, 09 May 2020 05:49

Bullets That Put Out Fireflies

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Bullets That Put Out Fireflies Ilustration: Rowena Neme / @nemero

May 9, 2020 marks one year since the murder of Colombian documentary filmmaker Mauricio Lezama. Who was Lezama and why his absence in Arauca is second to none?

Bullets That Put Out Fireflies


By Yulieth Mora G.

“They collected the corpse on a tray, like a dead animal, as the man of the funeral home did said Tonni Villamizar in an interview when he referred to the murder of his colleague, audiovisual producer, Mauricio Lezama.

People from the community said that the bullet-ridden body laid down for more than four hours. Lying in front of the regional headquarters of the National Apprenticeship Service (SENA) in La Esmeralda settlement, 20 minutes from the town of Arauquita, Arauca. It was Thursday, May 9, 2019. “No one wanted to pick up the body, not even the army”, Villamizar said.

Ricardo Llaín was with Lezama behind the road when two men on motorbikes shot at him. One of the seven bullets hit Llaín's arm and, as he could, ran with a bullet in his arm and looked for protection in the premises of a shop. The other six bullets did not give Lezama any time to react. Because six bullets, four directly to the head and two to the body, give no time at all.

On the other hand, the killers did have all the time to hurt one man, kill another and flee. Even in those four hours of neglect from the police and the military forces, someone also had enough time to take the camera that Lezama had hung on his neck, his cell phone, and to collect the bullet cartridges.

A man from the community who knew Lezama, said: “if they don’t go out (the Police and the Army) because they are afraid, imagine what can happen to us”.

Sandra Lezama, sister of the audiovisual director, said that, “twenty minutes after the criminal act, a photo of Mauricio appeared in social media. He appeared on the ground with his camera, with his bag, along with the feet of the people around him. They called the Judicial Police, and the latter said they could not enter the area if the Army is not present. They passed the buck from one party to the other. Yes, it took hours before the funeral home had to remove the body because no authority arrived”.

A week after the murder of Mauricio Lezama, the news passed from a municipality in eastern Colombia to international media, when the Colombian delegation at the Cannes Film Festival held posters denouncing the criminal acts. However, media exposure was not, and has not been, sufficient for the Prosecutor's Office of the Nation to deliver results.

The Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP) asked the following to the Prosecutor's Office in a petition right*: Has the first hypothesis that homicide motives are related to the exercise of journalism been addressed within the investigation? The answer: “the hypothesis that the homicide is related to journalism is not being considered, since the victim was not a journalist”.

So, who was Mauricio Lezama and what was his trade?

Mauricio Lezama was a workshop facilitator, cultural manager, producer and audiovisual director, legal representative of Indosana film production company, father of two children, husband, ex-husband, son, a puppets guy, friend, actor, rebel, canvases artist, the vegetarian recipes guy, a member of the Hare Krishna community, storyteller, a person who never engaged in ordinary life, traveler, departmental film counselor and director of the Arauca Film Festival.

Lezama was, but will no longer be, because someone decided that he had be killed, and that had to be done during those days of casting for the short film named Las luciérnagas vuelan en mayo (Fireflies Fly in May), the project that had him busy full time thanks to the economic stimulus for Regional Stories, granted by the Film Development Fund of the Ministry of Culture.

A Day of May

Arauca, May 3, 1984. An armed man breaks into a pharmacy in La Esmeralda settlement. That man shoots the owners of the place: a married couple. He dies immediately. She gets a shot on her face. The woman is the midwife of the town, a recognized leader of Unión Patriótica political party. She usually helps to give birth to the town's mothers; but that night, she resorts to darkness to save herself from all that can be saved. Her name is Mayo Villarreal. She survives, but she will take for years the burden of a disfigured face, a reminder of violence in Arauca.

That is the plot of Las luciérnagas vuelan en mayo. A story that Tonni Villamizar wrote based on his family's history, the same one that Mauricio Lezama was obsessed with directing. Until, ironically, he was murdered one day in May.

Deafening Silence

Losing a child is indescribable. That he gets murdered, is a horror. Martha Isabel Muñoz tries to put words on the vacuum that Mauricio left in her home and family. She was his foster mother.

“It's very hard to revive the pain.” Feeling that knot in the chest. Mauricio arrived here when he was 16 years old. He was very close to his dad. He went to study arts and went back here to do painting, theater, and puppets. What we have had to face has been extremely hard. The Prosecutor's Office is conducting interviews, and there are several versions, but there is still nothing definitive. Excuse me for not talking more about it, but this pain continues and is revived every time we are asked”.

Mauricio's biological mother died seven months before he was killed, and the date coincided with the delivery of the economic stimulus to make the story about ‘Mayo’. Those were difficult times, but there was hope.

“Before my mum died, I told Mauricio: ‘come here, because things in Arauca are very tough and you have a lot to give’. He told me that he was going to finish the ‘Mayo’ project and then he was coming to Ecuador. That was the hardest thing for me”, says Sandra Lezama, who recently was in Colombia, among other things, to carry out the procedures before the Prosecutor's Office for the murder of her brother.

The day Sandra arrived at Colombia to be with her brother in vigil, she didn't imagine hundreds of people were going to be found in a cemetery in Arauca, people who also wanted to say goodbye. “I don’t know where I drew strength from. We did a beautiful ceremony, we celebrated his life, his spirit. People came close and said to me: ‘your brother gave theater lessons to my son, and we remember him a lot in the house, ‘your brother performed a beautiful role’, ‘your brother cooked delicious dishes’, there was no one who did not say something good about him’.

After the murder, Sandra spent two weeks in Arauca trying to solve what she could, to solve items that nobody thinks one day might be a problem: What would she do with Mauricio’s belongings? his clothes, his shoes, the furniture, everything that had been suspended there in his apartment. Sandra called the liaison person at the Prosecutor's Office to go check the apartment, the notes, anything, and to look for clues about the murder's motives. No, she could not wait any longer, they had to return home. She got rid of some things and others gave them away.

Today, few dare to talk about the future of Las luciérnagas vuelan en Mayo. Much less of the production of those other stories that Mauricio Lezama was preparing. There is more talk about the shooting of 'Lez-ama, vivir filmando', a documentary prepared by director Mónica Moya about the life of the filmmaker, where the debate opens on what cinema is and why it is done. Unfortunately, Mauricio, which for years chose to stay behind the cameras to direct films, will be in front of them this time, but without being able to answer any of the questions.


Arauca's Mutism

Violence touches everything, touches even the intangible, touches voices until they turn off, and speaks silence. But when violence is installed it proclaims censorship as a flag.

“Non-state armed groups violently control people’s daily lives… they impose their own rules and, to ensure compliance, threaten civilians on both sides of the border”. This is what the report named “The Guerrillas Are the Police” tells, which was recently published by United States NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW), who analyzes the situation in Arauca.

If in this area of the country, surviving amid gunfire is already a feat, issuing and receiving information and exercising a fundamental right can trigger a tragedy overnight.

This is indicated by FLIP figures that confirm the resurgence of attacks on journalists in recent years: there were 9 attacks in 2017, 16 for 2018, and in 2019 FLIP registered a significant increase, with 26 attacks on journalists in Arauca.

In addition to the above, data from the Center of Studies of FLIP is added, which considers Arauca as a ‘department under silence’ because of the limited supply of media, which reaches only 35 for 267,000 inhabitants in the whole department.

These precarious conditions for sharing information of interest to all, have made cinema and other forms of expression a tool that makes the banner of censorship to waver. In recent years, regional cinema has taken flight, but after the assassination of Mauricio Lezama violence has set a remarkably high price for the generations who continue to narrate the conflict: paying with life.



*The investigation into the murder of Mauricio Lezama continues to be under enquiry. There has been no progress. The only new event in the case is that it was reassigned to the First Prosecutor's Office Attached before the Superior Court, under prosecutor Luisa Obando, attached to the Special Investigation Unit in the city of Bogotá, D.C.