Colombia: From priest to guerrilla fighter, where is Camilo Torres?
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Colombia: From priest to guerrilla fighter, where is Camilo Torres?

The body of Camilo Torres, Colombia’s priest-turned-guerrilla has never been found.

To this day, the remains of this revolutionary fighter from the town of San Vicente de Chuchurí, in the north of the country, have never been found. Just as with Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Torres’ fate has remained a mystery since his death some 50-years-ago.


As President Juan Manuel Santos looks to begin peace talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN), the group to which Torres once belonged, unearthing his remains will signal a step in the right direction for Colombia’s current government. A sign that Santos means business.

Born in the Andean capital of Bogotá in 1929, Torres’ family life was brought to an abrupt end when his parents divorced while Camilo was eight-years-old. After studying sociology and spending time in Europe, Torres was soon to spend increasing time with rural migrants and marginalized groups. In 1965 he was given a new alias, ‘Argemiro’, and armed with a revolver Torres joined the ever-growing ranks of the ELN, BBC Mundo reports.

In fact, due to the ever growing gap between Colombia’s upper classes and the struggling working class, it wasn’t uncommon for increasing numbers of priests, monks and even nuns to join the ranks of the ELN. Buoyed on by their fight against inequality and the rise of the left, a revolutionary christian movement soon spread across Latin America, to Nicaragua, Argentina and beyond.

Thanks to his links to the Catholic Church and rousing speeches Torres was a popular and well-liked member of the rebel group. Yet half a century later will Camilo ever reach such dizzying heights as Che Guevara? And if a tomb is built for Torres’ remains, can we expect to see a modern-day Lourdes?

What next?

Walter Joe Broderick, author of a biography based on Torres’ life and career in the ELN doesn’t think so.

“Colombia is a young country and young people don’t know who Camilo Torres is, nor is it of particular interest to them.”

Yet on January 25, during a few low-key ceremony, a body was exhumed in San Vicente de Chuchurí. Whether the remains are Torres is yet to be confirmed, as DNA testing could take up to four months.

“What I find the most interesting aspect of the myth behind Camilo is that it’s just another demonstration, and a very sad and very painful demonstration, of the fact that Latin America only believes in dead heroes.” Gabriel García Márquez commented during a 1974 documentary by Colombian director Franciso Norden. Both Márquez and Torres had been university friends.

While the ELN have declared an armed strike 72-hour strike, celebrating the 50 year anniversary of Torres’ death, Colombian government has not been supportive of the group’s demonstration.

Yet as a date is yet to be set for talks between Santos and the ELN, Torres’ exhumation couldn’t come at a more opportune moment, as Colombian government looks to finally attempt to eradicate any trace of armed conflict from the country’s bloody and violent past.

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