After Five Decades of Civil War, Colombia’s Healing Begins

A peace accord has ended the fighting. But the countryside is littered with land mines, and criminal gangs are growing.

An airplane that drug lord Pablo Escobar used for smuggling cocaine adorns the entrance of Hacienda Nápoles. His once lavish estate is now a theme park with animal exhibits, waterslides, and dinosaur statues.

‘Run!’ María Magdalena Padilla’s brother yelled to her mother. “This time it’s for real. Get away right now!”

María Magdalena, a 10-year-old known as Mayito, could see the black smoke coming from farther down the hill as the paramilitares, criminals with a right-wing ideological bent, advanced on the town of El Salado, setting fire to her neighbors’ houses as they approached. Mayito’s mother emptied all the corn out of a burlap bag so the chickens would have enough to eat, threw some clothing into it, and climbed on the back of the family donkey with Mayito, as her two older brothers walked alongside. For a full week they hid, with little water and almost no food, in the shacks that campesino families keep in their fields here.

“I remember that we children were always quiet during that time,” she says now. “Not even the babies seemed to cry.”

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