The news of a contract killing of a neurosurgeon in Barranquilla in January 2014 did not sound any alarm bells when I overheard the reports that morning. I was otherwise occupied on another story and as unpleasant as the reality of a sicariato in the northern industrial hub of Barranquilla is, it was not a news piece that any of my regular news outlets would buy. In truth I paid it all no mind.
Later in the day, as is my habit, I scanned the papers and news sites further to find out what is going on in Colombia. It was then that I recognized the photo of the murdered neurosurgeon. I had met Jorge Daza Barriga in 2007 when my colleague Joan and I were covering the 40th Vallenato Festival in Valledupar.
A quick search through a box of miscellaneous items I have stored away revealed the CD that Jorge had gifted me back on the first night of the festival. “Richard, Con Afecto, J Daza, Abril 27/07.” I had never before noticed the date. I remember Jorge well. He was kind and generous and upon seeing two foreign journalists desperately trying to understand vallenato music and its draw he had invited us to his parranda that evening.
I am not going to lie, this parranda remains to this day one of the most peculiar vallenato gatherings that I have ever attended. I am sure that Joan would agree too. A parranda vallenata is ordinarily an unruly event, thick with Old Parr whisky, singalongs and heavy on the accordion. My dislike for the music began back then, but Jorge’s party was far from routine.
Prior to singing – not only was Jorge one of Colombia’s most celebrated neurosurgeons but he also dabbled as a vallenato singer – he gave a power point presentation all about brainwaves and the way that vallenato music can indeed spark changes in the brain. It was bizarre. Seated politely around a dozen or so tables were politicians, family members and friends, all well dressed, all well-behaved and all paying full attention to Jorge’s talk. Bladimiro Cuello, a congressman for the Guajira and Jorge’s brother was at my table, we exchanged business cards while dark-haired beautiful guajira women looked on with indifference at a couple of freelancers.
On the night of January 24th 2014 Jorge was about to enter the compound where he lived when he was shot seven times by sicarios. His brother Bladimiro attributed the killing of this native of the town of Distraccion, Guajira to old political rivalries and to those who know of the region and the people, this could very well be the case.
We have all I hope, read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ News of a Kidnapping, the title of which I have borrowed and adapted for this blog, and I feel that News of a Contract Killing is appropriate for this recollection. Perhaps we can distance ourselves here from the reality of political murders and revenge, perhaps Colombia herself can arrive at a state of exhaustion from such violence and bloodletting but nothing can take away from the reality this time around for me that this person, Jorge, had his life taken from him unnecessarily, and that we had been albeit briefly, friends.
Why now for this sober piece of nostalgia? Today reports were published that those guilty of the murder of Jorge Daza Barriga have received their prison sentences. Soldier Apolinar Betancourt Ramírez has received 23 years and 10 months. What miserable people.
QEPD Jorge Daza Barriga.