*Warning: This story contains details of a sensitive and graphic nature.

BOGOTÁ — I never found out if Arturo Zapata was killed for his past as a communist guerrilla, for being black or for being gay. His half-crushed body was left on the road, like a rodent run over by a car.

"It is horrible what they did to that kid," neighbors murmured in this God-fearing village. Its Christian residents must have been deaf, as none heard him scream for help in the night. Couldn't they recognize the voice of Raquel Zapata's son? Or were the prayer-mongers muttering "no f**ng way," as people do around Medellín? "Who is going to stick their neck out for one of those?"

Everyone knew "little darky" Zapata liked money even as a child, but not easy money. He didn't like the narco world and showing off with a fast car and a flashy girlfriend beside him. He was an introvert and a bit like a prayboy, rather like his mother who had aged badly but was reputedly once the prettiest whore in town.

The priest declared in his Sunday sermon that Arturo's death (not murder) hid a Divine message. It was a call to rectify our ways. He said it without hesitation. How else should his congregation interpret the massacre of a self-confessed homosexual who adhered to Che Guevara's ideas and was the son of a woman of ill repute and to cap it all, a mulatto and an atheist?

"Come on," says one of Arturo's aunts when I ask her, "the boy was looking for it. Why the hell did he come back?"

He hadn't fared much better as a guerrilla and was poorly treated because he was a marica, a faggot. He liked all those ideas about changing the world for the better, by force if need be, though they say he didn't even kill a fly. He was a coward, or at least not a warrior. Yet they killed him like the worst gangster around, cutting him into pieces like some gruesome dish for a horror Christmas. His mother came alone to pick them up, in a scene reminding one of a Stendhal novel.

He fled his unit and returned to his own reality.

Arturo Zapata was the first, truly demobilized guerrilla fighter. He fled his unit and returned to his own reality, without security arrangements, trying to restart a life. On the night of his death, he had just put away a food cart when he ran into a gang of paramilitaries of the Cacique Pipintá block. They were God's envoys to put this world right.

A machete first struck his legs, with its hideous thud — that'll make a man of him! They did not kill him right away, preferring to circle around like a cat playing with its prey. A few more stabs and blows, in and out, in his hands and chest, for good measure — this time for being a guerrilla and believing in what the devil and communists and atheists say. There was time for a few kicks to break his ribs and bones. There were more than 20 against one disarmed man, but "that's the way of the Lord," as more than one observed in the village. And then came what has become a veritable fashion in Colombia — they cut off his head.

Not a shot from the police bunkered up in the station a block away. They must have heard the torture. Not a single "damn it" from the priest at the pulpit days later, nor a call to mercy by the mayor. None of those in charge locally moved a finger or uttered a word of criticism. All you could hear was Raquel weeping alone in the village, as she placed her son's head beside his body.


See more from World Affairs here