“You left so many traces, so many (…)”, repeats the filmmaker Martha Rodriguez in a heartfelt way in her latest documentary: Camilo Torres: Effective Love. The reflection continues throughout the film released last Thursday in commemoration of the 57th anniversary of the death of the Colombian priest. The day before, from the negotiating table in Mexico, the ELN guerrilla asked the government of Gustavo Petro to hand over the body of the guerrilla priest who died in combat 3 months and 16 days after joining that armed group. It is a demand that the ELN has reiterated at each dialogue table in which it has participated, since the whereabouts of its remains remains an enigma.
Thus, the figure of the rebellious priest who has become a revolutionary myth from which countless songs, books, films and plays have been made returned to public debate. His legacy has focused on his Catholic priesthood and his short-lived time in the armed struggle, but it goes further. In his film, Rodriguez criticizes the emphasis on his time as a guerrilla, and throughout the production he recalls other moments in his life. For example, he spent his time as a professor of methodology in the sociology program at the National University, where he founded the University Movement for Community Promotion (Muniproc), which laid the foundations for the research methodology called action/participation. At the same time, his community work in Tunjuelito, south of Bogota, a seed to create the first community action board in this lower-class neighborhood.
Those achievements of the then professor Camilo Torres are just some of the initiatives that he promoted inside and outside the academy. He occupies a significant place in the history of social studies in Colombia, since with Orlando Fals Borda he founded the first sociology faculty in the region. In addition, he is a central figure when talking about Liberation Theology —the current of Catholic thought that advocates social transformations for spiritual fulfillment— or when discussing the opposition to the political closure that produced the alternation and distribution of political power between liberals and conservatives in the so-called National Front in Colombia, since he led the United People’s Front, an important confluence of social sectors that was critical of that policy, but quickly fell apart once its founder decided to join the guerilla.
Walter Broderick is one of the priest’s most famous biographers and his works have become a bible for followers of the revolutionary. His son Wally, who has been an active spectator of his work, spoke with this newspaper about the figure of Torres, who for him is a kind of distant heroic uncle about whom his father tells anecdotes. “When I talk to my father we wonder what country this would be if this charismatic leader had survived and developed his ideology into politics,” he says.
That has been precisely the claim of several voices: that he be remembered as a highly influential social leader. Restrepo echoes this in his documentary. Through archival material, he relives the crowded speeches that Torres gave and that became a roadmap for various struggles. “Your word was not sterile, there it is alive”, he is heard in several scenes. Even so, Broderick Jr. and Carlos Velandia, who was an ELN militant for 32 years and came to command the Domingo Lain front, are critical of the decision that resulted in the death of the priest.
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“Camilo was not for making wars, Camilo was for leading revolutions. Camilo’s death was a sacrifice that should not have happened,” says Velandia. “My dad is very critical of Camilo’s decision to leave the political struggle and head out to achieve nothing. HE filled a left with no options with illusion, only to suddenly and senselessly disappear”, Broderick thinks. Restrepo expresses it emphatically in his production, and together with co-director Fernando Restrepo they are emphatic when reflecting that the figure of the martyr ended up becoming an insurgent ‘political capital’, but deprived society of valuable leadership. The director is crude, but she points out the need to humanize the myth to which they have tried to reduce the priest. She laughs, she even tells that many of her classmates said that he was a bad teacher. }
‘Felipe Torres’ was the name that Velandia took as an insurgent. The ex-guerrilla explained to El Pais that he chose the priest’s last name as a way of honoring him, and considers that although the ELN has requested the delivery of Camilo Torres’ body, such a demand must be framed in a broad show of reconciliation. “In peace, the phenomenon of the disappeared does not only have to do with the disappearance of people, which is already a drama. It is also that the bodies disappear,” says Velandia. “Camilo is a symbol and symbols need to be remembered not only for his work, but they need physical places. This claim is made by the ELN because its organic link was with them, but it is up to society because Camilo is more of the people than of the ELN, ”he points out.