Guerrilla Theater: The Ordeal of Lucía Morett

Writing a thesis paper is normally the arduous culmination of years of study for most graduate students. For Lucía Morett of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, it turned into a fiery nightmare. While studying popular song and theater in Latin American guerrilla movements, she barely survived Colombian jets' aerial bombing of the jungle camp where she was staying. Four of her fellow students weren't as lucky. This is her story.

December 10, 2008

At first Lucía Morett couldn't make out where she was and what had woken her up in the pitch-black jungle dark. Then the Mexican graduate student remembered. She reached for her schoolmate Verónica Velázquez's hand but Vero was not there. She would never be there again.

Vero and Lucía plus three boys from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and the Polytechnic Institute, one her boyfriend Juan González, had arrived in the camp of the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) only six hours earlier, Lucía Morett told La Jornada reporter Blanche Petrich during a flight home to Mexico on December 3.

Lucía called out to Juan who was sleeping just meters away in another "caleta," a hut assembled from rough planks. Again there was no answer. Lucía felt a sharp jab of fear in her gut. Then the bombs began to explode on the camp, ten 500-pound Paveway bombs—the same kind the United States military had dropped during the first Gulf War on Iraq. A sudden wind gusted through the caletas. She heard screams. A tree erupted into flames right in front of her. Her sleeping bag felt wet. Lucía saw that it was drenched in blood.

Maybe Lucía Morett had not fully anticipated the risks when she chose the subject for her thesis on the uses of popular song and theater in Latin American guerrilla movements: "Colombia: Theater for Revolution and Revolution for Theater." The dean of her faculty at the UNAM, Philosophy & Letters where she was completing a doctorate in Latin American Studies, had encouraged her fieldwork and in February she and Verónica, Juan, "Chac" (Fernando Franco), and Soren Avilés had flown to Ecuador to attend a Bolivarian political congress. Lucía had made contact with a representative of the FARC in Quito and the five students were invited to the jungle camp. The FARC has made street theater and revolutionary cumbias and sinuous Vallenato accordion music part of its cultural arsenal and it was rumored that "Julian Conrado" (not his real name), the most celebrated of the FARC Vallenatos who once serenaded former Colombian president Andrés Pastrana during failed peace talks, was right now in the camp. "It was a golden opportunity to gather material for my thesis," Lucía told Petrich. "I couldn't pass it up."

Morett and her four companions flew to Lago Agrio ("Sour Lake") in the Ecuadoran Amazon province of Sucumbíos, an area of the jungle destroyed by the U.S. transnational Texaco before the oil giant was forced from the country. The comrades had walked the whole day through the bush to the Angostura camp, a pair of kilometers inside Ecuador on the ill-defined Colombian border, and were so tired that they went right to sleep.

After the big bombs had pounded the camp, Colombian military helicopters swooped in, raking the jungle with machinegun fire. Ground troops arrived and when Lucía heard their voices she played dead, the Mexican student recounted to La Jornada during the flight from Managua after eight months in Nicaragua under the protection of the Sandinista government.

The troops tore through the camp, flipping over the bodies of the dead until they found the one they were looking for: "Raúl Reyes" (not his real name), the FARC's second in command under Manuel "Tirofijo" Marulanda (another nom de guerre). Reyes had just successfully negotiated the release of seven FARC hostages with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, reportedly infuriating Colombian president Álvaro Uribe and his U.S. handlers. A second body was thought to be that of the Vallenato singer Julian Conrado but turned out to be an Ecuadoran citizen, which didn't do much to cool the fury of Ecuador's President Rafaél Correa at the illegal Colombian incursion.

Both Reyes and Conrado were trophies of targeted assassinations: the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) had posted a $7 million reward for the two men, dead or alive, and the Colombians needed the cadavers to collect.

The soldiers approached Lucía and saw that she was still alive. She tried to get to her feet and run but she could not move. She was still bleeding heavily from shrapnel wounds and feared the Colombians would finish her off. But the soldiers had what they had come for and were not all that interested. Lucía and her friends were just collateral damage. The Colombians warned her that police would soon be coming and left the destroyed camp.

Colombian police fine-combed the shattered caletas, collecting evidence. They tied Lucía's hands and screamed questions at her. Lucía tried to tell them that she was a Mexican, a student, a "civil." She told the police about her thesis but she had lost her passport and there was no reason for them to believe her anyway.

A total of 23 people had been killed in the March 1 cross-border raid—"Operation Phoenix" the Colombian military had named it—18 rebels, the Ecuadoran, and four Mexican students. Only Lucía and two Colombian women had survived this first application of the Bush Doctrine of preventative attack on suspected terrorist targets, in Latin America. Until last March, the U.S. had limited such targeted assassinations to the war zones of the Islamic world: Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Somalia, and Iraq.

The Colombian police pulled out in the morning. Lucía begged them for water but they just laughed. All day she lay there immobilized in the jungle heat, bitten by fierce fire ants, the flies settling on her open wounds. The stench of her dead comrades' decomposing bodies filled her nostrils. Buzzards circled overhead. Lucía thought she was going to die. Or was she already dead?

Towards nightfall, Morett again heard helicopter blades fanning the trees and was terrified the Colombians had come back for her. But this time it was the Ecuadoran army looking for survivors. The young soldiers brought her water and bound up her wounds. One boy slept by her that night and held her hand when she whimpered in pain. In the morning, Lucía and the two badly wounded Colombians, Marta Pérez and Doris Bohórquez, were hoisted up on rough board stretchers and airlifted to the military hospital at Lago Agrio.

The Mexican graduate student remembers being grilled for hours in a darkened room at the hospital there. The blinds were drawn. The two interrogators asked the same questions over and over again: Who was she? Had she and her friends been training with the FARC or were they trainers themselves? Meanwhile, the doctors were cutting shrapnel from Lucía's ankle without anesthesia. She finally passed out. Ecuadoran human rights groups report that Lucía's interrogators are under investigation for torture

Morett awoke in a Quito hospital, her wrist handcuffed to the bed frame. For days, she drifted in and out of consciousness unaware that she was at the center of the Bush-Uribe terror war and the focus of CNN and other 24-hour news cycle attentions.

Ecuador's Correa was outraged by the invasion of his nation's airspace and withdrew his ambassador from Bogotá. Hugo Chávez condemned the March 1 raid as "an act of war" and broke off diplomatic relations with Uribe. Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega followed suit. Uribe, on the other hand, was insisting that the bombing had been a legitimate act of "self defense." Mexico through its foreign minister expressed concern that one of its citizens had been found in a terrorist camp.

Washington, which controls Uribe through the $6 billion Plan Colombia counter-insurgency boondoggle, backed up the Colombian president. The FARC charged that the attack had been cooked up by the U.S. SouthCom in Miami, Florida and the logistics coordinated by gringo drug fighters at the Manta, Ecuador advance base that Correa has pledged to close down early next year.

An emergency meeting of the all-Latin Group of Rio was called for Santo Domingo to tamp down the international furor but two weeks later at an Organization of American States huddle in Washington, U.S. Under Secretary of State John Negroponte, a diplomat with a malodorous history in Latin America, ripped open the wounds by supporting the Bush-Uribe hypothesis of "legitimate defense."

By April, the Colombian military was claiming that it had rescued two undamaged laptops and a zip drive from the Angostura camp although the site had been blasted by ten 500-pound bombs and nothing else had survived in tact. The Uribe government released the purported contents of the magic laptops in daily doses that read like a spy novel. Among the sensational tidbits excerpted from the 38,000 word files, 210,000 photographs, and 7000 e-mails "rescued" from the laptops (experts said it would take a hundred years plus for one person to read them all): Hugo Chávez was financing the FARC by diverting $300 million in Venezuelan oil revenues to the rebels. The magical laptops were said to contain 16 years of correspondence between the FARC and Chávez, a span that predates the Venezuelan's presidency.

Other items "proved" that the FARC had been a heavy contributor to Correa's successful presidential bid and that the rebels were seeking to buy uranium to build a "dirty bomb." El Tiempo, the Bogotá daily owned by the Santos family—Juan Manuel Santos is Uribe's defense minister—displayed a front page photo of Ecuadoran security minister "Gustavo Larrea" meeting with Raúl Reyes that had been allegedly culled from the dead Comandante's computers. But "Larrea" turned out to be an Argentine communist leader who had once interviewed the FARC chieftain.

Later, Interpol would examine the laptops and rule that the files had not been tampered with, but could not determine if the material had been pre-edited and loaded into the computers by Colombian intelligence agencies to coincide with the bombing.

Lucía recovered slowly. Her parents and the parents of the dead students came to Ecuador and told her a little of all of this. The Colombians were pressing Ecuador to allow their interrogators to question Lucía. Uribe scoffed at her claim that she was in the camp doing fieldwork on her thesis: "Research? That's what the Internet is for!" the Colombian tyrant was quoted as snorting.

Despite the solidarity of Ecuadoran human rights groups, Lucía Morett felt uneasy, fearing that the Colombians would try and kidnap her from the hospital. She could not return to Mexico; Uribe had wired President Felipe Calderón urging her extradition to Colombia if she came home. Two ultra right-wing members of Calderón's PAN party had filed a complaint with the Attorney General demanding Morett's arrest as an international terrorist because she had supposedly received guerrilla training during her six hours in the camp. When Daniel Ortega offered sanctuary in Nicaragua, Lucía and the two Colombian women took him up on his offer.

Lucía Morett spent the next eight months in Managua under close scrutiny by the Ortega government. She was instructed to keep a low profile and avoid all contact with the press. When Petrich flew to Managua for a promised interview, the Jornada correspondent was met by Daniel's son, Rafaél Ortega, who told her the interview had been canceled. Blanche finally got to talk with Morett on the plane ride back to Mexico City.

Lucía Morett is taking a big chance by returning to Mexico. The Attorney General's anti-terrorism desk has informed her lawyers that the complaint filed by the PANistas is still active. Both Guillermo Arzac and José Antonio Ortega (no relation) are thought to be members of the secretive Catholic extremist "El Yunque" (The Anvil). The two accompanied their filing with clips from a tape shot on the night of the March 1 massacre by Colombian police and uncorroborated testimony from one Arturo Gómez that his ex-wife had received firearms and explosives training from Morett who he identified as a FARC commander.

Lucía Morett was met by 81-year-old leftist senator and human rights fighter Rosario Ibarra de Piedra and the parents of her dead comrades when she touched down at Benito Juárez International Airport on December 3. Lucía explained to them that she had come home to "quintuple" her activism in honor of her slain classmates.

Then she visited the Philosophy & Letters faculty at the UNAM, where she was showered with flowers by her fellow students. Lucía vowed to Dean Ambrosio Velasco that she would finish her thesis "Colombia: Theater for Revolution and Revolution for Theater."

"Alvaro Uribe doesn't know what he's talking about," Velasco offered. "You have to go to the place where what you are studying is happening to know about it. You can't do fieldwork on the Internet."

John Ross has El Monstruo, a book about Mexico City, on the canvas and is awaiting the decision of the judges. These dispatches will continue at ten-day intervals until the word is in. If you have further info write johnross[AT] or visit

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