The empty chair at Colombia’s peace talks

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It was a decision that set their future.

All across Colombia, right-wing death squads began the systematic slaughter of 3,000 Patriotic Union activists.

After two of his close associates were killed in mid-1987, “the threats began to come to all of us, to me, my wife, my children: ‘Either you go or you die,’” Palmera recalls in the YouTube video.

He sent his wife and two children to Mexico but decided not to join them. He made an appointment to meet in Bogota with Jaime Pardo Leal, the Patriotic Union’s presidential candidate.

But the day before the meeting, on Oct. 11, 1987, Pardo Leal was assassinated.

So Palmera wrote a FARC contact, Adan Izquierdo, saying: “What do I do? I am not leaving this country like a dog with his tail between his legs.”

Izquierdo invited him to the jungle to meet the FARC’s top leaders, one of whom tried to persuade him that, at age 37 and with his credentials, he was more useful as a civilian activist than a soldier.

Then word arrived of a new massacre of six activists in Medellin.

Palmera decided to stay and fight, adopting parts of the name of Simon Bolivar, the 19th century South American independence hero.

“If one is truly a revolutionary, a Bolivarian, one can’t survive even a day giving speeches in public plazas,” Palmera said. “That’s why I’m a guerrilla.”

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Associated Press writers Libardo Cardona in Bogota, Colombia, and Ezequiel Abiu Lopez in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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