13 Moons [Part 2] – Translation
[Daniel Alarcón]: Before we begin, a warning to our listeners: This episode of Radio Ambulante includes descriptions of sexual situations that may be shocking, and it’s not suitable for children.
Welcome to Radio Ambulante from NPR. I’m Daniel Alarcón.
OK, if you haven’t heard the first part of this story, stop this episode and go to the last one. That way, this one will make more sense.
[Andrea]: Orlando Gaitán was a friend. He was a father. As selfless as you can imagine. Well, he was a god. Everything revolved around the taita. Everything.
[Daniel]: In the last episode we met Andrea, and the taita she’s referring to is Orlando Gaitán. Since 2003, Gaitán has led the Carare Foundation, a spiritual community with more than a hundred very faithful followers who meet at a farm on the weekend to drink yagé.
And starting in 2007, this was Andrea’s world. Like she just said, it was everything.
Until one day in early 2010…
[Andrea]: I’m feeling very uncomfortable. I’m feeling very uncomfortable. I said, “No, but why is that?” Something wasn’t right. Something about how I felt wasn’t right.
[Daniel]: While Gaitán was examining her in private for a supposed healing, the taita abused her. And it was only two years later that she learned she wasn’t the only one. This is Lina…
[Lina]: I heard her, I heard her in that instant. Then that was… I said: “No, by God,” I mean… what she’s describing isn’t a healing.
[Daniel]: But rather an act of abuse. That’s exactly why Lina had left the community, because she knew about other similar cases.
Mariana Palau, a Colombian journalist, continues the story.
[Mariana Palau]: Lina told her then to contact Johana, who we heard in the last episode. She was Gaitán’s right hand, the person who worked with him at his clinic and helped him with his scheduling; and Juan Carlos, her husband, was the architect who designed the maloca. Both were in the taita’s innermost circle and they were part of the group that founded the community.
But both had left about two months before Andrea. And the reason Gaitán gave at the time was that Johana and Juan Carlos wanted to steal money from the community. At the time, Andrea didn’t question it. But when she spoke with Lina, she learned what the real reason was.
This is Johana and Juan Carlos’ eldest daughter.
[Cathy]: Well, let’s say my name is Cathy. Uh, I’m 24 years old now.
[Mariana]: Cathy, of course, isn’t her real name. She asked us to change it for her safety.
In 2000, when Cathy was between five and six years old, her mom was diagnosed with uterine cancer, and they told her that she wouldn’t be able to get pregnant again. A friend suggested she try yagé to heal herself physically and emotionally, and that was how Johana met Orlando Gaitán.
Then the events we already discussed in our last episode took place: Johana became pregnant again and was able to have her baby as a natural birth. She and her husband attributed this supposed miracle to the yagé and Gaitán, and from that moment on they started going with Cathy to yagé ceremonies.
[Cathy]: I’ve been taking and consuming it since I was six. Let’s just say, when you’re little all you remember is the taste. The taste is horrible. That’s all I remember. I didn’t like taking yagé when I was little, because it did absolutely nothing for me: no dizziness, no visions, nothing at all. I just remember the taste, and that it tasted bad, that they took me somewhere to drink something that tasted horrible.
[Mariana]: Johana and Juan Carlos became closer and closer to Gaitán. They started bringing in more and more people and together they planned the formation of the Carare community. At that time, they had put so much trust and devotion in the taita that even for Cathy…
[Cathy]: He was like a parent because my parents, well, also saw him as a parent and, well, because he was the spiritual guide of the community.
He also treated me —when I was little, of course— like a daughter, like a child. He watched me grow up.
[Mariana]: When Cathy turned 15, Gaitán performed a special ceremony for her in the maloca. The idea was to symbolize her passage from childhood into adulthood, but also to ratify her commitment to the community.
[Cathy]: I start to kind of immerse myself in this and wanting to be there too, clearly. Wanting to be in this… in this environment because it was very nice.
[Mariana]: And at that age, she was ready to help her parents with their work in the community, and she started to understand what the taita meant to her.
[Cathy]: He started to take on this role as a supreme being. And I say, “Since this man is an incredible being who cured my mother and brought me my brother, I have to give something back to him too.” Because my parents always had that attitude in the community, like they were returning that favor, being with him, because he made something for us that was priceless, which is, well, a person’s life.
[Mariana]: So, Cathy, like the rest of the community, started consulting Gaitán about everything.
[Cathy]: I even consulted him about if I could go out, what to wear. I asked him if I could have a boyfriend. I asked him… I consulted him about absolutely everything. I had total confidence in him.
[Mariana]: For that reason, when she graduated high school at 16, she asked Gaitán what she should study.
[Cathy]: And he tells me, “Don’t worry about studying, come and work. I’ll pay you a salary.” I signed a contract he wrote, where I said that I had to listen to him, that he was my only boss, and that the only person I had to listen to was him.
[Mariana]: Really, the job wasn’t much. Cathy had to organize the resumes and clinical histories at the indigenous medical clinic that Gaitán had in Bogotá. Johana, her mom, also worked there.
Cathy was excited with the job at first, but after a few months, she noticed that Gaitán’s attitude toward her was changing.
[Cathy]: He started being very polite, very gentlemanly, but now in a more adult way, not how a gentleman is with a little girl. And there was a lot of tension.
[Mariana]: Because, besides, at that time, something happened that alarmed her a little.
[Cathy]: He kissed me on the mouth twice.
[Mariana]: Both times he did it at the end of a workday when he was going to say goodbye to Cathy. Gaitán made sure to do it when no one was around. But both times, she tried not to think that those kisses had sexual connotations.
[Cathy]: I never took it sexually. I had a lot of thoughts against what was happening because I would say: “Oh, no, I’m not looking at it the way it really is. He’s my father. He’s my guide. This is an act of love, of affection.”
[Mariana]: For that reason, she decided not to tell anyone.
Around that time, Cathy was diagnosed with ovarian cysts. She was scared because her mom had a history of cancer. But if Gaitán and the yagé had healed her, the solution could be to consult the taita so that he could treat her as well.
And she did. She started going to yagé ceremonies more frequently and Gaitán called her to the front to perform healings on her.
[Cathy]: And he, in… in the middle of a healing, in total darkness, he would put his hands in my pants and masturbated me during the healing. Next to a bunch of people.
[Mariana]: On one occasion, he did it with Cathy’s mom next to her. On another, with his own son there. But since they were in total darkness, no one saw anything.
In total Gaitán touched her abusively at yagé ceremonies about four times. But since the taita, had forbidden them from saying what happened during the healings, because —according to him— it could have bad consequences, Cathy decided not to tell anything to anyone.
At the time she was 17 years old.
[Cathy]: What did I think? I didn’t see it as a form of abuse at the time. To me, this man was healing me, and when you’re healed, you get a remedy that you don’t always have to like.
[Mariana]: If Gaitán had only abused Cathy during the yagé ceremonies, he probably would have been able to continue the abuse for a long time.
[Cathy]: It was such a sacred environment for me, and so respectable that… it was impossible to believe it wasn’t that way. Because it was a situation, a ceremony, with a lot of people singing around us, with a lot of people helping all these people to heal.
[Mariana]: But everything changed one Friday night in 2012, when the community was preparing for a new ceremony. At that time, Gaitán went up to Cathy…
[Cathy]: And said to me: “Don’t come at the time of the healing, but come after, when it’s all over.”
[Mariana]: Cathy did what he said. She waited for everyone to take yagé, for Gaitán to heal everyone he was going to heal that day, and then when everything was over, she walked up to him right there in the maloca.
[Cathy]: Everyone’s silent. There’s a bunch of people. It’s all dark. I can’t see anyone’s faces. He had me come over to his hammock, and he starts putting his hand in my pants with no warning, nothing.
[Mariana]: And the same as before happened again, but that time Cathy was surprised.
[Cathy]: All I do is stay still, petrified, trying to understand what is happening: that it’s wrong, but if he’s done it before, but if it’s been during healings, this isn’t a healing, the previous times weren’t healings…. My mind is a complete chaos.
[Mariana]: She’s not sure how long it lasted. It could have been 10 minutes or 40. In any case, after some time, she reacted and tried to get out of there. Since there were more people around, Gaitán couldn’t stop her.
[Cathy]: I left, and that whole morning, until the sun came up, I remember crying, learning that this man has… has abused me and, well, that it’s not the first time it’s happened.
[Mariana]: Cathy didn’t know what to do. She spent the whole next day, Saturday, trying to think of how to tell people what had happened. All that was clear to her was that she didn’t want to go back to the community, much less see Gaitán again. She wanted to tell her mom: ever since she was little, she trusted her and told her everything, but it was hard.
[Cathy]: How do I tell my mom that, uh, her spiritual guide has abused me? I mean, how is she going to believe me, if this man is God incarnate himself, who brought my brother into this world, I mean…
[Mariana]: Cathy tried to act like nothing was wrong while they were at the farm. But on Sunday afternoon, after they went back home to Bogotá, her mom saw her crying in her room. This is Johana.
[Johana]: Then I said, “Kiddo, what’s wrong?” And she told me: “No, mom, it’s just teenager stuff.” But, well, for me it was strange. In all her years as a teenager, this had never happened. So: “Kiddo, well, no, when you want to talk to me, however I can help you.” “Yes, mom, I’m going to talk to you, but later.”
[Cathy]: My mom is a psychologist, so I told her: “I need to schedule an appointment with you at your clinic.”
[Mariana]: At the clinic where she worked with Gaitán.
[Cathy]: I wanted to set the scene for this conversation, which wasn’t the sort of conversation you have over breakfast, but instead is a very important conversation.
[Mariana]: So, a few days later, Cathy went to the clinic.
[Cathy]: And that’s when I told her everything. I think it was the hardest conversation I ever had with my mom.
[Johana]: When she told me that, I don’t, well, I… I don’t know how to tell you what I felt: I felt everything. The whole world comes crashing down on you. So, well, a first theory, you try to look for ways out: surely, he was doing some form of healing, but she was mistaken about… about… about the way he was acting. I said, it can’t be, but I believe my daughter.
[Cathy]: Then she starts to cry, but she tells me: “I believe you; I mean, I don’t doubt anything you’re telling me. I know it’s true. You aren’t alone in this. I’m with you and I fully believe what you’re telling me, and I don’t doubt any of it. We’re going to do something.”
[Mariana]: In reality, Johana wasn’t sure what they were going to do, but in that moment, she wanted Cathy to calm down.
She told her to go home, and she stayed at the clinic. When Gaitán arrived…
[Johana]: He said: “What’s wrong? What’s wrong, child?” “No, nothing.” But, of course, I must have had a face… you don’t see it, but it changes.
[Mariana]: Gaitán insisted.
[Johana]: “What’s wrong,” and I said: “No, sir, nothing.”
[Mariana]: He kept insisting until Johana couldn’t take it anymore, and she told him that it was because of what had happened the previous Friday with her daughter, at the last yagé ceremony.
[Johana]: And so, with that face of, well, an abuser, who’ll never admit it: “Friday? No, if she’s the prettiest girl in the world,” she’s this and that. In other words, nothing happened. In conclusion.
[Mariana]: For Johana, with that answer, Gaitán was incriminating himself. Because without her clarifying what she was referring to, Gaitán was already denying it, as if he knew exactly what she was talking about. In that moment, Johana decided not to say anything else to him.
Johana and Cathy’s next step was to tell Juan Carlos.
[Juan Carlos]: And well, my sense was… It’s as if I had left my daughter in the care of my father, my father by blood, and three days later my daughter tells me that my father mistreated, abused her. Then, my heart is split in two: my love for my daughter and my love to that man, because I did love the guy.
[Mariana]: Juan Carlos couldn’t wrap his head around how what his wife and daughter were saying could have happened. They were talking about the man who had changed his life.
But at the same time, how was he going to doubt his own daughter?
[Juan Carlos]: Something comes up, which is called ambiguity, which is the ugliest thing: it’s having two exits and not knowing which to take. That is hell. But my wife tips the scales, and she pulls me out of it, because she tells me: “We have to believe our daughter before anyone else. She’s our daughter.”
[Mariana]: Juan Carlos decided to face Gaitán. He thought there had to be some kind of explanation. He went to the farm alone to speak with him. When he got there, the taita greeted him very effusively.
[Juan Carlos]: “Hello, son! How are you?” Very attentive, very polite, very cordial. “Come, let’s talk for a while,” and this and that. So, I said, “What happened?” I asked him, “What happened?”
[Mariana]: Juan Carlos told me that if at that moment the taita had admitted what he did to his daughter, he would have forgiven him because he was so devoted to him. But Gaitán’s response was…
[Juan Carlos]: “No. No, no, no, those things with your daughter, those are… those are demons. They’re all made up.”
[Mariana]: Gaitán changed the subject with no further explanation, and he offered to make Juan Carlos the second in command in the community, the person who would be behind him in the pecking order.
[Juan Carlos]: But to me, that action had the opposite effect, it disgusted me. Instead of fixing things, he’s screwing it up even more. I’m saying it with that ugly expression. I mean, he’s making it even more messed up. I left feeling worse that day.
[Mariana]: He didn’t say anything else to him. To Juan Carlos, it was useless to continue that conversation. He felt disappointed, frustrated, taken advantage of, and his wife did too. After a few days, they decided to confront Gaitán together. They wanted him to tell them the truth.
[Juan Carlos]: He called us aside, closed the maloca, and started talking. So, we looked at him with this expression, like we were asking, “What happened?” And he started talking and spoke for about two hours. He even cried and said: “Oh, yes, maybe I screwed up. Forgive me.” And he cried for a few seconds, like he accepted the… the charge.
[Mariana]: Johana asked Gaitán what he would do if he realized a teacher had sexually abused his child.
[Juan Carlos]: Then he says: “Oh, my child, that happens in schools all the time.” Obviously, we left feeling very disgusted by that because… I may not be the most brilliant person, but I don’t let people take advantage of my intelligence.
[Mariana]: Johana and Juan Carlos could no longer bare Gaitán’s level of cynicism, but they didn’t want to leave so quickly and give him the sense that he had freed himself of them. So, they decided to keep going for a time and, little by little, take all the things they had at the farm: clothes, chairs, sleeping bags.
The plan was to make him as uncomfortable as they could with their presence, but besides that Johana and Juan Carlos didn’t know what to do. They had no one to turn to outside of the community because they had been enmeshed there for 12 years: their social circle was there. So, at Cathy’s request, they decided to speak with the family council, which was a group of couples from the community that they themselves had formed to talk mostly about relationships and family. One of the rules of the group was that you couldn’t speak outside the circle about the things that were discussed there.
[Daniel]: The members of the family council were devotees of Gaitán’s, but Johana and Juan Carlos decided that they had to trust them in that moment. They didn’t have a lot of options.
After the break, what happened when they told these people what had happened.
We’ll be right back.
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[Daniel]: We’re back with Radio Ambulante. I’m Daniel Alarcón.
Before the break, Johana and Juan Carlos had confronted Orlando Gaitán with the accusation that he abused their daughter, Cathy. And now they had decided to speak with the community’s family council to figure out what to do.
Mariana Palau continues the story.
[Mariana]: Johana and Juan Carlos invited the family council to their home. They asked Cathy to tell them everything Gaitán had done to her, and when she finished…
[Cathy]: Then we realize that, of the three families we were speaking to, two of them had daughters and women, and this had happened to those two.
[Mariana]: To the third, who only had sons, it hadn’t happened. But they did have a relative who told them that Gaitán had abused her.
[Cathy]: So it’s like a shock. To 100 percent of the people there, it had happened to 100 percent of them . What is this?
[Mariana]: It was impossible to forgive Gaitán. Johana, Juan Carlos, and the other three families decided to leave the community.
When Gaitán realized that they were leaving, he told everyone else that they wanted to steal money from the community, and he forbade them from speaking to them.
The idea that she wasn’t the only woman who was abused by Gaitán was terrifying for Cathy and her parents. So, Johana, who was the bridge between him and his patients, and who has always had a good memory…
[Cathy]: Then she starts remembering all these women who she’s met and who left the community in silence, and she starts piecing things together.
[Mariana]: It was easy to connect some of these people’s abrupt departures from the community with the abuse.
[Cathy]: Then, well, that’s when my mom starts to say, “I need to contact these women and ask them if this has happened to them because if it has, this is bigger than we thought. This wasn’t just a mistake that happened with my daughter, and that’s it.”
[Mariana]: In the following months, Johana contacted around 20 women who ended up being victims of Gaitán. Among them was Andrea, who we heard at the start of the episode.
And yes, 20 was already too high a number, but the worst part was that there could have been many more. Gaitán was also doing yagé ceremonies in other parts of the country, and there were several other women that Johana still hadn’t been able to contact.
Then Cathy started remembering the female friends she had made in the community, some her age and others who were younger.
[Cathy]: And I start thinking about all those girls and I say: “My God, I mean, we have to do something. This man can’t keep on going like this because I’m not the only person this can happen to, because this could happen to this person or that person.” I mean, I… their names and everything, I think about them and I say: “I have to do something, I mean, why hasn’t anyone done anything? Why has everyone stayed quiet?”
[Mariana]: So along with her parents, they decided to report Gaitán to the authorities.
Johana asked each of the women she contacted if they were willing to join the complaint.
[Johana]: Making the report was a whole process because, well, it’s not so easy. So: “Who makes that decision?”
[Mariana]: Not everyone agreed because, for many, it’s hard to tell the world about a sexual abuse. Others did. They needed someone to take the first step to speak, and Cathy had done it.
They started organizing their cases in early 2013.
[Johana]: And the first complaints were in September of that same year, for a lot of reasons, for a lot of processes.
[Mariana]: In the end, they collected nine complaints. Among them were the two that we already heard: Andrea and Cathy’s, but there were also cases like the two sisters who Gaitán had abused for years, starting when they were minors. Each one realized the same thing had happened to the other only when Johana contacted them.
In 2015, two years after filing the complaints…
[Journalist]: Taita Édgar Orlando Gaitán is currently confined in prison in Villeta, following a request made by the Attorney General’s Office.
[Journalist]: According to the Attorney General’s Office, he took advantage of his knowledge of indigenous culture to sexually assault his victims.
[Mariana]: The Attorney General’s Office accused Gaitán of carnal intrusion of a person rendered incapable of resisting. And here it’s important to explain what this crime means: the victimizer doesn’t use violence to sexually abuse the victim. He doesn’t assault them, or hit them, or coerce them, instead, he renders them unconscious or incapacitated so that they can’t resist.
In some cases, that unconsciousness is achieved through substances or drugs that make it so that the victim can’t react. This is the most obvious case, but it can also happen when all of a person’s senses are active and they still don’t attribute a sexual connotation to the abuse. Put another way, the victim can be mentally sound, can know what a sexual abuse is, but puts so much trust in the victimizer that in that moment they don’t understand that they’re being abused. It may also be the case that the victim has been manipulated to such an extent that they are too afraid of the consequences if they resist.
It’s difficult to understand, but this last case occurs especially when the victimizer is a moral, spiritual, legal, or medical authority in the eyes of the victims and manages to convince them that the abuse is necessary to cure them physically, to free them from some sanction or to achieve some kind of miracle.
These cases occur when, for example, during an exam, the doctor abusively touches their patient, making them believe it’s part of normal procedure. Maybe the most emblematic case is that of Larry Nasser, the doctor for the US women’s gymnastics team. Starting in 1992 and for nearly 25 years, Nassar abused a generation of gymnasts, in many cases, pretending to administer medical therapies and sometimes even in the presence of the young athlete’s parents. Last year, 2018, he was sentenced to between 40 and 175 years in prison, while the president of the US Olympic Committee resigned amid fierce criticisms for not responding to the accusations of abuse in due time.
This crime can also occur when a police officer coerces someone into having sex in exchange for not taking them to jail or giving them a fine. Or even when an employer threatens to fire someone if that person refuses to have sex.
But it also happens in religious congregations or cults in which the priest, pastor, or spiritual leader convinces their congregants that, since they are divine or have a special connection with God, it is a blessing to have sex with them.
Gaitán did many of the things we just mentioned: first because, in general, yagé warps people’s sense of reality, and some of his victims were under the hallucinogenic effects of the drug when they were abused. Also, because he presented himself as a doctor, so he made them believe he was examining or healing them with his abusive touching. But aside from that, there were cases in which he convinced his victims that the sex recharged his healing power and if he chose them for that work, they should feel honored.
The manipulation he exercised over them was so great that even if they were certain that what he had done to them was abuse, they were very afraid of what Gaitán could do to them if they told anyone what had happened. That allowed him to abuse his victims systematically. For years.
The legal proceedings began in 2013 when they presented their complaints to the Attorney General’s Office, and they arrested Gaitán in 2015. But the trial ended up dragging on for a long time, and I learned about this story in 2018 when the proceedings were still underway.
At that time, Gaitán had been released due to the expiration of terms, in other words, since the trial had gone on for so long, because of bureaucratic issues and postponed hearings, they couldn’t leave him in jail indefinitely. He was in jail for nearly two years.
During that time, the Attorney General’s Office presented evidence, brought some members who had already left the community to testify so they could talk about, among other things, the way Gaitán manipulated people. They also brought experts in forensic psychiatry to profile him as a serial sexual abuser, a predator who manipulated his victims and presented a danger to society.
The defense did the same thing to try to prove the opposite: that he was really an altruistic person who heals people, and that all of those accusations were false.
On August 30th of that year, 2018, I traveled to Guaduas, a town almost three hours outside of Bogotá, where the trial was held. That day would be the hearing in which the defense’s final witnesses would speak.
I was hoping to find Gaitán there, but he had stopped going to the hearings. The Attorney General’s Office had asked the judge not to allow him to be present while the victims told their stories so as not to traumatize or frighten them. That day, only Gaitán’s lawyer was there…
[Rafael Martínez]: My name is Rafael Martínez Bohórquez. I’m 50 years old.
[Mariana]: I looked for Rafael after the hearing to learn more about what he thought about the case. At first, he told me that he himself started getting involved in the Carare community around 10 years ago, and he denies that it’s a cult because among other things, according to him, people can come and go as they please.
[Rafael]: That doesn’t happen in a cult because they’re closed off. They have a hermetic nature and other means of domination, and the people there are practically zombies.
[Mariana]: But according to accounts gathered by the Attorney General’s Office, and what the protagonists of this story tell us, the community does have the characteristics of a cult: there is a clear hierarchy and specific roles, it’s not so easy for people to leave because they feel pressured to continue, and perhaps the most evident characteristic is the idolization of Gaitán.
According to Rafael, they’re only saying that to strengthen the accusation and convince the judge of how bad Gaitán is. But since he’s in the community, he knows it’s a lie.
[Rafael]: And, let’s say, I… I’ve become very aware of that… of that claim, because you can be vulnerable to a lot of things, but, by God, I mean, as I’ve always said, I would definitely realize that… I mean, that I’m in a cult.
[Mariana]: For him, Gaitán is a healer who just wants to help people.
[Rafael]: But he’s a sexual psychopath, supposedly. And a sexual psychopath doesn’t have solidarity or altruism or anything. In there, people have cried saying how this man helped them. All he does is help and help and help and help.
[Mariana]: Rafael told me that when these proceedings started in 2013, and the accusations came to light and then the arrest in 2015, he came to believe that the community could come to an end. But his closest disciples continued performing the yagé ceremonies, and when he was set free, he went back to the farm and it was like nothing had happened.
Gaitán decided not to return to the hearings, and he wasn’t required to either. So, Raphael was in charge of showing up, speaking with media and, of course, continuing his defense. According to him, this is the best way to thank the taita for everything he’s done for him. And he is very emphatic about how he’s doing it for free.
[Rafael]: I don’t think it’s appropriate to charge him. I am basically defending myself. How could I charge him? I mean, I’m going to charge myself.
[Mariana]: I ask him why, according to him, Gaitán is innocent.
[Rafael]: You could say the central, main argument to say he’s innocent is because, in order to say he’s guilty, they crafted, falsified, and twisted a reality that is a reality. In many cases in a crude way, very crude, crude, crude, to be able to assert that he’s responsible.
[Mariana]: It was a little difficult for me to understand that answer, but as the prosecutor in the trial laid it out, basically Gaitán’s defense maintains that it’s a conspiracy on the part of the victims and the Attorney General. And that’s the argument Rafael presented at the trial, which we’ve already heard several times: that it was a setup by Johana and Juan Carlos, Cathy’s parents, so they could keep the farm and take money from Gaitán and the community. Rafael says that Johana and Juan Carlos pressured the witnesses, made up testimonies, distorted facts. According to him, it’s rather suspicious that the complaints were made so late, just as the two of them withdrew from the community.
I asked if he had any more evidence of that. He told me he couldn’t tell me what evidence he had at the time because it could harm the defense’s strategy if that information got out.
The trial against Gaitán lasted four years. But in the end, the sentencing hearing, where they would say if he was guilty or innocent, was held on May 13th of 2019…
[Judge]: On trial is Édgar Orlando Gaitán Camacho, for the crime of carnal intrusion of a person rendered incapable of resisting.
[Mariana]: Prosecutor Vladimir Álvarez summarized the accusation and the evidence they’d presented during the trial that showed that Gaitán is a manipulator.
He said, for example, as we mentioned in the previous episode that the fact that he presented himself as the winner of an alternative Nobel Prize afforded him a certain status, but the truth is the organization he belonged to won it, not him personally.
[Vladimir Álvarez]: It would have been very different if Orlando Gaitán had said: “Look, everyone, here’s my public declaration where I say that I didn’t win any Nobel prize on a personal or individual level.” That doesn’t exist anywhere, your honor.
[Mariana]: But aside from that…
[Vladimir]: He wants us to believe that because he comes from Carare, he also belongs to an indigenous community, man. What indigenous community does Orlando Gaitán belong to? It’s not true, he doesn’t belong to any indigenous community.
[Mariana]: A linguist who studied the case explained in the trial that the Carare indigenous people, the ethnic group that Gaitán said he was descended from, disappeared in the early 20th century and that there is no one left who speaks their language. Gaitán asserts that he is the only person who speaks the Carare language, but, as the linguist explained, a language can’t exist with just one speaker. It’s true that some researchers collected very basic words from that language, but it’s also true that no one knows its structure or its grammar or anything. What Gaitán did was make up words and make up songs and prayers with them.
And he clarified another issue…
[Vladimir]: Though they call him taita and recognize him as a taita, and he studied with taitas, from an anthropological perspective, your honor, he is not a taita in the eyes of traditional indigenous orthodoxy. What is he? He’s a neo-shaman, your honor.
[Mariana]: The prosecution recognized that Gaitán learned about plants and their curative properties with his grandmother and that he also spent time in several indigenous communities learning healing techniques. But it was also clear that in the course of his training with other taitas, they never taught him that he must touch women’s sexual organs during healings. He made that up too.
The prosecutor’s argument was that all of the lies Gaitán concocted were very useful for him, especially in order to have…
[Vladimir]: Moral, spiritual, medical authority as a healer. And that image is going to act as a kind of spell on people and his victims.
[Mariana]: And that is precisely what allowed him to sexually abuse them all those years.
[Vladimir]: This is a case with very, very fine legal subtlety. There was no violence here. When Orlando Gaitán abused the victims, they were convinced that it was anything but abuse, your honor. Many of them felt that it was a blessing, that this was a gift from the universe. In this view, it’s normal that they didn’t come out of the abuse and directly file a complaint. All perfect for abuse, your honor. What a well-assembled trap.
[Mariana]: Rafael, Gaitán’s lawyer, insisted again that it was a set up by the Attorney General’s Office, and that, with the help of Johana and Juan Carlos, they had manipulated the witnesses.
At the end of the hearing, the judge gave her ruling.
[Judge]: The ruling will have a mixed character. That is, there will be a sentence in the cases of some of the victims, and an acquittal in others.
[Mariana]: She declared him guilty in three cases: Cathy’s, and the case of the two sisters who didn’t know about the other’s abuse until Johana contacted them. Then she added that…
[Judge]: As for the other victims, well, in the reading of the ruling the reasoning behind the same will be supported and argued.
[Mariana]: She explained that since the trial had gone on for so long, she needed an appropriate amount of time to analyze the evidence and argue her decision very well. She scheduled the reading of the ruling for November 2019, the same date that she will give Gaitán’s sentence, which could be between 12 and 20 years in prison.
And before she concluded, she said…
[Judge]: The court considers the detention of the accused necessary. And a detention warrant will be ordered and issued immediately.
[Mariana]: The justification was that he had abused minors.
But there was a problem with the arrest warrant, because Gaitán, as he was for most of the trial, wasn’t present at the time.
[Miguel Ángel Torres (Representative of the Ombudsman Office of Colombia)]: Your honor, in the interest of guaranteeing the victims their right to truth and justice, I need this court to require the defense to tell us if Mr. Orlando Gaitán is in Colombia or not.
[Mariana]: Rafael, Gaitán’s lawyer, answered:
[Rafael]: Your honor, as the defense I do not have exact knowledge of where he is at the moment. I know that he is not in the country. I know that he left, but as for the exact location, I can’t… I can’t… I’m not certain at this time.
[Mariana]: Sometime later, it was discovered that Gaitán had fled to Mexico. He left the country before the judge gave her ruling, and according to Interpol in Colombia, he left illegally because there is no record of his departure. On March of 2019, the Colombian consulate in Cancún confirmed that Mexican authorities had initiated legal proceedings against Gaitán for the trafficking, production, and/or possession of narcotics. Though he was not incarcerated, he did appear before Mexican authorities to resolve the situation.
When Interpol in Colombia learned that Gaitán had fled justice, they put out a red notice for his arrest. In July 2019, Mexican authorities found him in Playa del Carmen, and at that time, Gaitán was in the process of acquiring residency to make his deportation more complicated in the event of his arrest. But the authorities quickly returned him to Colombia, and since then he has been in jail awaiting his sentence.
I tried to get in contact with Gaitán several times, through Rafael, his attorney. At first, he told me Gaitán would sit for an interview. But not long after the ruling, Rafael stopped responding to me.
[Daniel]: When we closed this story, the judge hadn’t given Gaitán his sentence. All that’s certain is that his defense is going to appeal the ruling and plans to go to appeals court.
After Gaitán was put in jail and knowing that it was likely he would only be sentenced for three of the abuses, Mariana spoke with the victims again to find out what they thought about everything that happened with the case. These are Cathy and Andrea:
[Cathy]: I feel like it’s a process that isn’t done yet. I would like to continue, well, fighting to appeal those cases because it’s so hard for women to speak out and got through this whole process that lasts a bunch of years, because of all the justice system’s roadblocks, that the existing cases weren’t approved, seems completely unfair to me.
[Andrea]: When we read that, well, it provoked a sort of like… like an unease in us. But at the same time, well, we’re sort of happy that, well, Orlando was extradited from Mexico.
[Cathy]: It’s a relief that at least in those three cases that did… that are there, well, some type of justice is made.
[Andrea]: Proving it has been very complex. It reveals an issue that had been happening for many, many years. This is not the first case that surfaces about sexual abuse by so-called shamans. So, well, it’s also a progress in the country’s jurisprudence.
[Cathy]: The fact that he’s in jail fixes absolutely nothing, in my case what he did, absolutely nothing. But the reason, well, that this whole legal process was started was so that he wouldn’t be able to do it to more women.
[Andrea]: It’s also a call to always believe the victims. It’s a problem that victims are not believe when there’s abuse. We have to believe, and we have to investigate.
[Daniel]: It’s difficult to say how many women were victims of Gaitán, because the majority of them didn’t want to report him for fear of retaliation, even supernatural retaliation. At the moment, he has at least seven pending trials in other cities in the country for new accusations of sexual abuse.
Mariana Palau is a journalist. She co-produced this story with David Trujillo, a producer with Radio Ambulante. They both live in Bogotá.
This episode was edited by Camila Segura and me. The music and sound design are by Andrés Azpiri. Andrea López Cruzado did the fact-checking.
The rest of the Radio Ambulante team includes Lisette Arévalo, Gabriela Brenes, Jorge Caraballo, Victoria Estrada, Miranda Mazariegos, Rémy Lozano, Patrick Moseley, Laura Rojas Aponte, Barbara Sawhill, Luis Trelles, Elsa Liliana Ulloa, Luis Fernando Vargas, and Joseph Zárate. Carolina Guerrero is the CEO.
Radio Ambulante is produced and mixed on Hindenburg PRO.
Before we finish, we want to ask you a favor. We’ve found that most new listeners of Radio Ambulante came to the podcast thanks to recommendations from friends and people they trust. In other words, thanks to you. So please, keep listening to and recommending Radio Ambulante to the people close to you. It seems simple but that word of mouth is the biggest factor in helping us grow. Thank you very much.
Radio Ambulante tells the stories of Latin America. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Thanks for listening.
In the next episode of Radio Ambulante, we go searching for an address in San José, Costa Rica…
[Sergio]: From the Pollo Macho house, the corner that’ll be facing the La Agonía church, up like 300 feet toward the Stadium.
[Ana]: From the Porvenir Catholic church, 50 meters north, 250 meters east, the two-story house on the right.
[Andrea]: One hundred meters west and 200 north of the Jarra Garibaldi restaurant.
And get thoroughly lost. That story, next week.