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Colombia’s 'Rigo' - from war victim to cycling sporting hero

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Fri, 30 May 2014 16:38 GMT
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Colombia's Rigoberto Uran races to claim a sliver medal during the men's cycling road race at the London 2012 Olympic Games, July 28, 2012. REUTERS/Mark Blinch
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Colombians have been glued to televisions screens in recent days, transfixed by the winning performances of their cyclists on the Giro d'Italia, considered the second most important race in cycling after the Tour de France.

Of the three Colombian cyclists who have dominated the race, Julian Arredondo, Nairo Quintana and Rigoberto Uran, it is Uran who stands out. A national sporting hero and Olympic silver medal winner, his life story reflects the suffering and resilience of many Colombians during the nation’s 50-year war.

Uran grew up in the village of Urrao about 140 km from Colombia’s second city of Medellin in Antioquia province, a region that was a battleground between warring factions including leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries and government troops during the 1990s and early 2000s.

Rigo, as he is known, and his father, who was also a professional cyclist, would often cycle together along the region’s mountainous paths.

Right-wing paramilitaries killed his father as he trained with three other cyclists in the mountains in 2001. Rigo was 14 when his father was murdered, leaving behind a widow and children.

But despite the tragedy, Rigo has gone on to become one of the best cyclists on the European cycling tour and winner of a silver medal at the London Olympics of 2012.

Millions of other Colombians can relate to his loss.

Colombia’s war has claimed the lives of more than 220,000 people and forced 5.7 million to flee their homes.

There are nearly 6 million war victims on the government’s official register. Of that number, 80 percent are people who have been displaced.

Also on the list are relatives of those who have disappeared, been killed or kidnapped, civilians killed and injured by landmines and other devices, victims of sexual abuse, and children forcibly recruited as child soldiers.

As part of historic legislation passed in 2011 the government is offering up to $12,000 to victims and families of those who have died in the violence inflicted by all sides in the conflict.

The law is seen as the centrepiece of government efforts to heal the wounds of war and lays the groundwork for peace as the government and top commanders from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) hold peace talks in Havana.

Rigo’s family is one of around 350,000 families in Colombia who have received compensation under the victims' law.

The issue of war victims and their right to know the truth about what happened to those relatives who have been murdered or have gone missing is an issue negotiators are set to discuss at the Havana peace talks in the coming months.

"News about Rigoberto Uran fills us with pride and it makes us reflect upon the role of the state in the integral reparations we give to victims," said Paula Gaviria who heads the government’s victims’ unit following Rigo's success during the Giro d'Italia that ends on Sunday.

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