Jenifer de la Rosa was just a week old when Colombia’s Nevado del Ruiz volcano exploded, unleashing a wall of mud that buried an entire town and left 25,000 dead.
In the chaotic aftermath of the 1985 disaster the infant was handed over to a Red Cross worker and eventually adopted by a Spanish couple.
Now a documentary filmmaker, she’s been on a quest to answer one question that has haunted her: What happened to her biological family?
On Thursday, a genetic institute in Colombia’s capital announced it has solved part of the puzzle, with scientists revealing they have confirmed through DNA testing that a woman still living in the South American nation is her sister.
“I thought this can’t be true,” de la Rosa said. “This could only happen in a movie.”
The story of the lost sisters could be one of many involving children who were separated from their parents after the Nevado del Ruiz erupted, rescued from the rubble and later put up for adoption after no relative arrived to claim them.
According to local media, children who weren’t reunited with their families within six months were considered abandoned, even though it’s possible some of their parents were still recovering in hospitals and not able to search for them.
An outpouring of Colombians and foreigners eager to adopt were granted permission, raising the children as far away as Holland and France. Now as they build lives as adults, some like de la Rosa are coming back, searching for closure.
“It has been a thousand different emotions,” de la Rosa said. “I’ve always kept questioning.”
The journey of the adoptees often leads first to Francisco González, who himself lost his father and brother in the tragedy and made it his mission to reunite families. He said his foundation, Armando Armero, has gathered information from 478 people looking for children they are convinced survived as well as 65 kids who were adopted.
“We know many children came out alive,” he said from his home, where he keeps old newspapers and a stack of binders filled with case information. “They were put up for legal adoptions and informal ones and there was no efficient state presence.”
The events that November day were in many ways a tragedy foretold.
Armero was known as the “white city” for its abundant cotton crops. Residents didn’t fret much about the nearby volcano, nicknaming it the “sleeping lion.” Scientists warned of a deadly eruption for months, but no response plan was put in place.
When the Nevado del Ruiz erupted, it melted part of its snowcap, creating a 150-foot-high wall of mud that swept down the Lagunilla River.
About 23,000 of Armero’s estimated 28,000 residents died or went missing as the mudslide pulled trees from their roots and enveloped entire homes. Another 2,000 people were killed or disappeared on the opposite side of the volcano.
It was the image of a child – 13-year-old Omayra Sánchez – holding onto life as rescuers tried to free her body from the mud that became emblematic of the tragedy and captured the world’s attention in the days after the tragedy.
With families scattered and few in possession of IDs, relatives embarked on their own individual quests to locate their loved one. González himself went searching for his father and brother but to this day has never found their remains.
Images of rescued children were published in newspapers in hopes a relative would find them. Some were too young to even say their name.
“Approximately eight months,” one notice states alongside the picture of a dark-hard boy with squinting eyes. “He says ‘Pa’ and ‘More.’”
While many of their parents did likely die, others were badly injured but alive.
Gladys Primo was in a coma for three months before she woke up to discover that her young daughter and son were nowhere to be found. To this day, she still believes they are alive, convinced that a young boy shown on television being lifted into a helicopter is her son.
She’s among the hundreds who have submitted DNA for testing.
“I know one day they are going to appear,” she said.
Primo and other families say Colombia’s child welfare agency has left them in the dark, never providing a full accounting of which kids were adopted. The government office in charge of adoptions did not respond to a request for comment.
Seven years ago, González approached Emilio Yunis, a Colombian pioneer in genetic studies, to see if he could help find relatives. That work is now continued by his son, Juan Yunis, whose genetic institute has collected profiles from 275 people linked to the Armero tragedy, including 48 men and women adopted as children.
Juan Yunis said they have helped solve four cases, including one man who grew up in the U.S. and was reunited with his biological father. He said the state could do more by providing labs like his with access to the DNA of those buried in mass graves.
“They’ve done absolutely nothing,” he said.
De la Rosa, 34, for her part, has always known that she was adopted after the tragedy. Her Spanish parents openly shared what they knew about her story, including papers indicating her biological mother’s name is Dorian Tapazco Tellez.
During her teen years, she began searching on the internet for her birth mother’s name but never came up with any results.
The itch to find out more came and went, culminating with her decision to pursue a career in journalism, an avenue that de la Rosa says allowed her to explore a painful, confusing part of her past but from a distance. She studied filmmaking and is now at work on a documentary titled “Daughter of the Volcano.”
“I decided I had to come to Colombia,” she said. “It was a part of me.”
When she began searching in earnest, she was stunned to find a woman working as a street food vendor in Barrancabermeja also searching for a mother with a similar name. Ángela Rendón, 35, has lived a dramatically different life as the single mother of two teenage girls but also spent a lifetime wondering if she had living relatives.
With González’s help, they met for the first time last year, though at that point they did not have DNA confirmation that they were family.
De la Rosa was skeptical, though Rendón held out hope they’d be a match.
“Only God and science know,” she told her.
What little they know of their story coincides: Documents and anecdotes both have uncovered indicate that their mother left them with different people in the tragedy’s aftermath, indicating she survived. Both are now on a mission to find her, but they have not been able to find anyone with her name in the nation’s civil registry.
The tests disclosed Thursday establish a maternal link, though scientists are not able to determine if they share a father without more genetic material.
De la Rosa said she still struggles to think of the two as sisters, but Rendón sees surprising similarities, like how they both showed up to their initial meeting in flower-print jackets and years before had gotten tattoos on their left arm.
As they spoke to journalists Thursday, de la Rosa rubbed her sibling’s shoulder and they shared a brief hug. Rather than an instant bond, the women said theirs is a relationship they will continue to foster through the years.
“We’ve lived very, very different realities,” de la Rosa said. “We’re an example that ties are built.”
Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick’s late entry into the presidential race offers Democrats a fresh — and perhaps last — chance to reassess who they think is the strongest candidate to take on President Donald Trump.
It adds to the now months-long debate within the Democratic Party over “electability” less than three months before the first votes are cast. For a party that prides itself on diversity, the answers so far have been consistent and, to some, frustrating — a top tier dominated by white candidates, only one of whom is a woman.
But Patrick’s campaign is a reminder of the divergent paths to victory for presidential hopefuls. White candidates must prove they can win over black voters. Blacks and other minority contenders, however, must show they can build white support.
That type of multiracial coalition has eluded virtually everyone in the race except Joe Biden, who — for now — has deep support among black voters in addition to working-class whites. Those who assess that backing as soft, however, see an opening for a moderate candidate like Patrick, a black governor who made history winning in a majority-white state.
That, some strategists say, differentiates Patrick from Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey, the two other major black candidates whose past electoral success has come in more diverse states and who are lagging in the presidential polls.
“Kamala Harris and Cory Booker are well-funded, high-profile black candidates, but have not been able to rise during a cycle where appeals to black voters are central to who will be the eventual winner of the primary,” said Democratic strategist Joel Payne. He said the election will confront what stigma still exists with white voters toward black candidates in the post-Barack Obama era.
“We can make the assumption that Patrick will be the next black candidate to face this test, but his appeal is altogether different than Booker and Harris,” Payne said. “The Patrick candidacy is an appeal to moderation and to the center-left more than a direct appeal to black voters.”
In 2008, then-Sen. Obama was the lone black candidate in the Democratic primary field and didn’t begin to gain momentum until the final weeks before the Iowa caucuses, trailing Hillary Clinton and John Edwards for much of the contest. But Obama’s showing— winning an overwhelmingly white electorate — gave him momentum to convince black voters in South Carolina and across the Black Belt that he was viable.
Obama’s diverse coalition was a new blueprint in Democratic electoral mapmaking, earning him the party’s nomination and his history-making general election victory. Observers say it’s an electorate Democrats will have to replicate to win in 2020.
The trio of African Americans have taken different approaches in how they contend with the racial aspects of their candidacies.
Harris announced her candidacy on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and has unique status as an alumna of historically black Howard University, member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, and the lone black woman in the 2020 fray.
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker announced during Black History Month. The former mayor of Newark touts his residency in an impoverished black neighborhood in the city but has also sought to cast himself as a bridge builder — pointing out his ties to a civil rights legacy that changed his family’s trajectory with intervention from progressive whites that helped him integrate his childhood neighborhood.
In a brief interview Friday, he encouraged voters to “pull the lens back on diversity.”
“We have women in this race, we have an openly gay person in this race, we have (a) biracial person in this race, African-Americans in this race,” he said. “It is an incredible moment in American history that our field is so diverse and that voters have such qualified folks to choose from."
Patrick himself has made relatively few references to race since launching his campaign. But as he registered this week to appear on the ballot in the New Hampshire primary, he spoke of the “skepticism” he has experienced as a black man.
“He has demonstrated an ability to win over white voters in an overwhelmingly white state,” said Democratic strategist Doug Thornell. “The question is whether he has enough time, whether he can raise the money, and whether he can carve out a compelling narrative and identity that allows him to break through. That’s a lot to accomplish in two months, but it’s not crazy.”
His path would be a challenging one. Though Patrick is not a national name, he is fairly well-known in neighboring New Hampshire, where voters saw television ads for his gubernatorial campaigns.
A strong finish in the Granite State could provide momentum heading into South Carolina, disrupting the field and leaving no clear frontrunner heading into Super Tuesday, said Thornell.
“If you look at the African American candidates running, he might be the best positioned to pull that off,” Thornell said.
Patrick’s late entry is reminiscent of Gen. Wesley Clark’s 11th-hour bid in 2003. Clark was able to briefly break through after some among the electorate worried about then-Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry’s path to the nomination, or that former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean was too liberal.
As a prominent African American who can appeal to black and white voters, Patrick could appeal to soft Biden voters looking for an alternative to Booker or Harris, or who don’t like Sen. Elizabeth Warren or Sen. Bernie Sanders’ progressive agenda, said Democratic strategist Adrienne Elrod.
“He can create that ‘I’m more left than Biden, but not crazy like Warren/Sanders’ message,” Elrod said. “He could appeal to some of those voters who are on the fence and not satisfied with others in the field. He can say, ‘I can be your candidate.’”
The UN Security Council on Friday renewed for another year the partial lifting of the arms embargo on Somalia, and added a ban on chemicals used for making improvised explosive devices.
The 15-member council voted 12-0 in favor of Resolution 2498 that enabled the decisions, with China, Russia and Equatorial Guinea abstaining.
Until Nov. 15, 2020, the arms embargo on Somalia shall not apply to deliveries of weapons and military equipment "intended solely for the development of the Somali National Security Forces or Somalia security sector institutions," the resolution said.
However, deliveries of some heavy weapons require advance approval by the council's committee monitoring the embargo enforcement, and deliveries of some lighter weapons need prior notification to the committee.
The resolution reaffirmed the longstanding exception to the arms embargo for the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and the European Union Training Mission (EUTM) in Somalia as well as humanitarian operations.
A new ban was imposed on certain chemicals used by militants, including al-Qaida-linked group al-Shabaab, to make improvised explosive devices, forbidding their sales to Somalia if evidence shows that they will be used for that purpose.
Deliveries of such chemicals "more generally" need prior notification to the monitoring committee.
The resolution also reaffirmed its decision regarding the ban on charcoal trades with Somali, a key source of funds for al-Shabaab.
In January 1992, the Security Council introduced an open-ended arms embargo on Somalia over the ongoing conflict and deteriorating humanitarian situation.
In February 2007, the council limited the embargo to non-state actors, allowing arms supplies to Somali government forces.
President Kais Saied officially approved Habib Jemli on Friday to form the new government, according to a statement by the Tunisian presidency.
Jemli was the candidate of Tunisia's Islamist party Ennahdha, the party that won the parliamentary elections on Oct. 6, 2019.
The future prime minister should form his government within a period not exceeding one month from Friday in accordance with the constitution.
An agronomist, Jemli was born on March 28, 1959 in Kairouan, a province of central Tunisia. He is married and has four children.
Between 2011 and 2014, Jemli held the position of Secretary of State for Agriculture as an independent in the two governments of Hamadi Jebali and Ali Larayedh, of Ennahdha party.
In his CV, he states that he has "no political affiliation."
Ennahdha (Renaissance) came in the lead in Tunisian parliamentary elections by winning 52 out of a total 217 seats in the new Assembly of People's Representatives (parliament), followed by the Heart of Tunisia party with 38 seats.
Spanish King Felipe VI paid a courtesy visit on Thursday to First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba Raul Castro Ruz, according to official broadcasting station Radio Havana Cuba.
The Cuban media did not offer details of the meeting between Castro and the king, who, together with his wife Queen Letizia, was on a three-day official visit to Cuba.
The royal couple arrived in Havana on Monday. The king met with Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel on Tuesday and granted Havana historian Eusebio Leal Spain's highest civilian honor on Wednesday.
The royal couple also toured Havana's historic downtown area and a museum in the city of Santiago de Cuba.
The official visit, the first to Cuba by a Spanish king, coincides with the 500th anniversary of the founding of Havana.