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Identity Crisis


Ramón Antonio Jaramillo looked through Estrecho’s cemeteries, but had yet to find his grave. Until he did, he couldn’t prove that he didn’t die on Christmas Eve eleven years before.

Declarations from his wife and sister were useless: he was as good as dead. For almost a decade after he lost his ID, Jaramillo’s life continued on course, but when the dead man with his number showed up in the system, he was barred from voting, and could no longer get loans for his auto parts shop. He contemplated selling his house, but since it was in his name, he had first to prove his existence.

The D.A.’s Office lost his homicide file, so there was no judicial evidence, and the detective who handled his case now worked for la empresa--“the company.” He didn’t remember anything. The doctor who signed the death certificate, distinguished for what the local press labeled “a love of the culinary arts,” suffered a massive coronary as a result of his strict adherence to the regional diet. When Jaramillo took a copy of the certificate to the National Registry, they told him that only the doctor who signed it could annul it. A life certificate from a physician would help—once the death certificate had been annulled.

It was the same at the Notary’s Office. After someone was dead, they said, it was complicated, time-consuming, and costly to change status. Laughing, one young woman exclaimed, “You should give thanks to God you’re in such good health!”


Snarling curses about paperwork, Jaramillo’s nephew, Jeinel, thought it better to change names every so often. Alias “Alacrán,” surname of the moment Londoño, Jeinel promised his uncle new documents, a fresh start.

Jaramillo could not imagine changing names for convenience. Did friends change with names? La juventud! Hm!

Jeinel counseled Jaramillo to think it over. Said he knew people in the company who’d be interested in purchasing the auto parts shop. As a favor, to simplify Jaramillo’s transition to becoming someone else.

A friend’s daughter worked in a morgue where the company bought bodies to help people with certain…situations. Jaramillo could lease one from the company, his friend suggested, name it after himself, get a copy of the new death certificate, and take it to the morgue’s physician for annulment.

Jeinel promised to talk to friends about a discount.

When he brought up the subject of suing for damages, Jeinel and the man from the company hinted it would be better to drop it, so Jaramillo paid 250,000 pesos for the use of N.N.

Thus Ramón Antonio Jaramillo was reborn.


Forrest Hylton

FORREST HYLTON is an Associate Professor of History at the Universidad de los Andes, and the author of a bi-lingual novel, Vanishing Acts: A Tragedy, along with several books on Latin American history and politics. Beginning in September 2012, he will be a post-doctoral fellow at NYU's Tamiment Library, where he will be completing research for a book entitled 'Doing the Right Thing': Labor, Democracy, and Organized Crime on the Brooklyn Waterfront During the Cold War.


The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2009

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