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Laura Restrepo: 1950—: Journalist, Political Activist, Novelist

Acquired A Different Social Awareness

When she was 16, in her sophomore year at college, she began working as a literature teacher in a public school for boys. Of this job experience, Restrepo says that she learned a disturbing lesson from the students in this school, all of whom were from the lower class, were older than she was, knew more than she did, and had experienced more. She told Manrique that these students changed the direction of her life. Restrepo found that "beyond the nuclear family and the land of wonders that is high culture, there lay a whole universe to be explored that was broad and remote, fierce and exciting." She quickly committed herself to learning more about her country and to learning more about the poverty and violence that permeates much of Colombia. As a sheltered daughter in a middle class family, Restrepo was completely unaware of the lives that existed just beyond her own narrow experiences. Her father had sought to educate his daughter through experience, but these were experiences from which he had sought to shelter his oldest daughter. When he found that he could not protect his daughter from the world, Restrepo's father responded with anger. She countered by rebelling against her father's efforts to control her and left the safety of her family. Restrepo's father died a few years later, before she was able to see him again. Eventually, Restrepo gave up teaching and joined the Trotskyist Party, a revolutionary Socialist group who were dedicated to a Socialist economic system and to gender equality. She was planning on transforming the world.

Restrepo graduated from the Universidad de Los Andes in Bogotá, with a degree in philosophy and letters. She next did postgraduate work in political science at this same university. For a while, Restrepo was a Professor of Literature at the Universidad Nacional and at the Universidad de Rosario in Bogotá. In large part, though, her career has been dedicated to political activism, beginning when she became a militant member of the Socialist party. Restrepo respond-sedto poverty and injustice with action. After college, she moved to Spain, where for three years, she was a member of the Socialist Workers Party during the post-Franco period. While in Spain, Restrepo participated in protests against the Argentine military dictatorship. Restrepo next moved to Buenos Aires for four years, where her son, Pedro was born in 1980. Eventually, she returned to Colombia to dedicate herself to a career in journalism and to publish a magazine, Week, which focused on politics. As she sought to support herself and her son, Restrepo found work as a reporter, where she investigated many of the problems that would later emerge as plots and amplifications in her novels.

As a journalist for the magazine Semana, Restrepo began writing about national and international politics. She went to Grenada to cover the invasion, and she also spent time in Nicaragua, while reporting on the war between the Sandinistas and the Contras. Then in July of 1982, Colombian President Belisario Betancur nominated Restrepo to serve on a commission that was charged with negotiating the peace with two of the rebellious forces that had been plaguing the country, the M-19 and the EPL. Restrepo was also writing during this period, and eventually she became the political editor for Semana, where she published columns each week that detailed the progress of the peace negotiations. Her experience as a commissioner of peace would eventually lead her to abandon journalism, while she devoted herself to the attempts to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the years of conflict and bloodshed. In spite of her efforts, there were frequent disruptions to the truce, which eventually failed. During this period, Restrepo became disenchanted with the actions of the Colombian government and began to be very vocal in her criticisms. As a result of her work, Restrepo received death threats, and was forced into exile in Mexico for six years. Her book, Historia de una traición, is an account of the failed peace negotiations. In this book, Restrepo relates many of the events that were not covered by the Colombian press or media. While in Mexico, Restrepo stayed in contact with local guerrilla forces in Colombia, trying to create a new peace, which finally happened in 1989. With peace in Colombia, she was finally able to return to Bogotá after so many years away.

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: Dudley Randall Biography - A Poet from an Early Age to Ferrol Sams Jr BiographyLaura Restrepo: 1950—: Journalist, Political Activist, Novelist Biography - Raised On Unconventional Education, Acquired A Different Social Awareness, Emerged As A Writer, Saw Writing As Historical Record