(CNN)Collecting upwards of $1 million of a nearly $200 million judgment may not seem like much. But for a grieving man who lost his father years ago to one of Latin America’s longest-running guerrilla wars, it’s a crucial victory.
Ever since his diplomat father died at the hands of Colombian rebel forces in 1999, Antonio Caballero has been living in the United States under political asylum, looking for ways to bring those responsible to justice.
A degree of closure came in 2014, after a Florida trial court awarded Caballero damages in a case that held Colombia’s most notorious guerrillas and drug traffickers liable, in absentia, for the brutal attack.
The problem is, collecting money from a foreign terrorist organization — particularly an armed rebel group that tries to hide its money beyond the reach of US courts — is difficult, especially if you’re not a US citizen.
So his legal team followed the money, tracking a trail of drugs and money that began in the Colombian jungle and ran through a Mexican drug cartel into an armored car in Texas before landing in a bank account in Florida.
Now that Caballero has collected a small portion of the money a court awarded him, he feels vindicated.
“The symbolism of this justice is more important than the money,” Caballero, 59, said in an interview with CNN through his attorney, Joseph Zumpano. “But the collection of the money itself makes the justice more meaningful.”
The bloody beginning
Caballero’s father, Carlos Caballero, was big in Colombian politics.
A liberal party leader and five-time senator, he took the post of Colombia’s ambassador to the United Nations in 1972. Throughout his political career, he was an outspoken critic of Colombian guerrilla forces.
Caballero collects his money at an important juncture in Colombia’s history. The government approved a historic peace agreement with FARC in September, bringing Latin America’s 52-year conflict to an end. FARC’s leader apologized for the “great pain” the insurgent group caused by kidnappings. Peace talks between the Colombian government the ELN are ongoing.
Despite the country’s progress towards peace, Zumpano says his client isn’t safe to return to Colombia. Nevertheless, Antonio Caballero says he hopes to use the money he’s received to someday hold a memorial for his father among his loved ones in Colombia.
“Wherever my father is, I’m confident he’s looking down on me and is so happy,” Caballero said. “I know he is so proud of what I have done in his memory.”