Latin America & Caribbean

Brotherly love: Colombian switched twins pull together

From left to right: Jorge Enrique Bernal Castro, William Canas Velasco, Carlos Bernal Castro and Wilber Canas Velasco Image copyright Natalio Cosoy
Image caption Jorge Enrique Bernal Castro, William Canas Velasco, Carlos Bernal Castro and Wilber Canas Velasco met in 2014

The story could well be the plot of a Latin American soap opera - a Colombian one, to be more precise.

Two pairs of identical twins who were mixed up soon after they were born in 1988 and grew up apart, find each other 25 years later through a combination of chance events.

It made headlines in July last year when The New York Times published a long and comprehensive article about it.

The daily covered almost every aspect of the story, but the relationship between its main characters has kept evolving since they first met.

Chance encounter

It all started when a colleague of Bogota office worker Jorge Enrique Bernal Castro went to buy meat at William Canas Velasco's butcher's shop also in Bogota.

She could not believe how similar her colleague and the butcher were. Both had the same skinny body, narrow face, small mouth and a cheeky smile.

Image copyright Natalio Cosoy
Image caption A colleague of Jorge's spotted William (right) in a butcher's shop and could not believe the similarities between the two

Intrigued by the similarities, she took a photo of the butcher and showed it to Jorge, who was dumbstruck.

His curiosity piqued, Jorge got in touch with the butcher and the two met up.

Their surprise was doubled, or quadrupled if you would like, when they realised that the person they had up until now believed to be their respective fraternal twins, Carlos Bernal Castro and Wilber Canas Velasco, bore a striking resemblance to each other.

Carlos and Wilber are both big men, with robust heads, full lips and serious expressions.

Image copyright Natalio Cosoy
Image caption Wilber (left) and Carlos say of themselves that they are better dancers than Jorge and William

They little resemble Jorge and William and not just in physical terms.

Jorge and William are more talkative, less formal and like to joke, while Carlos and Wilber are quieter, do not like banter, have a quicker temper and take more care of their looks.

Similarities

When I met them, Carlos and Wilber both had very similar white mobile phones, which they said they had bought separately.

The mix-up

Image copyright Natalio Cosoy
Image caption The four call themselves "brothers"

William and Jorge were born on 21 December 1988 in the Materno Infantil Hospital in Bogota. Wilber and Carlos were born a day later in northern Santander province.

All four were born prematurely at seven months and when Carlos fell ill, he was taken along with Wilber to the Materno Infantil Hospital to be treated.

Jorge thinks that both pairs of twins were placed in the same room and that one or more of the identifying wristbands they were wearing fell off and were then placed on the wrong babies.

They all left hospital on the same day with their mother none the wiser.

William was taken with Wilber by Wilber and Carlos's parents to a rural area in Santander while Carlos and Jorge stayed with Jorge's mother in Bogota.

Many years later, William moved to Bogota to work at a butcher's, where he was spotted by Jorge's colleague.

They also had the same tendency to play with their phones when the conversation turned away from them.

"We are a little bit more ego-centric, bigger flirts," said Carlos talking about the similarities between him and his identical twin Wilber and their differences to Jorge and William

"I think the two of us are better dancers than them," Carlos added.

Before they all met up for the first time, all four had been apprehensive and worried what the others may be like.

"I was scared, because there were two people who looked exactly like my brother and me, but at the same time, I didn't know who they were," Jorge told me.

"My biggest fear was that they could be bad people."

But as soon as they met, their fears started to dissolve and the wariness gave way to words, jokes and questions.

Joint projects

They had to rewrite their lives which had been upended in many ways by the discovery that the "brother" they had grown up with was not a blood relative at all and that instead they had an identical twin they did not know about.

Early on they decided to refer to themselves as "four brothers" and in the months that have passed since they first met in 2014, they have grown ever closer.

Image caption The four are planning on buying a house together and living together

They also realised that the discovery and the interest not just from media but also from twin researchers gave them a chance to grow individually and as a group.

Their story will soon be spread even wider when a book called Accidental Brothers is published by the University of California.

The four said they had embraced their new links. "As well as brothers, we have become like a company," said Jorge.

They started to support each other's dreams and projects. "Each one of us is important and we all need each other," Jorge explained.

William fancied a career in politics. "If the opportunity arises, I'd like to be mayor," he told me.

He first tried his luck in last October's municipal elections to see if he could become a council member in his hometown of La Paz, in northern Santander province.

Carlos and Wilber helped him with his campaign and although William did not get elected it was a good experience of co-operation between the brothers, they said.

Now they are planning to travel together and even buy a house together for all four to live in.

If they do, they will most certainly continue to joke about each other's peculiarities, just as they did when I met them.

But for all the differences between each pair of twins, there is something all four share - the will to build a positive relationship out of an event that had the potential to cause pain, and the determination to see a brother regardless of blood ties.

You can listen to Natalio Cosoy's interview with the twins on Outlook.

Related Topics

More on this story