More than 500 victims of Colombia’s armed conflict gathered in the town of Granada, Antioquia, approximately 600 kilometers west of Bogotá last September 5.
The gathering had a fundamental purpose: to redo the various efforts at recovering memories of the past that had been carried out in peasant communities in the west of Antioquia, which for years suffered the actions of leftist guerrilla groups and far-right paramilitary groups.
For the victims in that Colombian region, the yearning for truth, justice and reparation is stronger than the fear of living in a region where conflict even now continues and the perpetrators of the past still walk through towns like the worthy representatives of an unpunished and victorious force.
The victims of this region have taken the first step in a process that Colombian society has not yet dared to start: to look straight into the past and find out what really happened during the four-decade-long violent conflict.
Although it is not an easy decision, today the number of people who refuse to forget is growing. And they don’t want to forget for one fundamental reason: To turn their backs on the events of the past would be to ignore serious human rights violations and countless atrocities that deserve to be clarified just as their perpetrators deserve to be prosecuted.
In addition, in order to ensure history does not repeat itself, recovering memories of the past would allow future generations to know the horrors their elders had to live through. The following phrase, expressed by one woman present at the gathering, summarizes the sentiment of a large part of Colombia’s victims: “One who forgets, dies.”
Faced with the legal inequality of the demobilization process of the blocks of the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) and the later application of the Justice and Peace Law, the victims of armed conflict have found, in recovering their memories, an opportunity to demand the country listens to the truth, which incidentally, sounds even starker and puts in doubt the role of a state that, it seems, did not want to protect them.
Through these experiences, the victims have created a space for the recovery of their individual and collective dignity. From that space, those affected by violence are telling society they do not want their sympathy, but their solidarity. Like Gloria, a victim of the violence in the town of Granada, says: “We don’t want them to look at us with pity. We are citizens who are demanding our rights, rights that for years have been violated.”
While there are many who also may rightfully forget all they saw, heard and suffered during the darkest years of war in Colombia, some people actually consider it an ethical imperative and a duty for the rest of Colombian society to remember that for years groups from the left and the far-right have been involved in a deadly fight that has generated an great humanitarian tragedy that we still have not overcome and in which the Colombian state, by action and by omission,
has a great responsibility.
Eduardo Pizarro Leongómez, president of the National Reparation and Reconciliation Commission (CNRR), a body created after the demobilization of the AUC to defend the rights of victims, has also appealed to the country that “facing the reality of the facts, even the most painful ones, is an essential part of looking for roads to national reconciliation. Without truth, we can’t have justice or reparation.” It is therefore not surprising that within a couple of years more initiatives like the one now brewing in eastern Antioquia will surface, where victims are daring to talk publicly about their tragedy and their pain.
What is certain is that the call to remember is only barely beginning to be heard in the country. Without a doubt, old wounds will be reopened that were believed to be healed and painful events will be recalled that all of us Colombians want to forget. But if we do not do remember, we will continue to repeat the spiral of violence that has characterized the history of our republic.
Ricardo Léon Cruz is a Colombian journalist