Thousands of Colombians on Thursday took parts in marches across the country to commemorate the millions of victims left by more than 50 years of political armed conflict between the state and illegal armed groups.
April 9, formally the National Day of Memory and Solidarity for Victims, is the day that in 1948, a gunman ended the life of populist liberal politician Jorge Elicier Gaitan.
The assassination followed a decade of extreme partisan violence between conservatives and liberals and is widely seen as a key event leading up to the armed conflict with rebel groups like the FARC and ELN that has been ongoing since 1964.
To commemorate those who died in this conflict, President Juan Manuel Santos paid homage to the soldiers who have fallen in the more than 50 years of violence, while social organizations took to the streets to commemorate the more than 7 million civilian victims left by the world’s longest-lasting internal armed conflict.
Santos, coalition and leftist opposition parties, and civilian protesters used the commemorative day to reiterate support for ongoing peace talks with the FARC.
“Today we are commemorating the victims of this absurd war in which we have been stuck for 50 or more years, and finally we are seeing the possibility of peace,” Santos said.
Because of the explicit support for the peace talks, the commemorative day was ignored by conservative opposition parties who have opposed the negotiations with the FARC.
The United Nations sent out a press release stressing that while the peace talks and marches are ongoing, so is the victimization of Colombians.
“On average, 16,400 Colombians are displaced each month,” the UN’s Colombia office said, adding that “reports of extortion … have doubled.”
Some 15,000 policemen were sent to the locations of the marches to avoid possible disturbances.
In Bogota, local media reported no incidents and also in Medellin, Colombia’s second largest city, the marches led to nothing but an increase in traffic jams.