This past March 6th, in honour of the International Day for Victims of State Crimes, crowds mobilised both within the country and internationally to reclaim the memory of their lost family members and the right to truth, justice, and reparation. This March 6th, thousands of Colombians gathered in Monteria to march together in a city known in the region to be heavily impacted by paramilitarism, and to denounce, in unison, the dispossession that has taken place and constitutes yet another State Crime.
At 9 o´clock in the morning, you can sense the tension and the impatience in the expressions of the people that have congregated in Las Golondrinas Park where the March is set to begin. The heat doesn´t help, but the people roll up their sleeves, drink sips of water and move to resolve the logistical problems that have arisen in the last hour. Finally, at 10:30 in the morning, the Walk begins: peasant farmer communities, Afro-descendent Colombians, students, and the displaced make up the March that will walk the streets of Monteria, in search of truth and justice. Fifteen buses have travelled from the Departments of Sucre, Antioquia, Atlántico, Magdalena Medio, and Bolivar with another five buses arriving from the region surrounding Monteria.
In Colombia, a March can put its participants at risk. Some of the organisations responsible for this event, like the Movement for Victims of State Crimes (MOVICE) and the Jose Alvear Restrepo Lawyer´s Collective (CCAJAR), have received threatening pamphlets in their offices in the days leading up to the March. These accuse them of collaborating with the guerrilla and declare them a military target. Other organisers have been followed in Monteria in the previous days. People´s nerves are on edge at the March and they are on high alert for any unknown person taking photographs or video of the event. Still, there is no shortage of joking among the participants: “With the body guards and international accompaniment included, we´re as many as 2000 participants.”
It´s been a long journey to Monteria and the pressure is intense, but these difficulties are part of what made the March move steadily forward. In the background the sounds of flutes, drums, and speeches float up among the crowd. Some participants speak to the criminalisation they have suffered: “We are not guerrilla. We are not paramilitaries. We are victims of State crimes.” Others claim their right to transform the armed conflict: “We are seeds. We are memory. We are the sun that rises despite impunity.” Others relive the memory of colleagues and family that have been killed–“Rogelio Martinez Mercado, he is here among us, presente!” chanted with images and portraits clutched to their chests.
Since 2008, MOVICE has organised the National and International Day for Victims of State Crimes in Colombia on March 6th. This year the mobilisation is focused on the land restitution process in order to make visible the problematic realities brought about by the Victims’ and Land Restitution Law. Instead of being a panacea, many human rights organisations and peasant farmer organisations denounce the danger it represents and the lack of guarantees for victims. According to the complaints by many of these organisations in Colombia, the persistence of paramilitary structures in some regions of the country have brought about, as a consequence, the selective killings of community leaders in land restitution and reclamation processes. Monteria exemplifies this problematic and for this reason the March 6 event was organised to show a commitment to this region and to demonstrate that Colombians will confront injustice even in the midst of fear.
“For our dead–not a minute of silence; a lifetime of struggle.”