An act of collective memory

The colours of Colombian life, Colombian energy and the immense natural beauty of this country often distracts you from the pain present in so many communities that have suffered so much and continue to suffer with the lack of truth and widespread impunity that exists.

When legal justice is unachievable for so many, the only way to vindicate lost loved ones is to speak of what happened.  This isn´t easy, and in a context such as that of Colombia where people are killed for being a “sapo” (a term used to describe those who dared to denounce the injustices they were seeing around them), the act of speaking our represents substantial danger, not only to you but also to your loved ones.

Colombian justice has a price, and that price is too high for many.

PBI accompanies organizations that help people to speak, remember and vindicate victims.  The Social Corporation for Legal Aid and Community Training (Cospacc) dedicates itself to this, creating spaces for people to reflect and commemorate their fallen comrades and family members in the armed conflict.

We went with Cospacc to collective memory event in the municipality of Miraflores in the department of Boyacá.  A place surrounded by spectacular nature: valleys, rivers, mountains and waterfalls… Here the people from the communities told us of the violence they have suffered.  During three different time periods, from 1948 until the present day, the communities have been in the middle of the conflict that has cost so many lives.  In the most recent period of paramilitarism, in the 90s and beginnings of the 2000s, people were tortured and pushed of mountains into the rivers.

We walked to a point on the mountain where over 6,000 people were thrown off.

This type of violence is unimaginably horrific.  Each time I meet people who have experienced incidents such a these I find it difficult to imagine how they have found they strength to continue living.

In Colombia a cause of death that I had never heard of before is “pena moral”.  Literally people have died through sadness, grief and incredulity at what was happening around them.  You can feel this sadness in people when they tell their stories and in their struggle for a dignified life and justice.

During a simple and beautiful ceremony, the priest explained the need to speak of the victims to over one hundred people who had come from distinct areas of the country.  The ceremony took place next to a statue of the Virgin Mary on the route between Miraflores and Páez, blocking the road.  There was a gallery of photos of the victims and childrens´ drawings depicting the story of the place.  Cars and buses stopped respectfully in an act of solidarity that I found particularly moving.

The violence that these regions have lived through can never repeat itself.  For this reason the organisations we accompany encourage the people to talk, remember and keep fighting for the protection of their rights and guarantees that the violence will not be repeated.

– Hannah Matthews

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