An act of living memory

It is 6am and a group of people gather in the Plaza Bolívar in Bogotá. A few cover the floor of the Plaza with plastic, earth and plants whilst others do warm-up exercises.

Cuerpos gramaticalesEach one of the participants sits on the floor whilst others cover their bodies in soil. The collective that organises the act is known as Cuerpos Gramaticales and was born in the 13th Commune of Medellín in 2014. It was created by AgroArte with the goal of resisting through exercises of memory1.

Cuerpos gramaticales
“Cuerpos Gramaticales” is a collective that brings together various human rights and victims organisations and welcomes anyone who wants to join the fight for memory and dignity through art and the expression of pain, of memories and hope through the body.

Cuerpos Gramaticales was born during commemoration of twelve years since Operation Orion, an operation in which 95 people were forcefully disappeared2. It emerged with the goal of “resisting the forgetting” in memory of the dead, the disappeared, the victims of the armed conflict and all of those “hurt by this absurd war”.

The objective of the planting of the bodies was the commemoration of the victims of extra-judicial killings, also called “false positives”, which called upon the Colombian State not to send these crimes to the Special Peace Jurisdiction (JEP). This form of alternative justice, created through the Peace Accords in Havana, will judge the crimes that were committed within the armed conflict, giving benefits to those who admit responsibility.

Sandra Álvarez, leader of the 13th Commune in Medellín who today participates in Cuerpos Gramaticales Bogotá, describes the action as a “collective catharsis that begins from the individual remembering all the stories of violence”.

These crimes, as the organisations highlight, are not crimes committed within the armed conflict, but crimes against humanity committed by members of the Armed Forces with lucrative intent. As Johatan Alonso, member of Cuerpos Gramaticales tells us, “there is a big risk that we will never know the truth; there are no guarantees that the topic of the truth will be complemented by true reparation and the establishment of what really happened. False Positives is still a thorny subject, it still touches certain people in power and that is why we are here with our shirts that say #NoFalsosPositivosEnLaJEP (No False Positives in the JEP) and we hope that the justice system listens to the demands of the families and victims”.

Cuerpos gramaticales
The first large performance was carried out on 30th August 2016 in commemoration of the people detained and disappeared in the place where the Museum of Memory was built.

This action responds to “a call from the families, and above all, the mothers to shed light on a supremely tragic and serious problem in our national history, that doesn´t form part of our memory. We have forgotten that more than 6000 people were killed by the State during a systematic policy of benefits in exchange for killings within the army. It is a tragedy that hurts us and is important to us”, states Clara Betancur who joined Cuerpos Gramaticales last year.

Cuerpos gramaticales
“Cuerpos Gramaticales is a different form of public denouncing, also the case of the False Positives is forgotten. Being in the administrative centre it allows us to draw attention and to have more press coverage so that the people know what we, the victims organisations are denouncing” María José Pizarro

The day before the performance, on the 26th July, the Supreme Court of Justice ordered the suspension of the arrest warrants against members of the military accused in cases of extra-judicial killings: “Although these crimes are not subject to amnesty or pardon, the members of the Public Forces being processed or sentenced for extra-judicial killings, committed because of, on occasion or in relation to the armed conflict, will be subject to the application of benefits for the suspension of the arrest warrants, those escaping justice will be submitted to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace”3 . It also exposes that there will be a series of requirements that will need to be complied with by the accused members of the military which is still not definitive. This news gave even more weight to the act of vindication of the victims associations present in the Plaza Bolívar.

Cuerpos gramaticales
“It is a process that gives one hope in thinking that things can be done to change the country and society. Resistance starting from the body, territory and memory, against all types of violence that are carried out in these places… It is being me and expressing what I want to do to change this world in which I live”. Juan Sebastián Martínez.

“The goal of this day is to leave an historic political precedent of enforceability that all of us victims of extra-judicial killings need to know the truth so that these events are never repeated”, says Luz Marina Bernal. But also we want to “touch hearts” as Clara comments, “and not only of those who plant themselves or those who support them in the activities of today, but of the ordinary passers-by who perhaps haven´t heard of these stories on television for a long time. We want to touch hearts through art, because we believe that art is a tool for transformation and change”.

Fair Leonardo Parras Bernal is one of the young men of Soacha that disappeared from their homes and reappeared days later dead hundreds of kilometres away from their houses, dressed as members of the guerilla and presented as “fallen in combat”. Fair suffered from a physical and mental disability and was 26 years old when he was killed. His mother, Luz Marina Bernal, is one of the leaders of the “Mothers of Soacha”. She has been fighting tirelessly for years for justice and for the memory of her son and for all the victims of the conflict.

Cuerpos gramaticales
It is an act of symbolic resistance. It arrived in Bogotá last year and bit by bit has grown uniting people in solidarity with their vindications, as well as those who were “conquered” through the methodology of Cuerpos.

“Unfortunately it is a systematic policy towards indigenous people, afro-Colombians, farmers, “raizal”, “palenquera”, sons of families where the mother is head of the family…innocent people who they press charges against for belonging to groups outside the law, charges that aren´t fair”, highlights Luz Marina Mernal about the cases of False Positives.

She joined the collective at its beginnings to search for truth, to look for strong alliances to demand the truth from the State, not only for the extra-judicial killings but also for the over 65,000 victims of forced disappearance.

Jonatan, Lara

“The Plaza Bolívar is the epicentre of power”, highlights Jonatan, “beside us we have the Palace of Justice, in front the Cathedral, on the other side the Mayor´s Office and the Congress”. It is a huge achievement for the collective and the victims organisations carrying out this action in such a symbolic place, it represents hope that their message will be heard and that others will join them to build “the country we dream of”. “The Plaza Bolívar has been witness to many situations of violence, but also beautiful moments of resistance and hope. We believe that this plaza fills us with the possibility to have our feet planted in he earth and to know what country we live in, that it is not an easy country but it is also a country that gives us the possibility to keep believing in the future when we see each other all together”.

Cuerpos gramaticales
Planting bodies we look to sensitise and draw attention to the reality of the family members, loved ones, collectives, individuals, amongst others that still wait for the truth and the return of thousands of Colombians that have been forcefully disappeared and then killed extra-judicially by the Colombian State. Men and women killed outside of the law, denied information about their whereabouts and in many cases buried as “NN” (un-identified) in communal graves or in cemeteries without complying with legal procedures.

“In this place in the country we will have many eyes on us, and we hope that our message is heard and that the cases of extra-judicial killings aren´t sent to the JEP”, adds Jonathan.

Nathalie Bienfait


Wilmar Botina

2 El Espectador: A 14 años de la Operación Orión, víctimas piden que se implemente ya acuerdo de paz, 16 October 2016 ; in 2002 there were six military opperations and the number of disappeared people is still unknown, El Espectador: Cuerpos por la memoria de desaparecidos en operaciones militares de Medellín, 14 October de 2015

3 Supreme Court of Justice, JEP aplica en expedientes de ejecuciones extrajudiciales, 26 July 2017

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