Between the 15th and 20th July 1997 a group of one hundred men who formed part of the paramilitary group United Self-defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) arrived in Mapiripán (department of Meta) in order to commit once of the worst massacres that deeply scarred the history of this Colombian municipality, where it seemed the army was aware and because of this one of the Generals from the armed forces has been sentenced. Many of the victims of this massacre were forcefully displaced through fear of staying in the territory and since then have not returned to the municipality, however, despite the years and the horror, they have not forgotten.1
We began the long journey from Bogotá with the goal of arriving by road to Mapiripán for the planned events to commemorate the massacre, although saying “by road” is exaggerating as we spent 13 hours in a ditch that on many occasions is impossible to get through. Despite this, the emotion in the atmosphere was palpable. There were many acts of memory that were carried out on route, moments of reunion between some of the victims with their land, but also with their memories and with the pain they shared. There were moments of confession, moments expressing difficult experiences that capture the heart of any person but it was also a very emotional experience both for the victims and for those of us who had the opportunity to live and share it with them.
The institutional act took place in the morning, within which the absence of the Governor of Meta and the Director of the National Victims Unit was notable, as well as the polemic proposal for activities for the commemoration.2 In the afternoon, there was a moment for the victims where there were different spaces in which they could express their feelings which were reflected on a white sheet as a chronology (past, events, present, future) of the 20 years and how they would like to see their municipality in the future.
Finally they carried out “the walk in silence”, a candle-lit route around the streets of Mapiripán in honor of the victims that were killed during the five days in the year 1997 in which the victims alongside the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission (CIJP), the José Alvear Restrep Lawyers´ Collective (CCAJAR) and Humanidad Vigente, all of which are organisations that PBI accompanies and have accompanied these victims for years, broke their silence shouting:
20 years and and we do not forget them, every day we remember them!
Against forgetting and impunity, memory with dignity!
It will never be forgotten, it will never be repeated!
Also, throughout this walk, they stopped by the banks of the river Guaviare (natural border between the departments of Meta and Guaviare) due to its strong significance in this massacre given that many of the bodies of the people killed were thrown into the river, as the victims recounted.3
It was an emotionally challenging accompaniment where despite the many stories detailing what happened, it is difficult to imagine so much horror and pain. However, it was also an accompaniment full of teachings that in the middle of so much suffering and violence feelings of hope and reconciliation flourish so that through memory, truth, justice and guarantees of non-repetition, a country full of peace can be built.
Lara Pardo Fernández
1 Pacifista: Mapiripán: cinco días para el olvido, pero también para la memoria, 18 July de 2017
2El Espectador: General (r) Rito Alejo Del Río, a indagatoria por la masacre de Mapiripán, 23 July de 2017
3Ccajar: El camino de vuelta: 20 años de la masacre de Mapiripán, 24 July de 2017