Thruts and memory in the Bajo Atrato reagion – Chapter 2
For its second edition of the Festival of Memory, the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission (Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz – J&P) chose the So Bia Drua Humanitarian Environmental Indigenous Territory, in the Jiguamiandó́ river basin, Chocó department. An ancestral territory which has once again found itself caught in the middle of armed confrontation and attempts to control the lands, by illegal armed actors.
Many people also travelled and participated in this Festival, including social leaders from different regions of the country, former paramilitary and former FARC-EP commanders, retired members of the state security forces and members of the Comprehensive System for Truth, Justice, Reparation and Non-Repetition (Sistema Integral de Verdad, Justicia, Reparación y No Repetición – SIVJRNR).
In this Festival, there was an important focus on environmental issues and the protection of the surrounding area. Walks were organised to get to know and connect with the territories, a symbol of the resistance of these communities. Afterwards, the participants focused on the theme of truth which is one of the fundamental components of the Festivals of Memory. The truth as told by people who have experienced first-hand the barbarity and perverse logic of a conflict which began more than half a century ago and which, despite the signing of the Peace Agreement in 2016 with the FARC-EP guerrilla, has not stopped violating the fundamental rights of these people to life, freedom and security. One theme which was also prioritised in this meeting was enforced disappearance; and the So Bia Drua Humanitarian Environmental Indigenous Territory was the place chosen to honour the 80,000 people who have been disappeared in the country and to celebrate territories which defend the right to life itself.
The environmental walk took the participants right to the Cerro Cara de Perro, which is called JaiKatumá in the indigenous language of the Embera People, a sacred site where their spirits rest and the source of the rivers which bathe their territories and feed life in the communities. Places which have witnessed brave resistance against the Muriel Mining Corporation which in 2005 was granted a concession to mine 16,000 hectares of land for the exploration and exploitation of copper, gold and other minerals. For several months more than 1,000 indigenous and afro-descendant people occupied the summit of the sacred mountain day and night, to stop the company’s helicopters from landing there. During this unequal struggle to protect their territories from large-scale economic interests, five children died due to the humanitarian crisis suffered by the communities. Now, in this same place they began to recover their memory, the ancestral memory of a community that lives in harmony with Dayira Drua (Mother Earth). A Jaibaná or traditional doctor carried out a sacred ritual to ask for permission to work on the land and welcomed us to the territory.
The aim of this Festival was not only to recover memory, but also truth, which contributes to building memory. For that reason, the second part of the Festival was dedicated to sitting down and listening to the voices of all the people gathered, who in spite of the violence and the pain of the disappearance of their loved ones, have managed to “change tears into smiles” and continue working for peace. The voices of former combatants and soldiers told the truth to the victims of the conflict. With a huge effort which is difficult to imagine, these people decided to look each other in the eye and listen to this difficult truth, and in this way contribute to peace building based on recognition and reconciliation. A peace built in the territories which, now and every single day, renew their dignity to struggle for a different country, where their rights are fully respected.
The walk ended at another sacred site, namely the cemetery of the So Bia Drua Humanitarian Environmental Indigenous Territory where the community buried its five loved ones who were disappeared between 1999 and 2000. Under the incessant rainfall we crossed the Jiguamiandó River together on foot, in an expression of life and collectivity which moved us to tears. And there we commemorated all the people disappeared in the conflict and our hearts were filled with hope for a Colombia built on peace.
We would like to take advantage of this article to remember the young indigenous leader Leonardo Bailarin from the Embera territory of Jaibia Corredocito, who died on 1 August 2019 after being bitten by a snake. He accompanied us on our walk during the Festival of Memory. Follow this link to see his testimony.
Arianna Francescato and Aurore Choquet
** Front picture: Courtesy of Daniel Acevedo (Contagio Radio)
 Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
 Figures from the National Centre for Historic Memory
 Slogan of the Asociación de mujeres AINI from the Naya River