On April 9, Colombians commemorated the nation’s first Victims Day with public events and activities across the country. In Bogotá, victims of violence marched with fellow citizens from the Jorge Eliécer Gaitán Municipal Theater to the Plaza Bolivar for a concert sponsored by the Bogotá’s mayoral office. The march passed through four stations set up by non-governmental organizations featuring galleries, art pieces, and performances dedicated to the memory of victims of conflict in Colombia.
“This day will go down in the history of Colombia, because today we are taking an important step toward reconciliation in this country,” said Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos during a commemoration in Villavicenio, Meta. He presented reparations to selected victims saying, “Peace begins with reparations for victims.”
On April 9, 1948, then Colombian presidential candidate Jorge Eliécer Gaitán was assassinated. His death unleashed decades of conflict known as La Violencia, or The Violence. Colombians have long-marked the date in commemoration of Gaitán’s death, but Colombia’s National Victim’s Law, passed last year, formalized April 9 as the National Day of Memory and Solidarity With Victims. The law called on the State to “carry out events in memory and recognition of the acts that have victimized Colombians, and [to] also carry out special activities related to the promotion of the rights of victims.”
While both the national and city governments supported public activities yesterday, civil society groups have been working for years to document victimization in Colombia. These groups have created and publicly displayed memory galleries that represent victims’ interpretations of the violence they have endured and offer analysis of the country’s conflict. In 2007, the Colombian non-governmental organizations Minga, Agenda Caribe, and the Manuel Cepeda Vargas Foundation collaborated with the U.S.-based NGO Lutheran World Relief (LWR) to develop a memory gallery based on the experiences of communities in two regions particularly marked by violence in recent decades: Putumayo Province and San Onofre, Sucre. The gallery, which was first on display in communities throughout the United States and then in the U.S. Congress, took on new life this year with support from the U.S. Institute for Peace. Focusing on communities victimized by violence in Catatumbo and Montes de Maria, this second gallery is entitled “We Are Land.”
“We Are Land” opened on March 20 at Bogotá’s Rosario University and was on display on April 9 in Parque Santander, in downtown Bogotá, as part of the city’s Victims’ Day commemoration. It will be up for public viewing later this year in Cucuta, Cartagena, and Putumayo. The following photo essay is a series of images of the "We Are Land" gallery and events in Bogotá on April 9.
Introductory text to the gallery:
The Memory Gallery "We Are Land" is a space for celebrating the lives of those individuals who live in Cataumbo and Montes de Maria, but it is also a space where we encounter the brutal violence that the people of these regions have experienced. It is a space where we recognize human dignity, where we can reconstruct stories of the past based on voices of the present. These are stories of lives broken by war, but they are also stories in which victims, witnesses, and survivors have used song, fruit, tobacco, panela, and palms to sew new hope.
The gallery invites viewers to walk the land of these regions, a land inhabited by smiles and song despite being marked by the fear and the amnesia that feed war. The gallery invites us to open the many drawers of memory, a dense memory that evokes good and bad days. It is the memory of fire warming coffee in the morning, the echo of women’s voices rising from the river’s edge, the sounds of cows, and the songs from the radios that resonate in every corner of the land. It is a memory made from the echoes of painful screams, and from the echoes of brave voices denouncing disgrace.
“We are Land” is a gallery by and for the victims of guerilla forces, paramilitaries, militaries, and all of the armed groups that have sustained violence in this country.
Annalise Udall Romoser is based in Bogotá, Colombia, and is the Lutheran World Relief´s Communications Officer for Latin America. Thank you to the organizations Minga, Agenda Caribe, and the Manuel Cepeda Foundations for contributing text and photos. Translations by Annalise Udall Romoser.