Granada, Colombia: An Emblem of War and Peace

Colombia (GV) – Granada, a Colombian town of 10,000 people located 370 kilometers from the country’s capital, suffered war for the last 25 years. But during this time, its residents also managed to build spaces of peace and reconciliation.

The government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) signed an agreement in November to end their fighting, but the stroke of a pen doesn’t mean all is magically well. Building peace will neither be easy or quick, but lessons from places like Granada will pave the way for achieving it.

The book “Granada: Memories of War, Resistance and Destruction”, published by the National Center for Historical Memory – an institution established by the Colombian government to document the war and its victims in the last 50 years – explains:

The civilians relied on the strength of their cause and on their collective identity, and having the firm intention of making Granada a ‘Land of Peace’, they developed a repertoire of collective and individual actions that allowed them to survive, resist and rebuild on the ruins left by the armed confrontation.

The war in Granada

Due to its privileged geographical location in a mountainous area, near the Medellín–Bogotá highway, Granada became the target of guerrilla fighters, paramilitaries and the army starting in the mid-1980s. It endured threats, massacres, car bombs, displacement, military occupation, kidnappings and extrajudicial executions.

The following video summarizes Granada’s tragedy and its reconstruction since 1982. As one of its inhabitants recounts: “The pain united us and the solidarity moved us.” Thanks to popular mobilizations, community action boards, cooperatives, associations to promote social projects, community assemblies, and the intervention of the Catholic Church, the effects of the war did not destroy the community and its values.

Despite those violent times, all in Granada were united around a common project. There were no differences based on color, party, biological aspects, or any other kind. All were on the same side, united together.

Survival

Despite the fracture of the social fabric, people’s creativity and endurance managed to alleviate its effects. A woman recounted on 26 September 2014 to the National Center for Historical Memory’s Educators Focal Group:

In the neighborhood where we lived we had the keys to a house that was a basement, here houses are built below, at and above ground level, that’s why so many houses collapsed… and we knew that the guerrillas or the paramilitaries were going to come in, so we all ran with mats, thermoses with sugar cane water, packages of saltine crackers, and we all sneaked into in a building site … like a ghetto in World War II. (NCHM, Educators Focal Group, woman, 26 September 2014).

During the region’s occupation by paramilitaries — unofficial forces that sprung up to fight the FARC, but which have also perpetuated violence — from 2002-2004, the night-time curfew forced the population to create indoor meeting spaces. A former city hall official told the National Center for Historical Memory in an interview on 19 September 2014:

Regarding the social life, we had activities that now are common, but at that time were not, like lunadas (parties), when we gathered in a house with a large space, where people talked or watched a movie, having what is now known as a slumber party. We also did some group work with psychologists, and we even spent the whole night together till dawn watching a movie or doing other activities. (NCHM, man, former city hall official, interview, 19 September 2014).

https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37944079

War memorial – By Amelia Hunt – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Between 2004 and 2010, on the first Friday of each month, the people of Granada lit candles at the doors or on the balconies of their houses in memory of the victims of the war, according to the book “Granada: Memories of War, Resistance and Destruction”:

[…] then the initiative gained strength and people began to overcome their fear and to walk with the lights to the atrium of the church, turning this into an act of resistance.

At the same time, the “Opening Paths for Life” initiative was created, in which residents followed the roads that the murderers walked with their victims, with the aim of giving new meaning to the victims’ lives. A Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) was made with colored stones painted with the names of the 128 missing persons from the region, and the “Park of Life” was built as a permanent place to exhibit the stones.

The Hall of Never Again

The Salón del Nunca Más (Hall of Never Again) is a permanent exhibition in the House of Granada Culture, which displays 254 photographs, videos and texts about the victims of the war and their relatives.

In the video below, residents of Granada explain the reason for setting up the hall: “We want to raise awareness in the community, gather the history of the municipality and know there is remembrance.”

Stories written by the victims’ relatives are displayed next to the photographs. Among them, university student María Laura Idárraga Alzate wrote:

In front of the victims’ photographs lie the journals that the families take upon themselves to fill out every day. Their pages contain the description of the nights of pain, of infinite sorrow for the absence of the loved ones. These diaries are proof of the power of words and memory.

The Hall also hosts exhibitions including “Traditions and Ghosts of Everyday Truth,” which explores the popular myths that are associated with the actual tragedy, such as La Patasola (“One-Legged Woman“), Madre Monte (“Mother Mountain“), La Llorona (“The Weeping Woman“), Mohán (“Mother of Water“), and El Costalón, all figures related to land mines, missing people, widows, and forced recruitment.

This is how the Halls website describes itself:

This is a place that every Colombian should know about in order to carry in his memory the atrocities that this country committed against innocent people in this war.

This report prepared by Marco Sarmiento and translated by Teodora C. Hasegan for Global Voices