Woman – a slave to the man

By Blaise Lidstone White

Women, for the most part, in Colombia, have been treated in an inhumane way, that is prevalent in all aspects of Colombian society. Women lack political representation, have lesser rights and are not seen as equals. Women in Colombia face a daily struggle to be treated as equals.

In 1958, women in Colombia gained the right to vote and the right to be elected into parliament and the 1991 Constitution saw women finally being recognised as individuals. With both these milestones being so far in the past, are women’s basic rights a thing of the past too?

As Isabel C. Jaramillo Sierra, Full Professor of Law taught us, the conflict Colombia is experiencing today is part of the Colombian existence and for many, they only know life with conflict and a societal existence that is filled with pain. Whilst headways have been made in regards to women’s rights there is still a long road ahead. However, many Colombian women’s organisations are actively ensuring women’s rights are being debated and are being included in the public agenda. The only question that remains, is enough being done?

As part of the United Nations campaign designed by united nations secretary-general António Guterres to ‘Unite To End Violence Against Women’ a campaign was developed to ‘Stop sexual violence against women in the context of armed conflict’, yet why are we seeing sexual violence and sexual exploitation as a wartime weapon? After decades of conflict, the Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-Ejército del Pueblo (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia–People’s Army) signed a final peace agreement in 2016. This agreement was meant to end the conflict and ensure lasting peace. Whilst this agreement originally included 100 points on both gender equality and women’s human rights – including violence attaining to both conflict and sexual crimes. The implementation of these points has been limited. Upon further research, it has become evident that since mid-2018 only 4% of these points have been implemented. Furthermore, since the original peace treaty, exactly half of the original points relating to gender have been removed from 300 to 150.

This is not the only time women lack the same representation of their male counterparts. Women within FARC are usually unable to be promoted to commander status. There is a loophole, however, but this requires further sexual relations with male combatants. The only way a woman could be promoted or attain a position that was deemed specialized was through a relationship with a commander. Due to this, many men would make women their personal radio operators in order to sleep with them, women, who had these special relations received special privileges, including but not limited to less work and the opportunity to visit their families and children. This point was reiterated when a former female FARC combatant Yineth Trujillo came and spoke to our class.

Yineth Trujillo – https://www.eltiempo.com/cultura/cine-y-tv/la-vida-de-la-protagonista-de-la-pelicula-la-mujer-de-los-7-nombres-268728

Before Yineth Trujillo shared her amazing journey with us, I was aware of the hardships women within FARC faced, but hearing about her struggles first hand, I became even more aware of the hoops these women are forced to jump through on a daily basis. I was overcome with emotion and once again realised just how fortunate I really am. Yineth Trujilo has faced many struggles during her life both in and outside of FARC and has overcome them to become the person she is today. She at age twelve was her family’s contribution to the guerrillas and faced many struggles and human rights violations along the way, during every stage of her struggle she adopted a new name, and today shares her story as a woman of seven names. Yineth turned her life around and now actively seeks to help those who are going through similar struggles. This made me realise that if somebody like Yineth can experience so much hurt during her life but still want to help those suffering similar atrocities, then maybe there’s hope for Colombia after all.

Upon listening to Yineth Trujilo, I learned first-hand that whilst residing in camps, women are forbidden to use violence to commit violence, however, this changes as soon as one enters the field. Furthermore, women also receive differential treatment in the reintegration processes. Specifically, within FARC, women are perceived as having caring roles. These roles include a mother figure and serfs to troops. Girls as young as fourteen are attending to their every need, regardless of their demands, with many being threatened with violence if they do not comply. Women are often seen as sexual companions to FARC combatants. These women, are often passed around, without a choice to these combatants, with a former female combatant who wishes to stay anonymous has gone on record stating “The mistreatment present in the organisation, since they were obligated to have sexual relations with the commanders of this structure, which in general began upon finishing the guerrilla training.”  In this sense, they are not seen as women, but they are seen as objects, to be used, if and when these combatants see fit. Many FARC commanders believe that having women present in camps reduces homesickness amongst males.

Table showing relationships within FARC https://www.williamjperrycenter.org/sites/default/files/publication_associated_files/Women%20of%20the%20FARC.pdf

Furthermore, women residing in FARC camps are forbidden to get pregnant with FARC leaders strongly believing that pregnancy hinders a women’s ability to fight. I knew the BBC had done an article about forced abortions and Attorney General Eduardo Montealegre had gone on record in 2015 saying “We have evidence to prove that forced abortion was a policy of the Farc that was based on forcing a female fighter to abort so as not to lose her as an instrument of war,” . This was confirmed by former FARC commander ‘Karina’ “Abortions for female guerrillas are FARC policy. Even if the guerrilla does not want to abort, she is forced to do it,” but I still found this hard to believe until Yineth Trujilo showed us an insight to her past. Due to her small size and her small hands, when she was taken from her village she was forced to assist with abortions, something she did not want to do but had little choice in the matter as they threatened to kill her mother if she did not comply.

FARC members https://www.williamjperrycenter.org/sites/default/files/publication_associated_files/Women%20of%20the%20FARC.pdf

Moreover, women in Colombia are heavily affected by the conflict. This is both directly and indirectly. Many women have suffered trauma through rape and sexual assaults. Furthermore, they have lost husbands, sons, and other family members thus resulting in many social and economic challenges this was especially evident in Cartagena with many women visibly seeking employment on the streets. Women lack political representation within the current political system and changing the political system has been seen as less important than other parts of the peace agreement thus resulting in congress not pushing this agenda through when they had the chance. However, with this being said Bogota currently has a female major who is also a member of the LGBT+ community, sparking a rare glimpse of hope within dark times.

War and Peacebuilding in Colombia: Public Perception, Polarization

By Redelond Tsounga




The first weeks of classes at the University of Los Andes in Bogota, Colombia we have learned that the 2016 plebiscite resulted in the rejection of the peace agreement. The country was divided into two camps, the “Yes” camp for peace and the “No” camp led by ex-presidents Santos and Uribe. Statistics showed that 49% voted yes and 51% voted No against the peace agreement. Outside the classroom and theories, I wanted to see what Colombians think about this conflict. I wanted to understand why some people opposed peace of a generational ongoing conflict of 50 years. My curiosity led me two hours away from Bogota to seek and understand this polarization from a Colombian point of view. With the help of Marce Acosta, a Colombian native who had just returned from New Zealand for 6 months learning English. We drove two hours to Girardot, passing through the beautiful landscape of mountains, valleys, and narrow roads. I was reminiscing about beautiful New Zealand’s countryside landscape. Reminded me of the narrow road and turns to pass the new Zealand dessert road. I interviewed two members of the Guzman family, brothers in law who share different views about the conflict and the peace agreement. An illustration of the Colombian peace process and polarization.

Girardot is a municipality and a town in the department of Cundinamarca.  The second most important city of Cundinamarca due to its production. It is home to several recreational and holiday spots, mainly visited by people from Bogotá for its tropical climate, compared to the cold and rainy climate of Bogotá. Located only two hours’ drive from Bogotá city.



The public perception is significant due to its implication in the peace agreement process. Constituted a third party but also a determinant factor of the peace accords. In 2016, October 2nd the Colombian people rejected the agreement by a very small margin in a referendum. This outcome shocked the world, Colombian people including proponents of peace, and it slowed the peace process. The Santos government adjusted a new deal and reached an agreement with the opposition led by Uribe on November 23rd, 2016. The public opinion was given a significant role in the finalization of the peace agreement. Although, a peace agreement was reached between Farc and the Government on November, 23rd 2016, followed by the creation of institutions for its implementation.  Three years passed now, The polarization of the Colombian people has not changed.

I sat with local Colombians and asked few questions regarding the conflict and the peace agreement. Mr. Humberto Acosta affirmed that the peace agreement did not include the Colombian people. Although, the 2016 plebiscite gave the public a final say.

It is also important to note the transitional views of the conflict. The critical view of the transition, which is cultural and modernist. Also, the liberal view and reactionary view but the liberal view as part of how Colombians speak about the transition. There is an existing common view of the conflict and the peace accords. Isabel C.Jaramillo Sierra noted in the lecture, the common Colombian view is that “we don’t have a conflict but we have terrorists who have a business, there is no civil conflict but only belligerents outlaws who want to occupy territories”. This common view is mainly shared amongst people located in regions and cities non-affected by the armed conflict. This perception also defined the results of the 2016 plebiscite, where most people who voted No against the peace agreement are from the non-affected regions and cities.


Iván León the Girardoteño a local born of Girardot is a dreamer, a believer and a proponent of peace. He believed that everyone wants peace but the majority of people are more interested in the blaming game and have a blaming mentality with punishment at the center. Alvaro Uribe‘s views of the conflict are bigger than the conflict and perhaps too personal and emotional. The Colombian people must have a forgiving heart to forget everything and start again from scratch. He explained that Colombian people do not need to keep grudges and grievances but forgive, stop the blaming culture, make peace and restart. “It’s like a kinship, marriage or a relationship you have a fight, argument, you make peace, forgive and move on,” he said.

When asked if Colombia could ever achieve peace without Justice or Transitional Justice, Ivan believes that there must be social justice to achieve peace. Social justice constitutes providing the Colombian people with the minimum necessities to live and better conditions to live. Such as health, safety, security, and education to build a better and just society. For example, in the department of La Guajira people do not have enough water, electricity, and food. The locals and natives are dying in this department while it contains the main charcoal mine of the country. It is paradoxical, there is an existing contrast between the natural resources exploitation and the people who live in this department.

Ivan’s yes vote for the plebiscite incited anger and hurt among some friends. However, His family and friends ran the yes campaign in Girardot, believed it to be the best way to take Colombia forward towards peace and an end to the conflict. Importantly, Girardot and Ivan’s family are not directly affected by the conflict, the yes vote was mainly in consideration of those directly affected and who continue to suffer and being displaced every day.

In contrast, Humberto Acosta a hardworking father, a Bogotano, a local of Bogotá and Iván León’s brother in law voted no against the plebiscite. Umberto believes that the peace agreement was a very bad deal for Colombia and Colombian people. The peace agreement had too many conditions that mainly favored the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). The FARC had been dishonest, did not hand in all weapons, did not show all routes and plantations of drugs and did not give the money profited from the conflict.

one of the main reasons he voted Yes against the plebiscite. he believed that it was an unfair peace agreement, in which the government did not punish the FARC. they broke the law and therefore must be punished. Umberto believes that the government does not posses the right tools to implement the peace agreement because of the Transitional Justice lack of punishment weakening the institutions and the government. The government wants to punish the FARC but it is difficult with the presence of Transitional Justice. He does not agree with the FARC having seats in the parliament.

This polarization represents and illustrates the peace process in Colombia. There is progress in the peace process, a significant creation, and implementations of institutions such as the Transitional Justice, the Victim Reparation Unit, the Demobilization Unit and Reintegration unit, etc. Theoretically and literary the implementation is going well. However, at the local level, there are no implementations of the peace agreement, there is a lack of state presence in the rural areas. As Ivan mentioned that in the department of La Guajira people are dying due to lack of necessities, health, security, food, and education. The institutions are not fully functional due to human factor including corruption.

According to the professor at the university of Cartagena Mr Pablo, the Government’s refusal to implement concrete programs that efficiently impact the local communities hinders peace in the territorial area. A structural model of peace designed by the local people and Pablo, containing 8 pillars that represent a development plan. a possible effective implementation The structural model contains 3 of the following significant steps:

  1. Basic participatory Nuclei (Pre-assemblies),
  2. Communal pacts that give attention to municipalities allowing municipal pacts for regional Transformation.
  3. Regions, where it allows a plan of action for regional transformation.


Pablo mentioned that regarding peace and implementation, the president does not want people to move things forward. On the ground, there is no actual implementation but in literature and theories, and Colombia is a centralized country. There is existing bureaucratic rationality where the police commander, the governor-general, the mere and the paramilitary are acquaintances or related.

Therefore, peace and polarization or public perception are progressively relative and moving in parallel. Somehow peace is dependent on polarization and its variation. Optimistically, Peace and its implementation in Colombia are possible when the public perception changes and the polarization turns towards the peace agreement. Colombians will stand together as one for the peace agreement to demand full implementation and peace.

VIDEO 4: MAY PEACE COME IN COLOMBIA, With the Guzman Family in Girardot

Cartagena: One City, Two Faces

By T. Elisara


Cartagena, the most unequal city, in the most unequal country in Latin America. As a tourist city it is designed to offer a certain reality to its visitors. There are blemishes as you walk through the city, but the sights and sounds distract you from looking at the rot at the heart of the city. Take the old city. Once you pass through the gates you cross into the old slave market, where poor souls were bought sold by those with economic, social, and cultural power. Today, in the brightness of day the square is populated by hot and flustered tourists, many from the cruise ships. The plaza draws the attention of the desperate and resourceful, who in the plaza to sell various goods or even to just ask for a few pesos. The police presence the old city enjoys during the day, dissipates at night, allowing history to reclaim the plaza, as foreign buyers once again exploit the Colombian landscape and populace. Once night falls the slave market begins to resemble its former self. At night the vendors and beggars give way to prostitutes, who through circumstances and conditions beyond them have found themselves standing where slaves once stood, being ogled by foreign men, who themselves are unwittingly stalking the ghosts of former slave buyers. On the corners stand men handing out fliers for clubs staffed by Colombians, frequented by foreigners, and if you appear to be the latter, offer you a variety of supplies for partying

With the rampant inequality that continues to divide Colombian society it came as no surprise when on the 21st of November, large parts of the population took to the streets to demonstrate their displeasure with this government. They were driven to the streets over labour reforms, delays in peace agreement implementation, structural inequality, the death of children at the hands of the army, and the ongoing murders of social and community leaders – in short, anger over Colombia not being the country it should be. I ventured out to witness democracy in action, and express solidarity with the protestors, and in the process, became and unwitting participant. The atmosphere was jovial, and for a moment, it was impossible to tell whether I was witnessing a protest of street party – the ambiguity was soon cleared. As I approached the walls of the old city, a squadron of police horses were attempting to clear the road, after some resistance all but one cleared the way. A police officer rode up to him and grabbed him by the strap of his backpack and began to forcibly move him; another officer then rode up and hit him with a baton – this enraged the once calm crowd who began to shout, and throw water bottles and bags of food at the police. The police quickly mobilised, and having seemingly found everyone in the area guilty, charged at the crowd on motorbikes and horses. Having been caught in the crowd we all turned and fled. Most of us were successful; those who were not, were left with bruises – physical reminders of the price of dissent. From the apartments above, people yelled down at the police, who, having beaten back the crowd, withdrew and threw tear gas. Once the gas dissipated, things went back to normal, vendors resumed selling, the crowd continued to protest, and the police returned to their posts. The speed in which normality resumed was jarring yet reminded me that I was in the country of magical realism. It became clear to me that decades of conflict had taken its toll on civil society, public discourse and the rule of law. There exists a deep disconnect between the expectations of the Colombian populace, particularly the younger generations, and the political will of political elites to meet societal demands. Peace is an ongoing process; it is more than a signed piece of paper – it arises from constructive dialogue between all parties. People are hearing, they just aren’t listening. The government was not interested in listening to the complaints of the people, rather, they deployed additional forces and granted them special powers to quell the protests; the emphasis on security, as well as the tactics of the police, only furthered tension. Deep cleavages continue to run through the country and has led to extreme polarisation War still wages in Colombia, but it is one on difference.

We visited the Fundación Centro de Cultura Afrocaribe at their school in a poor neighbourhood that is caught in a battle between two different gangs, and in the sights of developers who yearn for the dollar signs in the view from the hill. To visit we needed a police escort. The school was very rudimentary, with the most advanced aspects linked to site security. The staff detailed to us their mission, struggle and reality; it was the wakeup call we didn’t know we needed. It was the Cartagena that is left off the brochures, the Cartagena, that for many is a reality. The state is not present in the area, not in terms of security, development, or basic services. One of the leaders talked about how she lived on a street where the sewer and pavement had been installed by the community themselves. In an area that could see million-dollar penthouses and luxury hotels it was particularly startling. This community was just one that has largely had to govern and service itself. We could see new development of Boca Grande, and the tourist havens of the old city that had their sights set towards not towards the sunrise over these communities, but toward the cruise ship dominated Caribbean sunset.

After some days in Cartagena, a few of us decided to escape the city and visit Isla Grande and experience the Caribbean. I went to the island to escape the unreality of Colombia and instead found myself engulfed in excess and luxury, while surrounded by need and poverty. On Isla Grande, we were greeted with smiles and refreshments, and with the sun shining on us, the sea wind blowing through our hair, we looked out to the crystal-clear waters of the Caribbean. After weeks of lecturers on the protracted conflict it was good to escape the tyranny of time and the ugliness of reality. Curious as to what lay beyond the tree line I decided to walk to the nearby town, twenty minutes from the hotel and beach. On the walk, I passed sugar cane farms and houses roofed with corrugated iron, built with exposed brick, some with doors and glass windows, most with neither. Eventually I arrived at the small town, with no roads or motor vehicles. After a quick walk around the town, I returned to the idealistic beach, although this time, the waters seemed less clear.

What is happening in Colombia, did not form in a vacuum. History, geography, culture, and socioeconomic factors were and clearly are drivers of the conflict and inequality in Colombia, but it is a self-serving story to overlook the impact that foreigners have had on this country. The international pressure on policy, and demand for both licit and illicit markets has drastically shaped the conflict, peace process, indeed the political fabric of Colombia. In the case of Cartagena, international tourism has exacerbated already existing inequalities in this city. Where once the Spaniards came to find their riches, and pirate ships threatened to pillage the city, there now comes cruise ships. Cocaine may be produced in Colombia, but it is Mexican cartels and global buyers that drive this illicit market. It is not local Colombians who are frequenting ladies of the night, or procuring partying supplies while in Cartagena – it is the international tourists, who in their attempt to escape the reality of their lives for the magical realism of this country, only contribute to the unreality of the place. Economic and political elites who have traded the interests of their population and the city for the tourist dollars bare considerable responsibility. Tourism does provide income to the area, but with current political, economic and social structures in Colombia, it ends up exacerbating the already numerous structural inequalities in the city. Should we visit a place if it is worse for having set foot there? The construction of a certain idea of Cartagena by elites for personal gain has damaged the city. It is not only the international dimension, ultimately it is the political and economic elites who have morphed Cartagena into an unequal, unsustainable city at breaking point.

Cartagena is a beautiful city, there would be few who have experienced the warmth of its population and have marvelled at its architecture and the Caribbean who would debate that. The tragedy of the city is that it is not paradise for everyone who lives there. On the day of the protests there were those who came from communities with legitimate grievances, for who it was better to try and sell water for two thousand pesos a bottle than to risk a day of no monetary gain through engaging in civil disobedience. For many in Colombia, the daily concerns of trying to meet basic needs trumps civil disobedience and the fight for structural change. Through developments such as Boca Grande, there is an effort to push that which makes us uncomfortable, to the margins, the periphery. If one were to step of the tourist trail, one would see a Colombia that is under served, forgotten by those in power. Despite it all, there remains a great amount of hope within the populace for change, ultimately it will need to be the ordinary Colombian people themselves who build the country they deserve – which is to say one that overcomes structural inequalities.I had come to find the oblivious debauch elite and international tourists that have doomed this city to a profoundly unequal existence. Little did I know I was one of the monsters I had come to slay.

Collective Memory: State vs. Victims

By Molly Turner

Collective Memory

Three years after the signing of the Peace Agreement with the FARC, Colombia is grappling with the question of how to remember the 50 year armed conflict, and how to honour victims of it. In a lecture on the 15th November, Associate Professor Tatjana Louis argued that there are multiple kinds of memory that can be collectively held. Colombia is currently engaged in preserving cultural memory. This kind of memory is held by groups that do not communicate directly but share a formal bond such as membership in the same nation. This memory operates in a larger time frame and does not focus on specific memories. Those memories are also subject to change less often than communicative memory, and these changes happen more slowly. Not every member of the group can tell those memories, only those with authority such as teachers and historians.

Jörn Rüsen wrote in 1992 that historical consciousness ‘is the individual and collective understanding of the past, the cognitive and cultural factors that form that understanding, as well as the relationships between historical understanding for the present and the future’ (Louis). In other words, the way we remember the past is informed by our present reality and our expectations for the past. This gives a clear impetus for actors to control collective memory and shape it based on their own desires for the future. For Colombia, these factors shape how those with authority remember and present the conflict. Tatjana Louis gave the example of two different textbooks to illustrate this. The one published before the beginning of the peace process that led to the signing of a peace agreement in 2016 made no mention of past attempts at peace. The one published after did. This is likely due to a change in expectations about the feasibility of peace as well as a change in the present reality.

Victims’ Right to Memory

Victims are generally accepted as having a right to take control over the collective memory of their own suffering, but questions arise about who should be considered a victim. This is an especially fraught debate given the currently politically polarised atmosphere in Colombia. Should FARC members be able to shape collective memory as well? Victims generally need active support by society to create the space in which they can tell their own stories. They need to be listened to, so they know that what happened to them won’t happen again. Their memory can also contribute to social reconciliation if it is inclusive and sends the message that the past belongs to everyone in society, not just victims. In Colombia there are multiple initiatives aimed at preserving collective memory of the conflict. One of the most interesting aspects this drive is that they are attempting to remember something that isn’t over. While the 2016 peace agreement ended hostilities with FARC as a whole, three years later we find ourselves with a dissident wing of the group (sometimes known as FARC 2.0), as well as the continued activity of the ELN, among various bandas criminales and other armed groups. Nevertheless, the Centre for Historical Memory and El Centro de Memoria, Paz y Reconciliación (The Centre of Peace, Memory, and Reconciliation) attempt to shape popular perceptions about this time. The latter actually began construction in 2007, and opened in 2012, the year the peace negotiations started.

The National Centre for Historical Memory constructs an archive which it fills with testimonies from victims that it has collected. In this way, it fulfils peoples’ right to information, investigates cases, and educates people about the conflict. The centre also prepares reports on events and issues. However, these do not make a big impact and are normally only read by academics, so victims have a space, but they aren’t necessarily being heard or getting assurances of non-repetition. Nor is the information gathered by the National Centre accepted by Colombian society at large.

Centre of Peace, Memory, and Reconciliation

Another interesting facet of the way the conflict is remembered is that the Colombian government is largely running the memory initiatives. The Centre of Peace, Memory, and Reconciliation museum is sponsored and operated by the government. The site chosen for it is a cemetery that was functional at the time of its construction. 3000 bodies were removed from the area, and more were removed from the various buildings surrounding what is now the main exhibition. The walls of these were decorated by a local artist with varying prints of people carrying bodies. She also painted on the front of each of them: La Vida es Sagrada (Life is Sacred). The museum itself is mostly underground. The visible structure looks on the outside to be a furnished building but is in fact a concrete shell. It was constructed using traditional methods of layering building material and then stomping it down. This has left visible levels in the concrete, routinely punctuated with holes filled with glass tubes containing samples of the soil from 200 victims’ home soil. In this way the impression is created that they built the site, rather than the government.


The museum is primarily intended for children and those from Bogotá who see the conflict as something far away from them. The exhibits are designed to bring the events into close proximity. There is a map that shows sites of various crimes such as homicide, and forced disappearance, as well as forced displacement and the presence of mines planted by armed groups within Bogotá itself. There is an exhibit wherein people hear various sounds of the conflict, and see objects imbued with memory. One is the jacket presidential candidate and member of M19 Carlos Pizarro Leon-Gomez, was wearing when he was assassinated. Another is a lock of hair from a social leader who was kidnapped and had her hair cut. Another still is a typewriter from a murdered journalist. These were meant to keep the memory of the conflict in the present and tangible, tethered to items that can be observed, rather than metaphysical.  So victims aren’t themselves heard, but their experiences are being seen, and Colombians are being invited to view the conflict as part of their own lives and something they should remember even if they weren’t directly affected. This could contribute to reconciliation.

There is a tension inherent in the fact that government institutions are responsible for telling the stories of victims, given the role the state played in victimising people, namely by committing war crimes, such as false positives- the retrospective designation of those killed by the armed forces as enemy combatants. This tension is somewhat resolved by the fact that victims’ stories are presented in a somewhat objective way, especially by showing items that belonged to them. However, until victims are able to take over the telling of conflict themselves, the state will maintain its position as the arbitrator of memory. This hegemonic control of how the conflict is remembered also leads to victims being actively silenced, such as when the director of the National Centre for Historical Memory, Dario Acevedo made fun of victims’ plans to include the concepts ‘water, land, and body’ in a memorial museum. He also censored exhibitions in Cali, Villvicencio, and Cucuta (Alsema, 2019).

Victim-Centred Memory

A way that victims have begun claiming memory of the conflict themselves, without the mediation of the Colombian government is through weaving projects. Victims, especially women, weave tapestries that depict events that happened during the conflict. A notable group of women making these is the Women Weavers of Dreams and Flavours of Peace of Mampuján. They were violently displaced from this region in March 2002, and in 2006 began weaving tapestries depicting the event with figures that represented people in their community. In 2008, the perpetrators of the displacement confessed to and apologised for their crimes under the 2005 Peace and Justice Law. It has been speculated that this apology was accepted by the community because of the reconciliation work of weaving (Art and Reconciliation). More effort should be made to ensure that victims have adequate say in how the conflict is remembered and attention paid to the work they are already doing in the field of memory. The Centre of Peace, Memory, and Reconciliation is a good first step, but it is limited by its affiliation with the state. It will hopefully develop with time as our present changes, and Colombians’ expectations for the future change.

Patricia Leon Quecan: https://www.patricialeonquecan.com


Adriaan Alsema (2019). Colombia seeks to censor victims in conflict memorial museum. Colombia Reports. November 3. https://colombiareports.com/colombia-seeks-to-censor-victims-in-conflict-memorial-museum/

Art and Reconciliation. The weavers of Mampuján. https://artreconciliation.org/arts-and-reconciliation/case-studies/the-weavers-of-mampujan/

Tatjana Louis. Lecture on historic memory and peacebuilding. 15 November 2019. Universidad de los Andes: Bogotá, Colombia.

Coca and Cocaine: Colombia’s Iconic Export

By Joshua Dack

When you hear the name Colombia, a series of images come to mind; expansive jungles, energetic music, and unique culture. But first and foremost, what springs to mind is cocaine. From the realities of the War on Drugs, to the hit tv series Narcos, when one mentions Colombia, cocaine is the first thing on the mind. When I was first accepted the scholarship for our trip to Colombia, my parents warned me of cartels and rampant cocaine use, images created from the West’s view of Colombia. Thus, when arriving in Colombia, it was of chief interest to examine the ways in which cocaine played a part not only in the armed conflict, but also in the overall Colombian state. We had lectures from numerous individuals that commented on the realities of the cocaine trade, chiefly among them were Rodrigo Mezu, Daniel Rico, and Sebastian Bitar. Each of these lecturers covered aspects of the issue of Cocaine, but in order to present the information I have learned I will separate this information into five categories. First, the origin of cocaine in Colombia and its impact on the economy. Second, the transition of the cocaine trade from cartels to guerrilla groups involved in the armed conflict. Third, the relationship over time between coca cultivation and conflict. Fourth, how the state has been fighting coca cultivation over the last two decades. Finally, the international dimension of the cocaine market, and how that bleeds into government policy.

Cocaine and economy

While there is evidence of individual Colombians smuggling cocaine as far back as the 50’s, cocaine began to become a major trading commodity in the 70’s, as smugglers co-opted their current routes for electronic imports, and instead used them for cocaine smuggling. At the time, Colombia was at a critical junction in terms of its economic state. Up until the 70’s Colombia had a stable economy, the most stable of South America, but had no export industry, and had no significant trade partners on the international scene, which is what allowed these smuggling networks to form. It was believed in order for Colombia to modernise it would need to integrate into the global economy, and measures were taken to enact such policies, with the knowledge that in the transition period money would flow out of Colombia as Colombians began to legally import goods without significant tariffs. However, moving into the 70’s, government officials noted the opposite with currency flowing into the country, smoothing the economic transition process. The reason for this influx was of course the cocaine market. Criminal enterprises quickly discovered that while cocaine was profitable to sell within Colombia, exporting it to the US was many times more profitable. The same gram of cocaine which cost 9 dollars in Colombia, cost hundreds in the United States, and the proceeds of these transactions were flooding into Colombia. Pictured here is air and sea traffic of cocaine smugglers transmitting their cargo into North America.

As such, cocaine was not only an illicit market, but also worked positively for the Colombian states economic progress, while these positive effects would not last long, as the realities of the drug trade were brought to bear on the Colombian people, it does substantiate the idea that cocaine is intertwined with Colombia in a myriad of ways.

Cartels to Guerrillas

Throughout the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s, cocaine production and smuggling had been controlled in the domain of the cartels, notably the Medellin and Cali cartels, the former of whom was run by one of the most famous drug lords in history, Pablo Escobar, pictured below.

As noted earlier, these cartels had their beginnings in smuggling operations, however due to infighting within the drug cartels as well as military and police crackdowns, cartels found it harder and harder to operate. The government began to make use of the infighting to control the cocaine market, prioritising targets that were notably violent, and as such limiting the capacity of violence that cartels could bring to bear. However, during the 90’s guerrilla groups such as FARC began to take possession of parts of the cocaine trade, and in doing so providing funds for their fight against the government. Therefore, the government, cartels, and guerrilla groups all had obtained benefits from the cocaine market, as each represented major players in the continuing armed conflict.

Coca cultivation and violence

The next important thing to consider is the interesting relationship between violence and coca cultivation in Colombia, especially notable from the mid 2000’s to today, as we can chart seemingly contradictory trends when comparing the two. As can be seen by the below chart, coca cultivation was high in the mid 2000’s before dropping significantly to negligible levels, and then rising again to a new peak from 2014. These trends correspond to political events, notably the strength of FARC and its operations in the early 2000’s, to the expansion of military power and government success in its fight against FARC under Uribe; and finally, the start of peace talks with FARC. This final area was one used by Uribe to declare the peace agreement as being a promoter of cocaine.

What is interesting however, that this general trend of peak, low, peak is an inverse relationship to the homicide rate within Colombia. During the time of Uribe, homicides were at an extreme peak as violence gripped Colombia through a mixture of armed conflict, criminal groups and low-level violence. However, at the onset of peace talks, these rates have dropped significantly, at a similar rate that coca cultivation has climbed. This presents an interesting dynamic, as through narratives presented by the War on Drugs, cocaine has traditionally been viewed as a facilitator of violence, but the data presents the opposite conclusion. This then leads to the following conclusions. One, that the end of the armed conflict does not necessitate the end of the cocaine trade, or vice versa. Two, that there is a relationship between fighting coca cultivation and rates of death. To better understand this second conclusion, we have to account for the methods that the government has used to fight coca cultivation.

Methods to fight Coca cultivation

There are three main methods that have been used by the government to fight coca cultivation. These are manual eradication, air spraying, and rural development.

  • Manual Eradication: This involves directs boots on the ground, multiple men and a helicopter for transport to the Coca field and its eradication. This process is quite costly, costing around 15000 US dollars per field, while also being a slow and labour-intensive process
  • Air Spraying:  This method involves spraying the fields from the air using chemicals such as glyphosate, destroying the coca plants without the need for boots on the ground. This process has been stopped due to government policy as well as the health affects of glyphosate being called into question
  • Finally, is rural development, an important part of the peace agreement to build infrastructure to incentivise farmers from growing crops other than coca

Daniel Rico, presented interesting information regarding the death tolls relating to manual eradication, noting that hundreds of lives have been lost due to landmines and other hazards. In contrast, air spraying is far safer and environmentally friendly, but due to political pressure it is not being used and as such is causing the deaths of many. The need for the government to fight coca cultivation, even at human cost comes from international pressure, especially from the United States.

International Intervention

Since the 90’s, the United States has been financial supporting the Colombian government in its fight against drugs and terrorism through Plan Colombia and Plan Patriota. This stems from the US’s massive drug usage problem, as the US is the main importer of Colombian cocaine. Seen below is a chart of US assistance.

Through exertion of financial pressure, the US has pushed Colombia to continue its policy of combating coca cultivation even if it is not in the interest of Colombia’s human cost. As seen earlier, there is a link between homicide rate and coca cultivation, as well as the deaths that have occurred during eradication processes.

In this sense, the paradigm of cocaine in Colombia is not just a Colombian issue but is instead an international issue due to the demand created in their markets. While Colombia must combat the issue of coca, the rest of the world must better understand the Colombian situation in order to not make the same mistake as the US in attempting to fix the wrong problem. Destroying fields at any cost is not a feasible strategy for either Colombia or the US, and if my time in Colombia has taught me anything, it is that there is no simple quick fix solution to Colombia’s problems, it will require decades of hard work in solving economic and territorial issues to end the drug production market in Colombia.

Remembering the Colombian Conflict

What is memory?

Memory is not just one fixed concept, there are multiple types of memory and they all play an important role in Colombia’s conflict. Individual memory refers to each individuals person’s recollections. It is often passed on through story telling from person to person. Because of this transmission through people it is shorter than collective memory, it can only survive as long as there are people to continue to tell the story and after they have passed.

Collective or historical memory lives in all of us and continues on indefinitely. Jorn Russen a German historian and philosopher defines historical memory as the way people live in their past and how they generate meaning based on their past experiences. Because cultural memory is curated and achieved, often by the state, it is more difficult to change than individual memory.

Why memory matters in the Colombian context

With 8,650,169 registered victims the Colombian conflict has directly affected more than 12% of the population. This does not include victims who have not registered or those that have been impacted by the conflict in other ways such as the wider economic and social impacts.  The length and breadth of this conflict has resulted in an enormous amount of individual memory.

This individual memory means that different families in different regions have drastically divergent views of the conflict. This is one of the reasons why building collective memory is vital to achieve a common understanding of the conflict across the country.

How Colombian’s are preserving memory

The Victims and Land Restitution Law 1448 of 2011 mandated the creation of National Centre of Historical Memory. The National Centre of Historical Memory is run by the Department of Social Prosperity and produces reports to add to the historical memory of Colombia.

However, there are clear issues with a centre for memory that is funded and run by a Government agency. With the election of the Duque Government we can see a desire to control the narrative about the Colombian conflict. This is nothing new as during the Uribe Government there was an important linguistic change from discussing the conflict as a civil conflict to labelling armed groups (particularly the FARC) as narco-terrorists. This change in language had two important implications, firstly it allowed the Colombian Government to continue to access funds from the United States through Plan Colombia (which had been modified after 9/11 to require funds to go to fighting terrorism). But more importantly for the conception of historical memory labelling Guerilla groups as narco-terrorists delegitimises their actions and legitimise any actions the State takes to respond.

The implications for this in the context of building a clear collective understanding of the Colombian conflict cannot be underestimated. The Colombian people have suffered at the hands of the Government for instance the False Positives scandal where poor or otherwise vulnerable people including minors were murdered by the Government who then portrayed them as FARC members to increase their military statistics.

These atrocities are just as relevant to the conflict of the those of Guerrilla groups, paramilitary and criminal gangs. However, if they are ignored then Colombia’s collective memory will always be incomplete which does not provide a good base for peace-building.

While the board of the board of The Memory, Peace and Reconciliation Centre in Bogota is somewhat insulated from the political whims of elites, there is pressure on this institutions to tell a state-friendly narrative. Hopes for historical memory are best place in smaller more independent organisations.

Professor Pablo Abitbol  spoke to our group about grassroots attempts  at transforming historical memory into collective memory are taking place in the Caribbean Coast by a group called Grupo Regional de Memoria Histórica run by the Bolivar University of Technology in 2015.

This group runs a number of projects to embed historical memory into the collective consciousness of people in the region. These are done through working with communities to understand how they would like to learn about history using their own traditions. The group has produced a number of booklets to help people understand the violence that has taken place.

For instance, the map of Cartagena below shows how the conflict impacted the city of Cartagena, often the violence of the conflict is seen as having taken place in jungles not in the cities. Maps like these are important for developing a sense of ownership of the conflict for people.

Map of Cartagena annotated with past violence. Produced by Grupo Regional de Memoria, Histórica. Available at: https://sites.google.com/site/memoriautb/memoria-historica

Making sure the next generation understands

An important part of moving individual memory into collective memory is ensuring that children grow up learning about the conflict.

The teaching of History is now mandatory in Colombia thanks to a new bill in 2017 that reverses an earlier decision that removed Colombian History as part of the curriculum. The new curriculum is expected to be launch in 2020. This mirrors developments in New Zealand where earlier this year is was announced that the teaching of New Zealand History will be a mandatory part of the national curriculum from 2022.

The Memory, Peace and Reconciliation Centre in Bogota also seeks to create a better communal understanding of the Colombian Conflict by teaching particularly children above the age of 12 about key events. Curated by qualified teachers the exhibits educate and more importantly give a human face to the conflict to better build a collective memory.

Recordar means to remember but looking at the entomology it could be translated literally as to return with the heart. The Memory, Peace and Reconciliation Center spoke about this and the importance of feeling not just hearing about history.

How the battle for memory plays out on the Streets in Bogotá

While battles to develop historical memory take place in political areas such as congress and the Historical Memory Group there is also another front for this battle – the streets of Bogotá. While exploring the graffiti in the La Candelaria it is clear to see how the fight for space is taking place throughout the city. Walls display not only political disagreements but stark artwork portraying the indigenous people of Colombia and their push to be seen and recognized as the native people of the area.

Graffiti art featuring indigenous people is all around Bogota particularly in the
reas of the city, in a ‘fight for space.”

A continued push to establish a fair and accurate historical memory of the Colombian conflict is vital for the 2016 Peace Agreement to successfully end conflict in Colombia. However, small grassroots organisations are likely to be more successful in this endeavor as they are not under the same political pressures as those funded directly by the Government.

Fighting for collective memory

Why a movement for collective memory is helping Colombia reconcile with its past and forge a new path towards peace

By Ryan Mearns


The walled city of Cartagena on the Caribbean coast of Colombia is mostly known for its tourism, sandy beaches and as the former residence of Nobel-prize winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but this hides a darker history.

The dark story of Cartagena‘s paramilitary groups, rebel guerilla’s, narco-trafficking and gross human rights abuses is starting to be told by a growing number of academics and social leaders as a way of addressing the gap in the historical memory of the region.

Pablo Abitbol is one of those academics and social leaders. Abitbol is German-educated Colombian political scientist who teaches at the Technological University of Bolívar (UTB) and coordinators the Grupo Regional de Memoria Histórica. The Group is a small research institution attached to UTB. It’s focused on the active reconstruction of the collective memory of Cartagena, Bolívar and the Colombian Caribbean. It represents a growing movement in Colombia that is attempting to come to terms with its history of conflict that calls for the accurate telling of the country’s historical memory.

“Historic memory” refers to the way people live with the past and how they generate meaning based on past experiences. Jörn Rüse, a German historian and philosopher, argues that historic memory needs go further as an idea. He says societies need to instead aim for “historical consciousness”. Rüse defines historical consciousness as when an individual and collective understands the past in its complete form by acknowledging the cognitive and culture facts that form that understanding as well as the relationship between the present and the past.


It’s this process of building historical consciousness which Colombia is grappling with at the moment. In the past, Colombia’s history has been mired in a cloud of competing interests that have obfuscated the accurate story of many of the atrocities which have happened. By having clear processes for addressing this gap in the historic memory, Colombia is attempting to move forward and avoiding repeating the mistakes of the past.

The process of rebuilding historic memory in Colombia was legislated in 2011 as part of the Victims Law. The law made it a right to know the truth. At the time José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, said that Colombia had taken a major step toward addressing the legacy of violence and abuse by advancing “the fundamental right of forcibly displaced people and other victims to obtain reparation for the abuses they have endured.”

This new right was seen as an important part of Colombia’s wider transitional justice processes. Through the Victims Law, the state has a responsibility to construct an official history of truth that is correct. This includes archives, oral testimonies, conducting investigations, running shared community activities and providing educational materials for schools. However, until recently Colombia’s history was not compulsory in schools.

This obligation of the state is significant as the Colombian Government — especially the military — has a troubled history of hiding the truth. For the Colombian people, this is captured in the “false positives” scandal that found the Colombian Military committed atrocities against children and civilians while claiming they were a part of the FARC when they weren’t. This was done because of bonuses paid out if a military unit met a particular target for combatants killed. The recent murder of children by the military have re-opened these past wounds with clear parallels to the false positive’s scandals. That’s why this duty to tell the truth and build an accurate collective memory on the part of state is such an important aspect of Colombia’s transitional justice process.


The National Center for Historic Memory (NCHM) is the main independent entity which has been tasked with the long-process of building the collective memory of Colombia’s history of conflict. According to the former head of the Center, Gonzalo Sánchez, it’s work is “breaking with the usual experience of countries affected by violent conflict, the armed confrontation in [Colombia has unfolded] in parallel to the increasing confrontation of memories and [growing] public demands for justice and reparation.” In 2016, the Center published the ¡Basta ya! (Enough is enough!) report which aimed to coalesce the more than 50 publications into a coherent narrative. The report was significant as it was a step outside of the traditional approach of the Center which aimed to address the differences and contradictions in the positions of the actors in the conflict, and explicitly recognize their responsibility while ensuring the victims are recognized fully.

While the Center has worked hard to pull together extensive reports on the conflict many of its report have been less successful at penetrating the collective memory of the Colombian people. Unfortunately, this has left Colombia is a fractious state whereby a lack of collective memory is undermining the peace process. The current Government has further attempted to further undermine the movement for memory by appointing a new director that has a history of undermining the past work to tell the truth of the conflict.

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are filling the gap by conducting their own investigations and publishing their own reports into atrocities that has fallen outside the purview of major fact-finding missions. The motivation for this work comes at a time when the Special Jurisdiction for Peace ramps up its efforts to look into large matters that are being prosecuted before it which require initiation by third-parties such as NGOs.

Skepticism remains on many fronts that this movement for memory is having the intended large-scale impact that is needed. Even in the more left-leaning Bogota, a debate is being waged as to whether the current Memory Center memorial is in the right location — with calls for it to be moved. The Memory Center plays an important role as a place of healing with school children coming to process the impact of the conflict and provides a space for families to remember the victims. Despite this resistance the movement is a much-needed intervention if Colombia is to take a different path after it’s over 50 years on conflict.


But this movement will need serious work if it’s to succeed with buy-in across the political spectrum. This remain the movements largest challenge — as many in the political elite, especially in local municipalities, have secrets to hide that makes the truth of the conflict a risk to their power. Early reports indicate that this is a motivating factor behind the rise in the murder of social leaders and human rights defenders who are fighting for the truth.

Nonetheless, the fight for truth will continue as indicated by the recent growth in protests and civil society for the accurate telling for Colombia’s past. The former director of the NCHM, Sánchez, sums up the importance the movement for historical consciousness the best by describing memory as the “expression of rebellion against violence and impunity”. Without it, Colombia will inevitably repeat the mistake of its past unless it uses them to inform the present and the future.