Colombia faces consequences for not recognizing its armed conflict

The main international network of historical memory issued a letter expelling the Historical Memory Center of Colombia and criticized its director.

Guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (ELN) of Colombia.

Guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (ELN) of Colombia .. / Photo: Hispantv

LatinAmerican Post | Juliana Suárez

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Leer en español: Colombia enfrenta consecuencias por no reconocer su conflicto armado

The letter issued by the organization highlighted lack of commitment from the Center for Historical Memory of Colombia to renew their membership, which they had to do four months ago, in September 2019. This was addressed to Rubén Darío Acevedo, director of said organization warning that the "denialist" actions of the armed conflict by the center and its director were a sign that they did not want to continue being part of the network.

The International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, which has 275 member organizations from 65 different countries, is a group of organizations that seek to preserve memory in places where violence has been present. Remembering is necessary in order to foster reconciliation and build a peaceful future; that is the end of this global network. For this reason, the presence of the Historical Memory Center, which is a government agency that has the purpose of preserving the memory of the armed conflict in Colombia, is essential for the construction of memory in a network of such magnitude.

In September, its director had been asked to clarify his position on the armed conflict and, therefore, the construction of memory. This request was made because the network considered that Acevedo had made “exclusive and biased pronouncements made on behalf of the National Center for Historical Memory”. Therefore, it was necessary to know the final position of the organization. He was requested in the letter to express his adherence to the principles of the Coalition and thus renew the membership.

After months without response, the network considered that this showed Acevedo and CNMH's lack of interest in participating in the initiative. “We consider that four months is a prudent time to wait for an answer, so we see that by not responding you imply that you are not willing to subscribe to the principles of our international community and we are therefore obliged not to to renew the membership of the CNMH in the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience”, said the letter, signed by Elizabeth Silkes, its executive director.

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In the letter, Silkes also made suggestions to the director for the Center to continue his mission of preserving the memory of the armed conflict in Colombia. He asked him to recognize the conflict as stipulated in the Victims Law of the country and to guarantee the right of the victims and their families as the central axis of peace building. He also asked Acevedo to "support the memory exercises that are being developed from civil society and recognize the places of memory, archives and museums generated by the communities, as essential for the education of young generations in democratic principles."

Before the letter and the thousands of criticisms that it unleashed in civil society, Darío Acevedo said on his Twitter account that all the criticisms are part of “a campaign of sabotage and media lynching”, and that, in the end, many people are looking to take him out of office.

Colombia was waiting for the director's explanation of what happened and, in La W Radio, he gave it. Acevedo said that the lack of response was due to a forgetfulness about the “situation of high tension like the one we have lived in the CNMH”. To the difficulties that the splicing of one direction to another represented (since Acevedo has been in office for less than a year), he said, there is a campaign against him.

Given what happened with the Coalition membership, he said it was a "confusion" and that he had not been informed until now that they were part of the international network. When asked during the interview if he considered it important for the CNMH (in Spanish) to be a member of that network, Acevedo replied that “in principle” he did not oppose, but that he did not know it in depth. He concluded by saying that it seemed to him that the country was making a lot of "noise" because of an "unjustified alarm".

Is the CNMH in crisis?

The Coalition is not the first to show concern about the current actions of the CNMH, as many citizens have been critical of how the Center is being run since Iván Duque became president. This is because despite the importance that the Center represents, not only for that coalition but for the history of Colombia, since 2018 it has been facing difficulties for its last two directors.

The first appointment was that of Vicente Torrijos and his arrival took Colombians by surprise because this academic had been known for his great criticisms of the Peace Agreement, so it seemed illogical that a person with so many reservations addressed the issue of historical memory. To the controversy was added the fact that in his curriculum it appeared that he had a doctorate and postdoctorate, studies that he had not achieved. This cost him the disengagement from the Universidad del Rosario, where he worked in the faculty of Political Science, and the subsequent resignation of the CNMH management position.

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Thus, months later the news was known: Rubén Darío Acevedo would be the new director. This was not liked by a sector of the Colombian population, which stated that Acevedo was a faithful "denier" of the armed conflict. That is to say, that, like many, he did not believe that the confrontations that crossed the country were part of an armed conflict, since this consideration implies a responsibility of the State. With this perspective, how to capture the memory and give voice to the victims, which should be the main objective of the Center, could be hindered.

During his months in the management, censors have been denounced in the Center and the way of working has changed, which has ended up obstructing the intention to create memory. The opinion program of El Espectador, La Pulla, affirmed a few months ago that the director “wants to deny the historical memory of this country and make us believe wonders as here there was no armed conflict, or victims, or that false positives were a crime, much less that there were displaced ”.

Not only has he been criticized for his statements and his previous position to assume the direction of the CNMH, but he is also accused of being hindering some of the programs that were already running before his arrival. For example, about the National Museum of Historical Memory, an organ of the Center that seeks to tell the story and the repercussions of the conflict, Acevedo said that “the museum does not have to clarify anyone, because it is not its function, what was the nature of the conflict".

Currently, although the CNMH was expelled from the Coalition of Sites of Conscience, Colombia still has the presence of two organizations: the Peace and Reconciliation Center, in Bogotá, and the Casa de la Memoria Museum, in Medellín.

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