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Memories in conflict: the cases of Tumaco and Bogotá

In 2016 it seemed the course of the history of Colombia could change with the peace process of the Administration of Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC terrorist group into good news, above all for the memory processes of the country.

The institutional calling to carry out history memory exercises began 2005 with Act 975, which “provided provisions for the reincorporation of members of illegal organized armed groups that effectively contribute to the attainment of peace and other provisions for humanitarian acts.” From this moment on the memory processes of the country were boosted by governmental and university institutions that adopted the term “historic memory” to gather and explain the actions of communities and social organizations in their territories to  contain different types of violence. 

Read more:  Tumaco, historic exclusion from the national project.

However, these systematization processes had already been in place by the impacted communities before the legislative support. This aspect is a sign of the existing tensions between institutional memories, generally linked to political and social elites, and institutions, related to “the minority and dominated cultures.” 

With this scenario and as part of assuming the challenge of contributing to the collective project, an academic exercise was planned and presented as a comparative analysis of the processes of building places for memory in the cities of Tumaco and Bogotá between 1991 and 20161. To show the particularities of these processes they referenced the House of Memory of Tumaco and the Center for Memory, Peace, and Reconciliation in Bogotá.

This analysis allowed establishing that the places of memory emerged amid the conflict generating differentiated practices across Colombia according to the social and economic condition of the place of memory.

The study had the methodological challenge of establishing the common points of these two places built in dissimilar contexts. To solve this, they identified the metaphors in the literature researched as, performance and sand, words that provide a focus and deepness over some aspects considered relevant to approach the chosen memory locations.

Read more: The other faces of Tumaco (in Spanish).

The text metaphor is related to the reading and interpretation–linked to the manner the past is remembered and represented–that different actors that build the places of memory. Performance is the function of the scenario that the location has, the staging, and the presentation for others of the speeches made by different actors. The sand is related to the political debates that emerged from the representations of the past in the location.

Therefore, the metaphor of the text showed that the building process of the house in Tumaco was based on communitarian museum criteria, while for the Center in Bogotá used parameters from memorial museums, such as the aesthetic archetype of symbolic repair installed after World War II. In both cases, orality has been privileged and written forms have been set aside to capture the attention of non-specialized visitors. 

It is worth mentioning that the presence of armed actors in the case of Tumaco has been a determining factor to decide what to tell and what not, while in Bogotá there is greater freedom to providing speeches without endangering the people that work there or to revictimize its collaborators.

The metaphor of the performance allowed showing that in both cases, most visitors are students, academics, or tourists. However, its relationship with the victims is tight, although different, because of the symbolic responsibility assumed by each of these places of memory (as duty for Tumaco, and with some limitations, and rights for Bogotá).

Lastly, through the metaphor of sand, they discovered that the House and Center are places for confrontation and mediation between several actors and powers that look to legitimize and show a version over past violent events. In Tumaco the presence of illegal armed groups is due to institutional weakness, so the Church and the community have taken over the responsibilities of the house. As opposed to Bogotá, where this responsibility has been taken on by the Office of the Secretary of Government, that although supported by organizations that have worked for building peace and advocating for human rights, besides like-minded political leaders. The previous could mirror the tension between instituting memories and institutional memories, respectively.

Therefore, the places of memory analyzed are a manifestation of the historic memory that may be georeferenced (have a location in a map) and are a social practice built from experiences of multiple actors such as governments, academics, memory providers, victimizers, and victims, among others, that link the subjective set of feelings and impressions to the vestiges stored and that are impacted by the power relationships around their perspectives. 

In this sense, these memory locations are focused in the form that such actors remember traumatic events and not the acts themselves, this is why projects that exercise the creative and subversive capability to transform the conditions that caused violent actions, make questions among the visitors and avoid repeating violent acts. Finally, there needs to be said that these memory places are in a constant building process as they are the result of different scale collaboration networks, governed by different temporalities tightly linked to the traumatic events they evoke.


1 Between 1991 and 2016, the country face the most violent years produced by a number of issues including narcotrafficking, paramilitarism and guerillas , as well as the Medellín and Cali drug cartels, criminal bands, Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), and Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC).



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