Colombia's National Center of Historical Memory no longer recognized as a Site of Conscience
Colombia's National Center of Historical Memory loses recognition from the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience in the face of its director's right-wing positions.
In One Hundred Years of Solitude, when José Arcadio Buendía realizes that the consequence of the plague of insomnia is oblivion, he begins to mark with papers the names of each thing and then also what they are for: "This is the cow, it has to be milked every morning so that it produces milk and the milk has to be boiled to mix with the coffee and make coffee with milk."
Gabriel García Márquez, in the same novel, narrates another event: the massacre of the banana plantations. In his book, one sees entire train cars in an almost infinite succession, loaded with the bodies of workers massacred by the United Fruit Company. For a long time, the Colombian state tried to forget this event and could not, among other reasons, because, faced with the threat of oblivion, García Márquez marked it in his novel: "This is a massacre and it is dangerous to forget it."
Today, if García Márquez were still alive, he would see with deep concern the shadow of oblivion looming over Colombia again, this time in the face of the existence of an element of our history that will mark us for decades to come, as it has done for more than half a century: the Colombian armed conflict.
On Dec. 20, 2011, the Ministry of Justice and Law signed Decree 4803 which determined the creation of the National Center of Historical Memory (CNMH), which has as its "objective the reception, recovery, conservation, compilation and analysis of all documentary material, oral testimonies and by any other means, concerning violations that occurred during the Colombian internal armed conflict, by means of investigations, museum and educational activities and other related activities that help to establish and clarify the causes of such phenomena, to ascertain the truth and to help prevent future recurrence of the facts".
The center of this institution was to be the victims of the armed conflict, and this was the case from its inception until February 2019, when its first director, Gonzalo Sánchez, left the position, and Rubén Darío Acevedo arrived.
During its first eight years of existence, the Center of Memory produced dozens of reports in which it evaluated the incidences of all the actors in the armed conflict. CNMH took part in symbolic restoration acts and designed an ambitious museum project in which it exhibited the impacts of the conflict on water, the body and the land, and included multiple narratives: childhood, forgiveness, community processes for healing, the State as responsible for the murder of dozens of members of the Patriotic Union political party, paramilitary groups, guerrillas: the entire country.
Rubén Darío Acevedo, by contrast, arrived at the National Centre of Historical Memory ignoring the existence of the armed conflict, as was made clear in an interview with El Colombiano. The denial of this central fact in our history and current living conditions was followed by multiple more questionings and grave denunciations of his management as director of the center.
The accusations made against Acevedo include such serious things as his denial of the armed conflict, his disregard for the nearly 8 million internally displaced persons (Colombia is the country with the highest number of internally displaced persons in the world), censoring his team, stigmatizing social protest, being dismissive of the victims of the armed conflict, making invisible the work done by the Center in previous years, and biasing the ongoing investigations towards versions more convenient for the Armed Forces and right-wing politicians.
The consequences of all of the above are very serious: the most obvious is the loss of the historical memory that is being built up in the country, but it also follows the growing distrust of the victims towards the National Centre of Historical Memory and the delegitimization of the institution.
In response to all the questions and concerns of civilians, victims and other institutions of memory at both the national and regional levels, the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, the only organization of its kind, sent a letter to the CNMH on Sept. 24, 2019 requesting information and asking the centre to reaffirm its commitment to the principles governing the Coalition, in particular the following:
1. To recognize the armed conflict in Colombia, as established by the Colombian Victims' Law.
2. To seek to guarantee the right to truth of all victims, their families and organizations.
3. That it recognize the centrality of the victims of all armed actors and ensure their full participation in the processes of consultation, decision making and implementation of symbolic reparation measures.
4. That it support the memory exercises being developed by civil society and recognize that places of memory, archives and museums generated by communities are essential for the education of the younger generations in democratic principles.
5. To seek to build a culture of coexistence so that the recent past of political violence in Colombia is not repeated.
In the absence of a response, on January 30, 2020, the Coalition informed the Center that its membership would be suspended as of Feb. 1, 2020.
Rubén Darío Acevedo has come to his defense, saying that it was a case of confusion. According to him, they did respond to the letter, but only to the regional section of the Coalition, not the international one (which is the one that wrote on Sept. 24).
On the other hand, several congressmen reacted by asking for his immediate resignation, considering it inadmissible that the CNMH was suspended under his administration given the importance of the institution for the future of the country's historical memory.
Today it seems that Colombians are faced with the need to return to García Márquez and, novel in hand, start writing notes everywhere: "This is a Memory Center, it serves to remember".