Commemoration of Libertad
by Katrina Kniss, communications volunteer
posted on July 27, 2016.
On June 22, 2016, the community of Libertad, along with representatives from supporting organizations and surrounding communities, commemorated the 12th anniversary of the liberation of the community from paramilitary control, with a peaceful march, speakers, cultural programs, and a communal lunch.
The story of Libertad is unique among the Caribbean coastal region of Colombia. Unlike other communities, where armed groups would come and go, Libertad was under constant paramilitary occupation from 1997-2004. After seven years, tired of abuse, assassinations, and violations of their human rights, the community rallied together to get rid of the armed group. In the years since their violent liberation, Libertad has been committed to the cause of reconciliation and peacebuilding. In this spirit, the commemoration began with a gathering at the entrance to the community. As everyone assembled, holding symbolic peace torches made from recycled plastic bottles, the community pastor and community leader Alfredo Julio shared words to set the tone of the event. The pastor prayed for a lasting peace, one that starts within each individual’s heart, and Alfredo reminded the crowd that peace will not come from the negotiations in Havana. It will come from the people themselves, in their very own region. The procession then marched down the dirt road to the plaza, while individuals dispersed throughout the crowd read the names of victims of the violence that was inflicted on their community. After each name, the crowd chanted, “Present, present, always present!”, reaffirming their legacies live on within the community. “We will forgive, but we will never forget. As soon as we forget, then the cycle of violence can repeat itself”, said Alfredo.
Part of the process of remembrance is also the assertion of cultural identity. The second part of the morning was a program in the plaza, under the shadow of Libertad’s own Afro-Colombian statue of liberty. The next few hours were full of vibrant energy, with performances from Afro Musica, a presentation of a dramatic retelling of folklore, traditional dancing, and exhibitions of hair braiding styles. Ely Rios, a young woman in the community directed the dramatic retelling of the legend of the Mojana, which she sees as an important way to preserve the rich cultural heritage of oral histories.
An especially symbolic moment of reconciliation was when performers invited audience members to join in a traditional dance. Within the circle, community members and leaders danced hand-in-hand with NGO staff, police, a UN official, and a member of the armed forces. This circle was a representation of the many supporting organizations in attendance at the commemoration, including Sembrandopaz, the Victim’s Unit, the Public Defender’s office, and the UN International Organization for Migrations, among others. These organizations and entities continue to support the work of peacebuilding and community development in Libertad and the greater coastal region, all in differing capacities. Sembrandopaz accompanies Libertad and focuses on youth organizing and investing in agricultural productive projects in the community. While Libertad still faces difficult issues of poverty, unemployment, and historical trauma, moments like the commemoration allow the greater community to honor the successes and great resilience of this town. And after a community lunch of soup made from beef, yucca, and ñame, everyone went home with a full stomach and full heart.