The pain and suffering of wars stem from violent acts that its witnesses experience subjectively. Many absorb the experiences they suffered through their own filters, nourished by emotions, perceptions, and intimate life experiences, which are the essence of the construction of histories.
However, in many cases, these marks are erased by historical reconstructions of important events, or are simply lost through silence and the failure to tell them. Memories need new forms or representing the past that confirms their historical veracity through the contemplation of the subjectivity of the person who has suffered it. Otherwise, oblivion carries a risk of perpetuating the victimization and violence.
The oldest internal armed conflict in Latin America is currently underway in Latin America. The municipality of Trujillo, Valle del Cauca has been particularly hard hit by violence.
In the report “The Massacre of Trujillo: A Tragedy that Doesn’t End” (2008), violence in this municipality is referred to as “the continuous massacre of Trujillo” as a “recognition of the collective and prolonged dimension of the crimes that took place in this area of the Valle, highlighting the cruelty and brutality in how criminal acts were carried out.”
Father Tiberio Fernández is the emblematic victim of violence in this municipality. Murdered on April 17, 1990, Tiberio was a spiritual guide to the community and led the creation of community collectives and accompanied the municipality in manifestations and protests against State abandonment of the area. Days prior to his assassination, he stated in a sermon, “if my blood helps bring peace to Trujillo, I will gladly spill it.”
In midst of an armed conflict, “religious leaders have been able to embody the faith and autonomy of communities, which is why they have become a thorn in the side of armed groups.” A case similar to that of Father Tiberio occurred in El Salvador in 1980, when the community leader and Monsignor Óscar Arnulfo Romero stated weeks before his assassination “if God accepts the sacrifice of my life, let my blood be the seed of liberty and the sign that hope will soon be a reality.”
Father Tiberio’s assassination spurred the municipality of Trujillo to mobilize and demand justice and fight against impunity. The community organized to remember and reconstruct the most representative acts of violence. Specifically, the book “Tiberio vive hoy: testimonios de la vida de un mártir”(2003) was an initiative to remember Father Tiberio Fernández.
It is a collection of letters, stories, and images that the community made by hand. Sister Maritze Trigos, leader of the Association of Family Members of Victims of Trujillo Violence (AFAVIT) invited community members to participate in writing and drawing workshops, which led to this book, which is a tribute to the life and struggle of Father Tiberio. Sister Maritze Trigos notes that the “content is profound, lived, spontaneous, rich in expressions that come from the heart and that raise challenges for today.”
This important recognition for the work of the Trujillo community means that the stories in honor of Father Tiberio form part of the Memory of the World and the heritage of humanity. Regarding the UNESCO recognition, Sister Maritze commented “we never thought that a modest publication, without literary rigor, nor stylistic specifications, handwritten, with the diversity of authors in Trujillo, would be granted such value.”
Other initiatives of historical memory that recount the legacy of massive human rights violations and that have been included in the Memory of the World include the “Diary of Anne Frank” (Germany), “Human Rights Documentary Heritage 1976 – 1983 – Archives for Truth, Justice and Memory in the struggle against State Terrorism” (Argentina) and the “Human Rights Archives of Chile.”
It is important to mention the importance of international recognition, given the environment of threats and the fragility of the memory of Trujillo at the local and national level. For this case, the construction of memory becomes a form of resistance to oblivion and impunity. Thus, the exercises of reconstruction of historical memory should be spaces focused on the vindication and empowerment of the voices of the victims, as knowledge of the past allows us to avoid repeating similar violent acts and makes the construction of a lasting peace based on participatory revelation of the truth possible.
*Ana María Ramírez Mourraille is a researcher at the Center for the Study of Law, Justice, and Society (Dejusticia).
Photo credit: Cover of the report La masacre de Trujillo: una tragedia que no cesa (2008).