Peace Negotiation: A Reflection

This comment is a continuation of the YIRA Winter 2016 International Trip Group’s Bogotá, Colombia Trip Summary.

“Si los árboles hablaran todo lo que ven, no existiría la impunidad”- Noris Ascanio.

In the heart of the city of Bogotá, you can find el Centro de Memoria, Paz, y Reconciliación. As you descend the stairs into the building, 2,012 small panel windows illuminate the hallway, representing the nearly 40,000 victims of assassinations and disappearances, as well as thousands of testimonies. The museum was not quite what I expected it to be; rather than frightening statistics and graphic photography, on the walls hung quilts hand-sown by students. Each block of the quilt represented a different aspect of the conflict- a knife symbolizing violence, while empty houses represented the very personal effects on family life. Outside, in the well-manicured courtyard, were or four seemingly ordinary trees. However, if you placed your ear next to the trunk, you could hear the faint voices of women singing- a beautiful representation of the idea that violence, as well as resilience, can become physically embedded in the natural landscape

I think in some ways our visit to the center encapsulated our learning of the peace process on the ground. For instance, during our graffiti tour of Bogota, we had the chance to view the vividly colored and incredibly detailed murals that decorated the landscape of the city. The messages of the graffiti ranged from issues related to disenfranchisement and imperialism to indigeneity and collective memory. Through our observations of these murals, we had the opportunity to see not only how political violence is deeply entrenched in the Colombian social consciousness, but also how artistic representations seek to contest, memorialize, and inscribe new meanings on a violent history.  Graffiti becomes a vehicle by which the public space is reclaimed and expression of political dissonance becomes possible.

Prior to my trip to Colombia, I had only learned about peace negotiation from the perspective of a political scientist. However, through my experiences visiting memorials, viewing artwork, and speaking with a professor who is living through this process (… as well as his incredibly insightful 9 year old son), I learned just how complicated a peace process can be. What this trip taught me is that beyond the formal negotiation process and official state discourse, comes the process of healing. After the peace treaty is signed inevitably comes the more difficult questions: How does a society move forward from a violent past? How should we teach what occurred to the young? How do we go about preserving the memory of victims? I cannot say that I have any clear answers. However, what I can say is that this trip gave me a framework and context to better understand and discuss the post-conflict reconciliation process.

Thank you YIRA for this incredible opportunity.