Hundreds of visitors have tucked handwritten notes into the enormous stone slab at the new center adjacent to Bogota’s main cemetery, which many think of as Colombia’s “Wailing Wall.”
The structure is the centerpiece of Colombia’s new Center for Remembrance, Peace and Reconciliation where visitors can pay their respects to victims of the armed conflict that has torn the country apart for nearly a half-century.
The center opened at the beginning of December in the heart of Colombia’s capital city, and adjacent to the main cemetery where thousands of unidentified victims of the violence have been laid to rest.
Hundreds of vials containing earth samples from massacre sites all around Colombia have been inserted into the 18-meter (60-foot) tall structure.
“This is a meeting place for all victims of the conflict. The center is here to save them from oblivion,” said Camilo Gonzalez, president of the private Institute for Development and Peace (Indepaz).
One of its most important roles, Gonzalez said, is to help Colombians come to terms with the atrocities they have endured over the decades.
“The role of memory is essential to achieving peace. Without that you cannot overcome the wounds of the past,” he said.
Visitors can leave tributes to their loved ones, regardless of whether they died as a result of violence by the communist guerrillas, the right-wing paramilitaries, or criminal drugs gangs which also are involved in the armed conflict.
They also have access to videos, documents, testimonials and photographs about the thousands of victims from the conflict.
The center’s website, www.centromemoria.gov.co, also is attempting to compile more than 40,000 testimonials each year from those who have lived through, or lost loved ones in the violence.
Colombia’s unrest has claimed about 600,000 lives, in addition to 15,000 missing and more than four million displaced people in what is Latin America’s longest-running insurgency.
The inauguration of the memorial center comes at an auspicious time, with Colombia’s FARC rebels and the Bogota government in the midst of peace talks.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia formally started talks with Bogota on October 18 in Norway. The negotiations moved to Havana on November 19.
Eliana Quintero, 23, visited the site to honor her late father, who was a member of the Patriotic Union (UP), former FARC’s political organization who was slain by right wing paramilitaries.
“Many children of victims do not know where their parents are buried. They don’t have a place to mourn or even to leave a flower,” she said, adding that the wall provides a place to do this.
She said it also is a place to begin to come to terms with the violence that has riven this society for more than two generations.
“There are a lot of people,” Quintero said, who still don’t want to open their eyes to what happened.”