Conflicts & War

Project spotlights student victims of Colombia’s conflict

Cali, Colombia, Sep 2 (EFE).- Hanging from a clothes line on a hilltop in this southeastern metrpolis are dozens of sheets of paper containing the stories of high school and university students who perished in the course of Colombia’s decades-long internal conflict.

The “Cartas Ambulantes” (Walking Letters) project was proposed by the Truth Commission created pursuant to the 2016 peace accord between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Volunteers used typewriters to commit victims’ stories to paper and the texts are accompanied by grainy black-and-white photos printed on recycled paper.

Coming upon the story and photo of a student named Jose, who died in 1971 in a police massacre at Universidad del Valle, a passer-by does a double-take.

“I thought it was Che (Guevara, the revolutionary killed in Bolivia in 1967),” the young man tells Efe. “Then I see, 1971! And I thought that only now do they kill students.”

The Cartas Ambulantes exhibit sits on a hilltop that is home to a park, a food and crafts market and casual eateries. Formerly known as Loma de la Cruz (Hill of the Cross), it came to be known as Loma de la Dignity (Hill of Dignity) during a general strike earlier this year against the government of right-wing President Ivan Duque.

Among those on the hill when Efe visits the exhibit are Hernando and Alba, parents of Jonny Rodriguez Rodriguez, a law student who died in 2019, allegedly of an accidental detonation while handling explosives.

“The truth is that police threw a bomb at my son,” Alba says as she looks at the stories and accompanying photos hanging from the clothes line.

Still grieving the loss of her son, she says that she finds it difficult to talk about the events of two years ago and then falls silent for a moment with her gaze fixed on 4-year-old granddaughter Victoria.

“If Jonny were alive he would be here, reading the stories of the friends they killed before him,” Alba says. “He also would have been part of the national strike.”

Students accounted for many of the 78 people between the ages of 17 and 26 who died in encounters with police over the April-June period in the context of the protests against Duque, according to Routes of Conflict, an NGO.

Most of the fatalities were in Cali, Colombia’s third-largest city and the epicenter of the general strike.

The repressive response to the protests likewise encouraged a growing stigmatization of students, teachers and university professors. EFE


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