To know the whole truth about “the massacre” of the Honduras and La Negra banana farms, in the Colombian district of Currulao (Antioquía), “you have to come to Spain,” says Carlos Martín Beristain, a member of the Truth Commission of Colombia, the entity that emerged from the peace agreement with the FARC in 2016. After the murder of her father, the first judge who investigated the massacre of 20 workers perpetrated on March 4, 1988 by some thirty paramilitaries in these agricultural properties. The jurist who succeeded her, María Helena Díaz, died a year and a half later, shot by three assassins in a crime that has not yet been solved.
“There is no awareness that more than a million people had to leave Colombia due to an armed conflict” that lasted almost 60 years —from 1958 to 2016—, Martín Beristain stressed during the presentation this Friday of the final report of the commission in the Casa de América in Madrid, in which commissioner Alejandro Valencia has also participated. For this reason, the document, which aims to shed light on the conflict, includes a new chapter —out of a total of 10— dedicated to exile. “There is a part of the truth of Colombia that can only be known outside of Colombia,” the commissioner continued. For example, “if you want to know what happened to the Human Rights Prosecutor’s Office that was created in the mid-1990s and that handled some 25 cases, you have to travel to the United States, Canada, Switzerland or Spain,” because many of its members reside there. protagonists, he pointed out.
The final report of the Truth Commission, which was made public for the first time on June 28 in Bogotá under the name There is a future if there is truth, includes 2,048 interviews with Colombian exiles —the complete document contains some 30,000—. Their testimonies represent all the faces and voices of the armed conflict in Colombia, from soldiers and guerrillas to victims or family members, because it is an exile “for political reasons,” according to the commission’s conclusions.
The distortion of the profile of the exiled
“Exile is invisible, an experience that is very difficult to talk about because they are the truths of people who have not counted politically, but they are important for the construction of memory”, explained Martín Beristain. And what is essential are their personal stories, “what happened to them before they left and after.” They are stories that “break the stereotyped idea that exiles improve their situation”, that they are privileged. “Some lost their life project because they had to flee because of their profession as judges or human rights defenders, while others lost their land,” the commissioner recalled, referring to the testimonies included in the report. Like that of the mayor who, when he arrived in another country, started working “washing toilets” or a “president of trade union confederations” who, when he landed in Spain, took a job on a construction site collecting rubble “because he didn’t know how to lay a single brick.”
The report also breaks, according to Martín Beristain, the “distorted” idea of the profile of those who emigrate: “Many of them have experienced four human rights violations before leaving for exile.” This idea is supported by one of the document’s conclusions, which considers as “victims affected by exile all those who, regardless of their status, have had to flee the country as a result of persecution, threats, fear and the impact of violence in their organizations, territories and communities”.
And to the traumatic experience lived in Colombia, the uprooting is also added. “In the context of forced migration, meetings with the greatest sages in sacred places are missed, to get in touch with the territory and the rituals for the relationship with nature”, as stated in a document prepared by the Ethnic Table International for the Truth Commission of Colombia. “With exile, the social fabric is broken, because it uproots and separates, immobilizes and limits”, concludes the commission’s report.
“We have the feeling that a broader exile identity has been formed more clearly” through the work of the commission, Libia Franco, a member of the so-called Madrid Node, one of the 24 groups from outside Colombia that have collaborated in the compilation of testimonies of exiles. For Franco, it is important to analyze what the exiles are “as a mark of the conflict”, the “difficulties they have faced in the receiving country”, “the reality of those who have endured the absences” or “the impact of exile on the second and third generations” born abroad.
Hence the importance, among the commission’s recommendations, which have no legal status and are not mandatory, of guaranteeing the right of return for all those who were forced to flee. And to continue protecting those who have to continue escaping. “Many of the people who are here are alive because they were able to take refuge,” Carlos Martín Beristain concluded.