Magazine article ReVista (Cambridge)

Democracy, Citizenship and Commemoration in Colombia

Magazine article ReVista (Cambridge)

Democracy, Citizenship and Commemoration in Colombia

Article excerpt

MILITARY DETACHMENTS COSTUMED IN THE historical uniforms of the patriotic army journeyed on foot, by mule and on horseback on a long journey promoted as the Liberty Route to celebrate Colombia's bicentennial. The media showed the inhabitants of different towns of the country celebrating the arrival of the marchers, fulfilling their own role in this polemic recreation of the official stories about national independence. Against the backdrop of a politically polarized country deeply affected by the armed conflict, this game with fragments of history sought to associate President Álvaro Uribe Vélez's polemical Democratic Security policy with the 1819 Campaign for Liberation. This act was part of a 2010 program known as the Bicentennial of the Independences.

This included the so-called Bicentennial Routes, which took visitors along four historic circuits-including the Liberty Route-each one associated with some military or scientific endeavor that would have given life to the Colombian nation. Colombian citizens were encouraged to pay homage to their roots and also to experience the immense cultural and geographic diversity of their national territory. "Live the Colombian history and explore the country's geography," said one of the campaign slogans.

But the stories included in the celebration were more than the ones found in school history textbooks. They included the different memories of Colombians especially those ordinarily excluded from official history. The state called upon Colombians to go beyond the mere celebration of the past of the nation, and to honor those multiple memories taking root throughout the land. Indeed, one of the linchpins of the bicentennial program was called Diversities of Memory. This included the creation of local centers in several towns throughout the country, designed to "recuperate, register and save the common local memory." The local centers were led by cultural agents known as "keepers of memory." In the same spirit, another linchpin of the bicentennial program named Pluralities of Memory presented three documentaries entitled Memorias de la Libertad. These films recreated the emancipatory struggles of Colombia's ethnic minorities: the Ika tribe from the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta, the Nasa group from the southwest Andean region and a collective of Afro-Colombian women from the Cauca Valley, all of whom rose up against "distinguished agents" of the nation.

Such programs promoted the notion that local and ethnic communities made up specific varieties of national memory- something similar to the national industry of "typical" artifacts. The basic idea is that memory itself is a richness, a patrimony, whose worth derives from its diverse nature-as happens with the biological, ethnic and cultural wealth. Thus, not only the state but also the citizens are considered responsible for the recuperation, recording and rescue of memories. It is clear that this patrimonial concept of memory is closely linked to the two decades-long emphasis on multiculturalism in Latin America. Indeed, in the Colombian case, multiculturalism had been elevated to a constitutional principle in 1991, obliging the state and its citizens to protect cultural and ethnic diversity conceived as part of our cultural patrimony.

From the viewpoint of the state, this nationalization of the memories of ethnic groups and local communities could be seen as a way to achieve social inclusion. In fact, the Local Centers for Memory have as their slogan "All of us are memory," another way of saying that all of us are a nation. However, this recognition of the diverse nature of the Colombian memory creates dilemmas that limit this goal of inclusivity. The three documentaries grew out of state recognition of the plurality of independences. Nevertheless, different social struggles are included under the same umbrella ("liberation movements"), assuming that all are part of the same process. So, the contradictions between different stories are unknown-and the profound historical inequalities that they show us can be evaded. …

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