Building Peace during War: Civic Media and Memory Projects in Colombia

Expanding for more than 50 years, the Colombian armed conflict continues evolving in the 21st century. In several parts of the fragmented territory, guerrillas, paramilitary organizations, mafias (drug, emerald, and gold, and gasoline), and military forces have been fighting each other in a complex war logic that has normalized violence, weapons, and authoritarian ideologies. Meanwhile, thousands of civilians have been displaced, killed or trapped in the crossfire. ¡Basta ya! Colombia: memorias de guerra y dignidad, a recent study from 2013, has revealed in numbers the massive scale of the social tragedy and humanitarian crisis that Colombians have been dealing with and have been unable to resolve. The figures are telling. For instance, between 1958 and 2012, 177.307 civilians and 40.787 fighters were killed; between 1970 and 2010, 27.023 kidnaps were executed; and between 1985 – 2012, more than five million civilians were displaced and forced to migrate to other territories. (Gonzales et al.) In the middle of combats and convoluted peace negotiations, grassroots communities, NGOs, Human Rights activists, and governmental institutions have been increasingly developing civic media projects that focus on the construction of collective memory and leverage the tools and platforms of the new networked communication environment. Especially since the creation of the Colombian Law of Justice and Peace and the Group of Historic Memory (Grupo de Memoria Histórica) in 2005, institutions and communities have started to participate in a more conscious and plural process of social memory building that is intended to help stopping the vicious cycle of war and seeking truth, justice, reparation. Changing the narrative of the war, and making the civilian victims visible, has become one of the most important cross-institutional efforts in which grassroots organizations, academics, and governmental institutions have collaborated. Although the results of the social memory and civic media projects are difficult to measure in the short term, they do represent a significant and radical shift in the history of the Colombian war. How could collective memory construction help Colombians to stop the armed conflict? How could civic media help Colombians to imagine and construct peace?

Some of the most interesting civic and memory media projects I have been able to read, watch and explore, are:

    • Memoria Amazonas: Indigenous people from Uitoto,Bora, Muinane y Okaina communities.
    • Memorias del Rio Atrato : Afro-Colombian communities living near the Atrato River, in the Pacific region of the country, narrate their stories of resiliency with videos, photographs, and short texts.
    • Salon del Nunca Mas : A transmedia community project made at the the town of Granada, Antioquia. The project includes not only online videos, podcasts, and texts but also a community and participatory museum made by the victims of violence in a little house in their rural town.
    • Rutas del Conflicto : a geolocative media project and mobile app that provides geographic information about the massacres committed since 1982. The project has a detailed map of the massacres and help people to identify the dates, names of the victims, armed actors, and background contexts of the violent situations.
    • Colectivo de Comunicaciones Montes de María : A community media collective in Carmen de Bolivar that has been working since 1994. They have created several documentaries, interviews, and other kinds of videos.

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