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Historical Context

By Sofía Lecompte



Colombia is a beautiful country located in the northern part of South America that has struggled for years because of the violence they have faced throughout their history. As a Spanish colony, since the beginning of the establishment of Colombia, there has always been conflicts because of divisions based on race, religion and political ideologies. The most recent difficulties began after years of warfare and targeted massacres between the liberal and the conservative parties. As a result of this growing tension, in the late 1950´s guerilla groups arose. In response to these, also a group of mostly landowners, took consequences into their own hands and formed several paramilitary groups to fight back.


For the ensuing decades, Colombia was entrenched in a conflict between these two groups that resulted in many innocent deaths and trauma for the general population. It was common for small towns to be run by one group or the other. These towns were at odd with one another and massacres were carried out in order to establish superiority. May Colombians died and even civilians of the biggest cities people were frequently murdered or kidnapped. In Colombia the aftermath of this terrible period can still be felt in the minds of the populace. Nearly everyone has felt the effect in either a direct or indirect way. According to Colombia´s National Center for Historical Memory, between 220,000 people have died due to this conflict and more than five million civilians were forced from their homes or decided to leave because of the negative impact of violence.


Along this journey, Colombians faced many situations that affected their mental health because they had no control of what was happening. They often felt as if they weren’t safe anywhere. Small towns were run by the guerrilla or the paramilitaries, which lead to many families facing exile from their towns, leading to the deterioration of families, customs, and traditions. The ones that stayed were in constant risk of getting killed by being even suspected of linking to either group since many massacres occurred throughout the country.


People in cities weren’t safe either, even though they weren’t facing the violence as much, bombs were constantly being set in order to scare the population or because there was someone targeted near by. Below we gathered some stories of the victims of Colombian conflict that have suffered for different reasons and have been in different contexts of the armed conflict. Due to the conflict we can see various issues that are important to highlight because they have been a recurring problematic for Colombians: gender violence, abuse, death of loved ones and exile.





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“At two in the morning on February 19, 2001, ABOUT 30 paramilitaries appeared in our town, according to his mother, Marina Barbosa (56). They stopped in front of the house and knocked on the door, but I did want to let them in. 'Hurry up or we'll throw a grenade in there!' the men yelled. Then they broke down the door. 'You support the guerrillas,' they shouted again. They wore black masks that hid their faces. I told them it wasn't true, but they wouldn't listen. They made us lie down on the ground. They searched the entire house for papers that could incriminate us and threw all our belongings on the floor. They arrived in a large truck and in an army car. They took everything of value, including our motorcycle. They also threatened to take us away, but I yelled at them: 'If you want to kill us, do it here!' When they finished inspecting the house, they accused my husband of being a union member. But it wasn't. He did work for Drummond: he drove trucks for that company. In the end, they took my husband out and shot him to death here, in front of our house, in front of our children. His body received nine bullets.”





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In this conflict, even kids where recluted from a young age to work for diferent armed

groups. This is the testimony of one of them:


"I was about 7 years old when they started using me, they already asked me for favors, to buy them things, then they gave me a phone, then they told me to go to certain places and to inform them if there was movement of the Army… I received training in Nariño and Cauca, I received two courses: a basic one and an intelligence one, about 60 units participated in that course, all the ELN, there were also minors, but I was the youngest of all… Two days after walking a lot, I told my acquaintance that I no longer wanted to continue and that I wanted to go home. She told me that if I said anything they would kill her and then they would kill my relatives, because they already had all their data… they kept me for about two years”


Another minor recalls how he was taken and his experience as a member of the ELN

(one of the armed groups in Colombia):


“I was 11 years old when they took me (...), they realized where I had hidden that it was like a little hill. They got to where I was, they covered me with uniform shirts, a cap so they wouldn't recognize me, and they put me on a boat, along the Telembí River (Nariño), to a village called Canuco. They taught us how to handle ak-47, Galil, Fall, pistol and 38 and grenades. They grabbed me by force, I was 11 years old, I was innocent, I was a girl, they raped me, they tied me to a stick.”





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“My husband managed the El Diamante farm in Los Brasiles. We lived there with the whole family (our 6 children), and with my husband's brother and several of his children. At half past four in the morning of September 8, 2000, a group of armed men arrived at the ranch. The men of the house were already at work and busy milking and doing everything else. I was in town taking the younger children to school. They took the men from the house and murdered them. A nephew was left alive. That day I lost my husband and two of my children. My brother-in-law and three of his children were also killed. I never went back to the farm after collecting the bodies to bury them. I went to live with the children that were left alive in San Diego, but after living there for a year they threatened us. My seven-year-old son came home one day shouting: They are going to kill us!'. We left the next day for Bucaramanga, where we stayed for five years. I worked as a domestic servant and a friend helped me in an incredible way, making sure that the children went to school. I decided to come back here in 2007. Sometimes I worry, but this is my home.”

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