Like many commemorative spaces around the world, the ‘Centro de Memoria, Paz y Reconciliación’ is a necessary step forward for a capital city in terms of remembering its past while trying to embrace a imagined post-conflict future.
Built near the business hub of the Calle 26, the Centro de Memoria was designed to honour the victims of the conflict. Its four walls encourage peace, promote a culture of democracy and demonstrate the importance of human rights in a society skewed by violence. There are sunlit corridors and glass enclosed conference rooms for art exhibitions and as a public space, the centre looks to promote a collective dialogue around the causes and consequences of political violence.
As encouraging as it all sounds, it hasn’t been smooth sailing. There was a difficult process to find a location and get the building permits. Then, controversy over how to start excavating within the ‘Parque de La Reconciliación’ and on the ground of the Cementerio Central cemetery.
According to Pablo Ortiz, the architect of the Centro, major excavations had to be undertaken with the mass graves of those killed in the April 9th uprising known as the Bogotazo. “It was a major archaeological task,” states Ortiz.
The design of the building also has significance. The main monumental structure includes small glass test tubes inserted into the wall and which contain earth from different places around Colombia to remember those killed in the regions. There are also spaces dedicated to those who were silenced in the “dirty war” by drug cartels and paramilitaries, such as humorist Jaime Garzón and Unión Patriótica’s presidential candidate, Jaime Pardo Leal.
Camilo González Posso is the director of the centre and president of the peace think tank, Indepaz. As Minister of Health from 1990-1992 during the government of César Gaviria, Posso has been closely involved with a peace process himself, such as the one forged between the M-19 guerrillas and the government of President Barco. It was a newly elected President Gaviria who opened political space for a demobilized M-19 by bringing them into the National Constituent Assembly of 1991.
When asked why a place like this exists even though the violence has not ended, González responded: “In Colombia, we are in the middle of a war, and this centre should be seen as a place of support to fight against violence and for peace.”
“We hope that this centre will provide a place for young people, academics and the victims’ relations to identify with a peace process,” states González. “We want to tell a different story.”
The Centro de Memoria was financed by the Mayoralty of Bogotá and inaugurated by mayor Petro in December 2012, six months after the government of Juan Manuel Santos signed into effect the Victims and Land Restitution Law. Even though the edifice is clearly an initiative by local government to put to good use a “green space” near a derelict part of city, an objective by the national government would be to construct its very own ‘peace and reconciliation’ centre, should a lasting peace be achieved with FARC. However, the location of such a structure may not necessarily be in Bogotá.Even though the road to ahead for peace is uncertain, the Centro de Memoria, Paz y Reconciliación educates and will become a talking point about what this country has endured for many generations to come.
Centro de Memoria / Calle 26 with Cra 19B