Early estimates suggest that as many as 1 million Colombians will descend on the nation’s capital April 9 for the March for Peace, which takes on particular significance this year as talks between the government and the FARC offer the best hope in decades for a negotiated end to the conflict with the world’s oldest guerrilla group.
Participants leaving from seven different points around the city, including the Bogotá Planetarium, El Campín Stadium and the Monument to Fallen Soldiers and Police on the Avenida El Dorado, will eventually meet in the Plaza de Bolívar, where concerts, speeches and multi-denominational prayers for peace will greet new arrivals all day. In addition to appearances by President Juan Manuel Santos and Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro, special artistic and musical guests include Totó la Momposina, el Cholo Valderrama, the Bogotá Philharmonic Orchestra and writer William Ospina, among others.
The date April 9 carries special meaning in the capital as the 65th commemoration of the death of politician and presidential candidate Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, whose assassination sparked the Bogotazo riots that destroyed much of the city’s downtown. Tuesday also marks the Day of Victims, a recognition first approved with the signing of the historic Victims and Land Restitution Law that aims to provide Colombia’s millions of internal refugees with a legal route to the recuperation of their homes and territories.
Thousands of police and emergency workers have been called into action as of early Tuesday morning to ensure that the march remains true to its cause and provide medical support to anyone in need. Traffic is expected to be heavy throughout the city as hundreds of thousands of participants from around the country temporarily expand the population of Bogotá well beyond its normal size and marchers block many main roads.
Despite the march’s relatively non-controversial theme, some prominent Colombians refuse to participate, including ex-President Álvaro Uribe, who urged supporters to stay away from what he claims to be a concession to terrorism. Some have claimed that the FARC help organize and finance the march, although both the guerrilla group and national government deny any direct connection.
For their part, FARC leaders in Havana released a statement on Monday calling the march a “strong show of support for the peace negotiations.” According to FARC representative Andrés Paris, “This April 9, a resounding cry for peace will demand social justice and bread, peace and work, just as the Colombian people cried out on April 9, 1948.”
Now, more than six decades after the fatal event that reshaped Bogotá and added fuel to the burgeoning fires of a civil war that rages on today, the nation stands closer than ever to achieving a stubbornly elusive goal. As the streets of the capital fill with Colombians from every political party, region, religious belief and ethnic group, the common hope of peace binds together a sea of diversity.