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Every April 9 Colombians pay tribute to the estimated 8 million victims of more than five decades of armed conflict.
Colombia's charismatic leader and liberal presidential candidate Jorge Eliecer Gaitán was gunned down in Bogota on April 9th, 1948. Since 2012, this date was declared by law as the “National Day for the Memory and Solidarity with the Victims.”
So, it's not by chance that every April 9 Colombians pay tribute to the estimated 8 million victims of more than five decades of armed conflict.
For many, Gaitán's assassination 68 years ago is the event that would mark the beginning of Colombia's longstanding conflict; first by kicking an uprising in Bogota, which rapidly expanded to the rest of the country triggering a 10-year period of fierce violence widely known as “La Violencia.”
This period would later unfold into the contemporary armed conflict between Colombia's insurgencies and the state. But the armed conflict seems to be finally coming to an end with a peace deal between the largest guerrilla group, the FARC, and the government nearing, and a recently announced peace negotiations with the second largest guerrilla, the National Liberation Army, or ELN.
According to the National Center for Historic Memory, 220,000 people have lost their lives since 1958, in a conflict that has also left nearly 7 million internally displaced persons and 45,000 forcibly disappeared. But beyond the numbers are real people, life stories and the sorrow of countless families – victims that have become agents of change, leaders of peace, especially in the wake of the current peace talks.
That is the case of Luis Napoleon Concha and Gloria Ines Alvarado, whose son Luis Alejandro Concha, 23, lost his life in April 2006 when their home in Bogota was reduced to rubble by explosives. Since then, the elderly couple has struggled for justice and truth into crime for which they blame the State.
"I know it was the State because our home was under surveillance and what the authorities have pretended is that my son was a terrorist; that's how they have tried to justify his despicable murder," recalls Gloria.
According to the authorities’ official version, Luis Alejandro was a collaborator of the FARC guerrillas and was building bombs when one accidentally detonated killing him and some of his friends while his parents were at the church. That was too the version widely replied by the media.
For Luis Napoleon, his son was nothing but a dedicated philosophy student who was killed "for being a leader, for thinking different from the establishment, for wishing and working for a different country."
"My son was murdered during the nefarious times of Alvaro Uribe Velez. Those were the consequences faced by those that likewise Luis Alejandro demanded a better Colombia," he says.
Ten years have passed with no progress in the investigation, neither the authorities have issued a verdict proving youths' alleged connection to the guerrillas. His parents called it “ten years of impunity."
Both parents are now members of the Movement of Victims of State Crimes MOVICE, and like many other victims their fight for justice is also a fight for peace.
"We will continue our struggle and we will remain vigilant to guarantee that this time the State seriously commit to achieve peace," Luis Napoleon said.
Gloria is also convinced of the importance of the current peace talks with the guerrillas. "I believe in peace and thus I am willing to forgive the deep damage they have caused me. But I want a peace with social justice and without impunity," she says.
The aches and limitations proper of their advanced age have been no obstacle to Luis and Gloria longstanding struggle. Together, with the image of their son Luis Alejandro, both of them have become known faces of each demonstration in memory of the victims and in support of peace, including the ones taking place every April 9.
For Luz Marina Hache, whose partner Eduardo Loffsner was forcibly disappeared by the State in 1986, victims like her have a historic commitment.
"Colombia's victims must persistently mobilize to demand no-repetition so that we can finally achieve a country where no one ever again has to go through what we have lived. That is our contribution to peace," Luz Marina concludes.