Colombians marked one week of occupying the main square in Bogota’s historic center Tuesday, where they installed an “Encampment for Peace” in the wake of the shocking vote rejecting the landmark peace deal between the government and the FARC rebel army. And they won't leave until definitive end-of-conflict measures are put in place for the longest-running internal conflict in the Western Hemisphere.
Demonstrators launched the camp in Bogota’s Bolivar square last Wednesday to demand a swift resolution to the political uncertainty sparked by the upset “No” vote in the plebiscite on Oct. 2 that sought to ratify the peace accords. Occupiers demand follow through on the plans to end the 52-year-old civil war with the FARC and a commitment from both sides of the conflict to continue the bilateral cease-fire that has helped significantly reduce violence in recent months.
“I was born in war, but I want to live in peace,” one demonstrator at the camp, Martha Varon, told the Colombian magazine Semana.
“We’re here for our dead, because we’re tired of suffering,” another occupier and leader of the camp, identified by the pseudonym Esperanza Vargas, told Semana. “I lived the war, I didn’t see it on television. That’s why I’m here.”
An art installation disaplyed names of 2,000 victims in Bogota's Bolivar square, Oct. 11, 2016. | Photo: EFE
The camp has filled Bolivar square — flanked by the Palace of Justice, National Congress, seat of Bogota’s mayor, and Colombia’s largest cathedral — with an array of colorful tents, peace symbols and signs bearing political slogans such as “Yes to truth” and “No to war.” According to the local magazine Arcadia, as of Monday the occupation hosted some 80 tents and at least 120 campers.
The camp temporarily moved aside Tuesday to make way for an art installation by Colombian artist Doris Salcedo honoring victims of the conflict in Bolivar square. Participants in the art piece — part of an artistic peace initiative led by Salcedo called “Adding Absences” — wrote the names of 2,000 victims in ashes on more than four miles of white cloth spread across the expansive square. The encampment planned to relocate into the square at 8 p.m. local time on Tuesday after the event.
In a statement Tuesday, organizers of the encampment wrote, “We reiterate that our objective is the cease-fire and an agreement now.” Protesters have vowed to continue occupying the square until the peace deal is implemented.
Meanwhile, in the wake of defeat at the ballot box, government and FARC negotiators have resumed negotiations in Havana, Cuba, the site of nearly four years of talks resulting in the breakthrough deal signed last month.
The new occupy movement comes amid a upswell of demonstrations in support of peace in the week since the consequences of the “No” vote sunk in after the Oct. 2 plebiscite.
In Medellin — one of the strongholds of the “No” camp where 63 percent of voters rejected the peace accords — some 10,000 people marched Friday for peace. The city is located in the province of Antioquia, where controversial right-wing former president and leader of the “No” campaign, Senator Alvaro Uribe, first launched his political career. Demonstrators in Medellin’s march chanted slogans including “Antioquia is not Uribe” and called for peace.
Similar marches also took place last week in Bogota and other cities. Unlike Medellin, Bogota voted in favor of the peace deal, as did the areas hardest hit by the armed conflict on the periphery of the country, including the Caribbean coast.
A fresh peace demonstration is planned to converge Wednesday on Bogota’s Bolivar square, the site of the encampment, according to local media.
Recalling the organization of the Occupy Wall Street movement that swept across U.S. cities and around the world in 2011, Bogota’s peace camp has established a list of community rules and uses a system of hand signals aimed at keeping group meetings respectful and orderly. Participants also share tasks ranging from guarding the camp to distributing food, which has flowed in through donations.
Among young and old at the camp, the comment sentiment is clear: the movement will continue until peace is a reality in Colombia.