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Reproduced by permission from ©ELIZABETH REYES L./EDICIONES EL PAÍS, SL 2015, translated by Martin Delfín
“I want to say my husband’s name, Luis Javier Laverde Salazar, because naming him is keeping him alive in my memory and remembering him will prevent him from falling into obscurity.”
Journalists participate in a training session at a community broadcast. / KEWIN SANTOS
That was the message repeated for five minutes by Luz Helena Galeano during a recent broadcast on Esquina Radio, a community radio station located in the Colombian city of Medellín.
Playing in the background as she spoke was Mujer Divina, a popular hit by late salsa singer Joe Cuba that Galeano explained her husband would often sing. Laverde Salazar was taken by a group of paramilitaries on December 9, 2008 and has not been heard from since.
Esquina Radio is one of many stations across Colombia taking part in a new project aimed at bringing citizens in touch with the ongoing peace process between the government and insurgent and paramilitary groups. The short programs also serve as a platform to help discover the whereabouts of some of the thousands of victims of the decades-long conflict that has divided the country.
Juan Gabriel Vanegas is the producer of Esquina Radio’s Memorias (Memories), a five-minute program that can be heard in downtown Medellín and some of the city’s outlying eastern areas.
The format allows family members to broadcast the name of a wife, husband, child or other loved one who has been a victim of the armed conflict so that they may never be forgotten.
Vanegas’s spot was one of around 50 programs that took part in a national radio contest held with the aim of telling stories about truth, memory, reconciliation and the building of peace in Colombia.
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While the government of President Juan Manuel Santos has made reconciliation part of his agenda for the peace talks now taking place in Havana with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), many Colombians feel distant from the process.
Some communities affected by the conflict have questioned whether they will receive any special benefits if and when a peace treaty is signed.
For this reason, the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace this year began training journalists and announcers working at hundreds of small community radio stations across the country.
In many remote regions in Colombia, radio is the only medium to which people have access.
“The [Havana] peace talks were something that was going on thousands of kilometers from here,” explains Ivonne Pico, a member of the Resander media cooperative in the Santander region, which is also taking part in the journalist training project.
“We had to begin by explaining what was being discussed and what isn’t being negotiated. We also gave advice on how to go about informing listeners,” explains Pico, who adds that the radio announcers need to understand how the peace process works.
After that came the stories. These aren’t about the Havana talks, but about reconciliation and forging peace in the different communities affected by the violence. People from all parts of the country have given their suggestions on how to bring about peaceful co-existence in their towns and villages.
“It is a peace that doesn’t just begin or end in Havana,” says José Luis Muñoz, another project trainer.
The stories are all available to be downloaded and used by community stations from the Contamos para la paz (We speak for peace) website.
They are full of lessons of hope and resistance, and include testimonies from women, hip-hop artists, soccer players, teachers who saved their students from being recruited by the guerrillas and paramilitaries, and displaced residents who returned to their communities only to find them ransacked and destroyed.
“Telling stories is powerful – it shows new paths, reveals the people behind the stories, and shapes communities,” says Muñoz.
Air time is also given to those who are angry about the many kidnappings and others who want alternatives to growing coca.
But most of them agree that peace can only be accomplished on a day-by-day basis.
“In those regions, where blood has been shed, we also have the possibility of beginning to rewrite history,” says Pico.