January 28, 2023

Colombian-style history classes: from the report of the Truth Commission to the alternative booklet

Read Time:5 Minute, 47 Second


(CNN Spanish) — “History is written by those who win wars”, a simple but powerful phrase that is always good to keep in mind when reading a history book. Teachers used to say yesofficers, back in the first years of high school, when they spoke to their students about the wars of independence, their heroes, settlers and martyrs. However, today Colombia questions that lesson.

The Truth Commission has published its final report on the Colombian conflict, an enormous effort to document what has happened in the country in various stages of violence that, unfortunately, is not over yet. The document is not easy to read, not only because of its density but also because of the aberrations it has. However, the history contained therein does manage to give a voice to those who lost the wars, to those who had to leave their villages to save their lives and to those who suffered all kinds of humiliations committed by guerrillas, paramilitaries and State agents.

not everyone is happy

As expected, the report has been criticized by some sectors that have branded it biased, “leftist” and even “feuilleton”. Among the most critical is the Democratic Center, the party that is currently in opposition and whose leader was in command of Colombia when members of the security forces committed several of the human rights violations detailing the report. The annoyance in this political sector became even greater when the Truth Commission and 26 civil society organizations said that they would socialize said report with public and private schools that so wished.

truth commission colombia

Children with the book “A tree with many truths”, a children’s story to socialize the report of the Truth Commission, in a public school in Bogotá (Credit: DANIEL MUNOZ/AFP via Getty Images)

The right-wing party’s response was to announce the preparation of an alternative primer to that of the Truth Commission. Former President Álvaro Uribe himself said on his Twitter account that the primer will be called “What Truth!” and will include the participation of victims’ organizations, NGOs and people of other political tendencies. Retired Major Carlos Ospina, who resigned from the Truth Commission shortly before the final report was delivered, would be the one to lead this work.

In an interview with a radio medium, the senator of that party Dove Valencia He said that the alternate card would be delivered to parents so that they could share it with their children. The congresswoman called the report of the Truth Commission “unconstitutional and totalitarian indoctrination that wants to impose a truth from the left on children.”

Do you want to indoctrinate children?

The Minister of Education, Alejandro Gaviria, said that the dissemination in schools of the final report on the violence in Colombia was not an attempt to create an official history or impose a single truth. On the contrary, he added, “It is a way of recognizing ourselves in the mirror of our own faults.”. Gaviria reiterated that only the schools that want to do so will receive the educational material on the report. To date, more than 4,300 schools had done so voluntarily, according to the Ministry.

Now, contrary to what might be expected, the director of the Truth Commission, Father Francisco de Roux, has said that he takes the Democratic Center’s announcement to create an alternative primer as a signal to open the conversation about the history Colombian, yes, in a serene way. In an interview to a local media, Roux’s father said: “The truth is always a discussion, a debate. Far from worrying about an alternative primer, I see it as a call to conversation.”

For the student of peace and conflict issues Andres Macias Tolosa it is important to socialize the report of the Truth Commission and doing it in schools is one of the ways. “The commission made an important effort to depoliticize the report and to include as many victims’ testimony as possible. However, it is understandable that there is some rejection by a sector that can also contribute to the discussion.”

Macias says that, If the alternate primer proposed by the Democratic Center serves to amplify the truth, it is a good step. The opposite would be the case if it is used to impose its truth, for example, on the subject of false positives.

Truth Commission delivers its final report in Colombia 3:56

The vanquished also write the truth in Colombia

The critics of the report are right in assuring that no one is the absolute owner of the truth. Or to put it in a popular saying: “everyone talks about the fair according to what they did at it”. However, not everything can be popular wisdom, you also have to add a little academy to reality. The report, which today is disdained by some, did not come from one day to the next and had a wealth of sources, its greatest strength. In the almost four years that the construction of the document took, 15,000 interviews, individual and collective; victims were heard in the municipalities hardest hit by the violence; the space was opened for former presidents and members of the public force; they spoke with those responsible for crimes who recognized what happened; historical documents were discussed and almost 1,200 reports of acts of violence were taken into account.

The report brings Colombians closer to what many wanted to ignore for decades. Yes, it is painful, but not only for those sectors that criticize it, but for a country that preferred to look the other way when thousands were displaced, kidnapped, tortured, extorted, recruited or disappeared. The truth can hurt, but that doesn’t mean it can be ignored or replaced with versions that can be considered sugar-coated or rigged. The idea of ​​this exercise, according to the Truth Commission, is that Colombians can recognize themselves, not only in cumbia or in its wonderful landscapes, but also in a history of violence that today is beginning to surface in a more plural way. The Germans learned that they could not only recognize themselves in Freud or Beethoven, but also had to do so in the horror of the Holocaust. That is the route to follow proposed by the Commission.

The story that the final report of the Truth Commission tells is written from various points of view and thus contradicts those Social Studies professors who used to say that history is written by those who win wars. This story is also told by those who did not win battles or who lost almost everything without being able to fight. However, the fact that their voices are now heard with such force can already be considered a small victory and the hope that what Colombians write from now on as a country, including the booklet proposed by the Democratic Center, will tell everyone.





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