Colombia’s First Poetry Festival in Times of Peace
The 27th International Poetry Festival of Medellin took place in Colombia from 8-15 July. After 53 years of armed conflict, the peace deal signed by the Colombian Government and FARC, and disarmament of rebels completed in June under UN’s monitoring, this year’s Festival was the first held “in times of peace”. For that very reason, the Festival also extended its activities to new zones: the so-called “transition areas” where ex-guerrilla combatants begin their transition back to civilian life (read more in Spanish).
Four Right Livelihood Award Laureates joined this year’s Festival – itself recognised with the ‘Alternative Nobel’ – to lend their support to the peace process in Colombia.
Recognized for fighting against corruption in Guatemala, 1992 Laureate Helen Mack Chang warned that the upcoming road to peace may prove long and challenging and that violence may manifest itself in a variety of ways, especially against human rights defenders. Powerful factions to whom transitional justice is not convenient will seek to discredit those looking for peace, truth and justice, she noted (read her interview in Spanish).
Human rights advocate and 2004 Laureate Bianca Jagger also expressed her support to the peace process at a time of increasing number of killings of human rights defenders, social, peasants and indigenous leaders. According to Colombian People’s Defender, 186 activists have been killed since January 2016 and the number of threats grew by one-third in 2017 compared to the year before (watch Bianca Jagger’s opening address at the Festival in Spanish).
Colombian Laureates also took part in the Festival.
Representing the 30 years-old peasants’ organisation Asociación de Trabajadores Campesinos del Carare, ATCC, its General Secretary Claudia Bejarano informed that in times of peace they are facing new threats, such as multinational companies trying to exploit natural resources on their lands.
Environmentalist and indigenous rights defender, Martin von Hildebrand, founder of Gaia Amazonas and COAMA project, alerted that deforestation has increased drastically since the guerrilla left the forests, and that natural areas are left unprotected and under a greater risk as government has still insufficient presence in ex-FARC zones.
The 27th International Poetry Festival of Medellin included more than 130 activities in parks, schools, libraries, theatres, museums, indigenous communities, etc. In addition to poetry readings, there were lectures and debates on human rights situation and concerts commemorating victims of violence in Colombia over the past 50 years, including 250,000 dead, 60,000 missing and millions of displaced.
Concluding the 27th edition of the Festival, its founder and director Fernando Rendon said: “Poetry makes people kind, solidary, humanitarian and fraternal. It is an instrument for peace, reconciliation and unity. Poetry is helping Medellin and Colombia and we are extremely happy and satisfied because of that”.
The International Poetry Festival of Medellin received the Right Livelihood Award in 2006 “for showing how creativity, beauty, free expression and community can flourish amongst and overcome even deeply entrenched fear and violence.”