An unexpected theme has emerged over the last few weeks: Water.
First, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the water that powered Colombia’s largest hydroelectric dams (and 35% of the country’s electricity) was found in reserves located in three of our six case municipalities. While this makes for beautiful landscapes, it also placed these towns and rural areas on the front lines of the conflict between the FARC, the ELN, and paramilitary groups. The strategic importance of controlling the power grid for Medellin and other parts of the country was what fueled much of the violence against the civilian population living close to the reserves.
Second, many of the people we have interviewed have cited a “divine intervention” involving water that saved them during the war. For example, a violent hail storm fell for only two minutes, precisely at the moment the mayor of Granada passed through a FARC military checkpoint. He explained that the sudden storm obscured the combatants’ vision, allowing him to pass safely. In San Carlos, Jake and I participated in a community activity to facilitate building a collective memory of the conflict. As we entered the town square, the tour guide pointed to a large tree and explained that a car bomb had been parked right in front of it. “No one was killed when it went off though,” he explained, “because it was pouring rain right before the bomb exploded and so people had taken shelter indoors.”
Water has also been used as a metaphor and a method for reconciliation. In San Carlos, after taking a tour through a public space for memory and reconciliation, we were asked to rinse our hands underneath a stream of water. It was meant to rinse away negative thoughts from the past and allow us to enter back into our day-to-day lives with a clean heart. Many of the teenagers on the tour had experienced the conflict first hand, as their parents had been killed by one of many armed groups.
A sign read: “Reconciliation is like water, it extinguishes the anxieties of the soul, and purifies the spirit.”