As Colombia peace looms, crossfire town mourns dead

Granada became one of the centers of a many-sided fight that has now lasted for more than half a century.

Published: 23rd June 2016 08:48 PM  |   Last Updated: 23rd June 2016 08:48 PM   |  A+A-


GRANADA: Amanda Suarez weeps as she remembers her husband, one of hundreds of Colombians killed in a crossfire when right-wing paramilitaries battled leftist rebels for the green valley where they lived.

The ceasefire agreement due to be signed Thursday between Colombia's government and the FARC rebels has raised hopes but also painful memories for her and the families of hundreds of thousands of others killed in the half-century conflict.

Lying in verdant hills among coffee and fruit plantations east of the city of Medellin, Granada bears the scars of the war more than anywhere.

Some 1,800 people were killed here and 600 disappeared, caught in the crossfire of the struggle for Granada, where several warring groups arrived one by one beginning in the 1980s.

Suarez, 62, cries as she points to the face of her husband. His picture hangs on a wall covered in similar portraits in the town's museum of the conflict.

"From 2000 the war here got worse. My husband died in the massacre of November 3," Suarez says.

"The paramilitaries killed him. Nineteen people died that day."

Two months later, 600 guerrillas of the communist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) took back the town.

They pounded it for 18 hours with homemade bombs made from gas canisters.

"It was a tragedy," says local man Arnoldo Norena, 68.

"We hid in the town hall. We all shut ourselves in. I could see the canisters exploding. When I put my head outside, everything was just rubble," he recalls.

"My mother died. A bomb killed her," causing her house to collapse on top of her, he says.


Granada became one of the centers of a many-sided fight that has now lasted for more than half a century.

Leftist guerrillas of the FARC and the National Liberation Army (ELN) fought right-wing paramilitaries and state armed forces.

"All of the sides in the conflict were fighting here," Suarez says.

"The FARC, the paramilitaries, the ELN and the armed forces."

She picks up a broom and sweeps the entrance to the small exhibition, known as the "Museum of Pain" or "Never Again."

With its fertile fields and illegal goldmines, the area of Granada was a prime battleground.

The warring armed groups battled for territory in regions where the Colombian state had little control.

"We had only 45 police officers to defend the town" of thousands, Suarez says.

The town counted 23 major massacres between 1999 and 2003.

Suarez and thousands of fellow residents fled. She moved to Medellin and lived there three years, a widow and mother of seven.

"There was terror here. People were terrified to go out into the street. Terrified to go to work," she says.

"At six in the evening you had to shut yourself in your house."

Moving on

With Thursday's ceasefire expected to pave the way for a full peace deal, Granada's traumatized victims want to move on.

"We have lived through this war. We are not ready to live through something like this again," Suarez says.

Seeing the progress at the peace talks hosted in Cuba, Arnoldo Norena is hopeful.

"It is going the right way. You have to forgive. You have to move forward. What else can we do?"

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