History needs to open up

There has recently been a growing interest in Colombian history on behalf of readers. On the political arena, with the peace process and the referendum, it became evident that a well-informed vote implied some depth of knowledge about our recent history. Suddenly, more people looked for information and books to fill the void that education had left in them.

Professor and author Jorge Orlando Melo is right about the fact that a government decision in 1995 led to the absence of texts that established the social and economical context of the events that shaped our country since independence. They were seen as marxist and revolutionary books because they pointed out the reasons for the birth of different guerillas.

“Our recent history is embarrassing to some extent, columnist and writer Antonio Caballero points out, given the fact it’s so difficult for us to identify the good side from the bad one. The official story up until our independence was quite simple –and somewhat false–: the Spaniards were the bad guys and Colombians were good because we believed in independence”. The also writer and journalist, Daniel Samper Pizano, then puts forth his proposal: “the basic problem is still the limited interest in history, we’re trying to light up that spark.”

Writer Marta Orrantia asks why history seems to repeat itself, and Melo steps in to say the issue is not about repetition. The problem is the stereotyped narrative staged by political interests with the purpose of using an argument to attack other views. “The problem with Colombian history, he says, is two narratives juxtaposed with the objective of attacking the adversary.”

Caballero doesn’t agree, at least not entirely. External factors have also shaped our conflict, not just our interpretation of history. It's not random luck that the creation of the Organization of American States in 1948, in Bogotá, coincided with the assassination of left-wing politician Jorge Eliécer Gaitán. Colombia’s twentieth century had to do with the Cold War.

Pizano is a peaceful, laughing spirit. “Both of you are right, he states. Maybe if we focused history beyond the political, military and economical process, to look at other things like music, or the negro’s contribution to the nation –and his condition as a victim–, or women, we could step out of those narratives.”

For those of us who agree with Pizano, new stories about Colombia are necessary to end the conflict. In fact, they’re born out of extreme disenchantment with the narratives at war.

Listen to Antonio Caballero, Jorge Orlando Melo and Daniel Samper Pizano in conversation with Marta Orrantia on the Hay Player