Jul 14, 2009

Another take on the power of reenactment

This is the text of an email sent by the Christian Peacemakers Team in Colombia on May 24, 2008

(photo is of CPTers speaking to the Colombian army in Bolivar, from the CPT web site)

That Was How it Happened

By Sandra Rincón
Translated by Michele Braley

Jonathan Stucky and I, along with three other organizations,
accompanied the Third Women's Conference of the Southern Bolivar Agricultural-Mining Federation in the village of Paraíso, Simiti. Even though participation was less than expected due to recent threats to several local priests, leaders and community workers, the organizers decided to continue with the event out of respect for the community that invited us.

Once the assembly had gathered and after they told the story of the village through an exercise, the community spontaneously organized a dramatization of what had happened. I was looking forward to seeing the presentation of what I had just heard. Nevertheless, this "sharing" by the community surprised me by its demonstration of the power of resistance in action.

Completely prepared in their roles, the actors reenacted the tragic day when the paramilitaries harassed, threatened, killed and disappeared two community members and destroyed the village.

"Don Carlos", the commander of the paramilitary group, was represented by the son of a man who was killed that day. Other actors in make-up completed the group that attacked El Paraíso. The play also included "Machuca" an informant and guerrilla deserter, who pointed out various
members of the community as collaborators with the guerrilla. Finally, the leaders of the community were played by themselves.

The first part of the play ended with the burning of the houses of the village (constructed with cardboard) and the community intensely recalling this moment. Someone said, "If you would have seen how it was after this; you could see from the soccer field (where we were)
the few things that did not burn, this made us very sad."

The actors portrayed the words and actions of this day so well that the people watching felt as if the play was real. In truth, I was deeply moved by this dramatization. The children were anxious around some of the frightening actors and the adults laughed nervously. People in the audience added lines to the dialogue and the oldest members repeated out loud, "that is exactly how it happened."

For the second act, unknown to the audience, the theater group had developed a new ending to the tragic day, to include all of us. The leaders, still full of fear but feeling accompanied by the
organizations attending the assembly, forcefully asked the paramilitaries to respect everyone's life and territory. Faced with the refusal of the paramilitaries to honor this request, everyone
present, actors and observers, united and ordered them to leave shouting "out, out, out!" until the disempowered paramilitaries left the assembly. At the end, everyone was looking at each other feeling that finally, for real, everything was over.

That was how it happened. The value of this play is hard to measure. Maybe for some people it was healing and empowering while for others it was only a painful dramatization. For me as an accompanier it was a unique moment: the victims who had lost so much due to the violence
reclaimed from the ashes their dignity and strength, becoming the protagonists of a new story where truth, justice and resistance are their guide.

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