Bogotá, Jul 2 (EFE)
“Few Colombians know about the Villarrica War. Press censorship was relentless. Here appears what did not see the light then”, are the words with which the newspaper-mural La Época reveals the objective of this exhibition present at the Gabo Festival in Bogotá: to remember that key “missing link” to understand the outbreak of the armed conflict in the country.
“Almost nobody knows about the Villarrica War and this is tremendous because it was a real war with trenches and five Army battalions that lasted two and a half years,” photojournalist Stephen Ferry told EFE, who was part of the Ojo Rojo Fábrica Visual project, about this conflict forgotten by censorship that began in November 1954.
The Influence of the Cold War
For Ferry, this conflict constitutes the “first example” of the influence of the Cold War in Colombia to the extent that it was in 1954 when, in the heat of the anti-communism of the moment, General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla, the only de facto ruler that Colombia had in the 20th century, declared all the activities of the Colombian Communist Party (PCC) illegal.
The Rebellion in Villarrica
Despite the prohibition, in the municipality of Villarrica, located in the department of Tolima (center), “the PCC delegates continued to act clandestinely or through the Democratic National Liberation Front, when a war broke out in this region,” explains the Truth Commission.
A Silent Exhibition
Although this research that combines visual archives, text, and documentary photography materializes in the eleventh edition of the Festival in the form of newspaper sheets that hang on the walls of the Gimnasio Moderno de Bogotá school, its bound design is sealed with the warning of the decree of censorship that prohibited talking about it. “Whoever discloses this material commits the crime of sabotage and will be imprisoned for 2 to 5 years,” says the tape that seals the project, recalling Decree (on censorship) Number 1139 of 1955, signed by Rojas Pinilla.
Gabo, Another Victim of Censorship
On the front page of this newspaper that never existed, dated April 4, 1955, there is an image taken by Colombian photographer Daniel Rodríguez in which two soldiers can be seen with their rifles ready to shoot from inside a trench. One of the secrets of this black and white snapshot that Ferry decided to hold in the same scene where it was taken, but more than 60 years later, is that next to Rodríguez was Gabriel García Márquez, one of the few journalists who was able to go to Villarrica and who, later, was a victim of censorship.
Reporting the Consequences
García Márquez’s work on the consequences of this conflict is also part of the exhibition, among photographs that show the hundreds of minors evacuated by the Army and separated from their parents in a massive exodus that overwhelmed the orphanages and that constituted a “national scandal” that the Colombian Nobel Prize winner reported at the time.
Remembering the Tragedy
This is why, for Ferry, one of the messages that the work has to send is to demonstrate the dangers of censorship and to remember that it “works”, as was the case with this war conflagration which, in his words, brought with it a “humanitarian tragedy due to the actions of the Army and the guerrillas”. “The Army expelled many people or took them to detention centers where torture and unofficial executions were practiced, while the guerrillas forced many people to stay in Villarrica, putting up checkpoints to prevent them from leaving,” lamented the photojournalist about this war that, for many, constitutes the origin of the armed conflict.