Festival Internacional de Poesía de Medellín

XVII International Poetry Festival
of Medellín for peace of Colombia

Colombia is a country at war: The whole world knows about it! The Colombian State spends US$ 4.171 to arm itself and to maintain active the armed conflict against the population. Bombings and combats daily take place in the fields, affecting life and the land of farmers and indigenous populations, as well as the economy of the country. President Álvaro Uribe, like a present day character from Macondo, denies breathlessly the existence of a war in every international event he goes to. At the same time, he says the Colombian citizens who criticize his despotic and authoritarian thought are terrorists.

Since 1948, there have been more than half a million dead from political violence, a lethal dose. During this period, six presidential candidates were assassinated, most of them by State hitmen: Jorge Eliécer Gaitán (1948), Jaime Pardo Leal (1989), Bernardo Jaramillo (1990), Carlos Pizarro (1990), and Álvaro Gómez Hurtado (1995). Five thousand leaders and members of the Unión Patriótica were massacred in the decade from 1986 to 1996, all victims of State terrorism and paramilitarism, to which president Uribe insists in assigning a “political status.” And the massacre of opposition leaders goes on.

On July 22 took place the closing ceremony of the XVII International Poetry Festival of Medellín, with readings by 70 of the poets who took part in this annual poetic event, which has been considered by the international press as the most massive poetry festival in the history: http://www.festivaldepoesiademedellin.org/pub/es/Festival/Prensa/index.htm

In this closing ceremony there were two unexpected, or so taken by some, circumstances. The first one was the fact that several hundred persons, listened for three hours and under heavy rain to the foreign and native poets; this was certainly the living expression of the firm compromise, conscience and vocation for peace and a new life for the Colombian people.

Secondly, this year’s festival was like no other. Besides showing the incredible qualitative and quantitative development after 17 formidable years, thousands of persons took the open and brave decision to actively struggle for peace in Colombia, as part of the movement For Peace in Colombia, promoted, so far, by 596 Colombian artists and intellectuals with the support of 593 artists and intellectuals from 87 countries.

Two main objectives of the International Poetry Festival of Medellín through its seventeen year history, have been:

- To feed the vigorous poetic and spiritual resistance of the Colombian people, fighting doggedly for a homeland in peace and for the dream of a new, juster, country, strengthening the dialogue between poets and poetic traditions, thus contributing to the interconnection of poetic endeavors in all countries (festivals, reviews, poetry schools, etc), encouraging the exchange of experiences, opinions, proposals and data bases.

— To strengthen, through the continuous holding of poetry readings in Medellín and other main Colombian cities, a high level of social and aesthetic conscience, of coexistence and a sense of solidarity facing the structural problems that affect the population of our country, and to achieve a renewing dynamics in the processes of symbolic integration and interchange, to raise in the public a higher understanding about the importance of listening to each other, thus becoming part of a plurality, of the diversity and the complementary dimension of human thought, and to create in people a participative attitude in culture and in a process of affirmation of Colombian democracy.

With the poets participating in this year’s festival, since 1991 more than 800 poets from 142 countries, from all continents, have taken part in it, and the event’s impact in the contemporary world has been such that it was awarded the Alternative Nobel Prize in the Swedish Parliament in December 2006.

Colombia is a starving and plundered country militarized and paramilitarized. With 26 million poor (more than 60% of the population) and 11 million destitute persons, the unemployment rate goes up and the number of people with informal jobs grows by the day. Thousands of crimes remain unpunished. More than 3 million displaced persons arrived in cities are horribly harassed and are being menaced by the paramilitary, who control the shantytowns. The selective murders of popular leaders continue. The army and the national police apply their iron-hand policy against all social protest. The whole of Colombia is a concentration camp with more than 40 million inhabitants sequestered by war. To all this is added the absence of political results benefiting Colombian society, in its aspiration for a just and dignified peace, derived from a guerrilla war of more than 40 years, with its condemnable load of kidnappings.

Being poetry the immemorial expression of the deep desire of a fraternal and luminosity humanity, reborn from the ashes of meanness and selfishness, that marked and debased human history during centuries, our will is to contribute to the construction of a solid and firm peace, promoted by the International Poetry Festival of Medellín and by the cultural movement For the Peace de Colombia. Most Colombians agree, and we will continue fighting for peace to be achieved through a humanitarian agreement between the contenders, for an interchange of prisoners of war and kidnapped persons, and for the following development of solid conversations leading to a political solution of the war.

Guided by the warlike policies of US president George Bush, the Colombian president, Álvaro Uribe, stubbornly rejects, over and over again, the holding of a dialogue to allow the humanitarian interchange, so strongly favored by Colombian society, while his deaf and intolerant discourse goes on promoting physical or moral attacks against human rights defenders, fighters for peace, labor union, native Americans, agrarian and student leaders, democratic figures, and opposition poets and artists.

In 2003, the International Poetry Festival of Medellín organized the I World Summit of Poetry For the Peace of Colombia, in which poets and observers from many countries took part, and which issued a Summit Declaration on the tragic situation of the country: http://www.festivaldepoesiademedellin.org/pub/es/Festival/Cumbre/declaracion.html

In 2007, the International Poetry Festival of Medellín held the National Meeting of Art and Poetry for Peace in Colombia, which created the cultural movement For Peace in Colombia (http://www.movimientoculturalporlapaz.org) and issued a new declaration on the need to create a cultural movement to zealously press for the achievement of peace, through the language and actions of poetry and the arts, and directed to the Colombian people in its persistent action: http://www.festivaldepoesiademedellin.org/pub/es/Festival/Encuentro/carta.htm

On occasion of the kidnapping and death of the eleven deputies of the Valle del Cauca Assembly, in circumstances not yet clear, the Festival issued a strong communiqué condemning the facts:

We firmly reject the cruel murder of the eleven deputies from the Valle del Cauca Assembly

The International Poetry Festival of Medellín, firmly engaged in the collective task in search of peace in Colombia, energically condemns the cruel murder of the eleven deputies from the Valle del Cauca Assembly, who were in the hands of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), in unjustifiable circumstances, that took place on June 18 in the Colombian jungle, and known by the public only six days ago, after president Uribe gave the order to rescue them by sword and fire.

At the same time, our work group condemns vigorously the kidnapping practiced by the Colombian guerrillas, the paramilitaries and the Colombian State, including the “disappearances”, that is to say, kidnappings without a possibility of a return to civil life.

The International Poetry Festival of Medellín calls the Colombian State and the FARC, interpreting the desire of the Colombian people, kidnapped by war, to name their delegates to interchange points of view on the possibilities of a humanitarian interchange, opening the way for a political, negotiated solution to end the ignominious armed conflict, thus joining the voices of the delegates of the governments of Switzerland, France, Spain, and Germany, insofar as they also condemn the armed rescue of the kidnapped hostages and as to the need to form an International Commission for the Establishment of the Facts to investigate and spread a clear report of the circumstances under which the eleven deputies, kidnapped by the guerrillas almost ten years ago, died.

Crafty enemies of peace —some of them extreme right poets and intellectuals allied with the paramilitaries— under the tacit support of the government, and even some media, oppose any form of majority and constructive action by the democratic artists and intellectuals of the country, and have undertaken an inquisitorial campaign of calumny and slander against the International Poetry Festival of Medellín, and against the newly-formed cultural movement for peace in our country, which will soon be transformed, due to its world-wide reception, into a World Movement of Artists and Intellectuals for Peace in Colombia.

The affronts against the International Poetry Festival of Medellín are also affronts against poetry, because the symbolic structure and nature of the Festival are made of the substance of the poetical traditions of the world and of the dream of a new life contained in them. And these affronts are also an expression of a bragging ignorance of present day poets from all continents. They are also affronts against Colombian young men and women, whose understanding and love of poetry has been shamefully underrated by some poets of our country. Two generations of young people have been nourished by the poetic legends and poems from all parts of the world, and intangible changes have transformed their conscience. Because, poetry in Medellín is made for thousands of persons, affecting positively the poetic experience of the authors. And these young men and women are transforming themselves and changing life in our country.

And now I will quote some authors known by all, to counter the lopsided memory of some of our critics. The poet and philosopher Hans Magnus Enzensberger wrote in the the review Du (Switzeland) in 2000:

“There is an enigma in all of this: We all ask ourselves how it is possible that a metropolis under violence burns in its desire to listen to poetry. Precisely because of that, say the natives. The inhabitants of Medellín are fed up of being called mafiosi, terrorists, tortures or tortured men and women. This is something different, a current of air, a breath of spontaneity, of imagination!

Perhaps it is necessary to go to the other end of the Earth to get out of the insensibility reigning in our cultural sphere, and to convince ourselves that some verses —who could have imagined it?— can yet today inspire a spirit in a whole city, just as in the times of Homer!

The Nigerian poet, Wole Soyinka, Nobel Literature Prize, interviewed by the review Prometeo in 2005, said:

In Nigeria we have a cultural meeting where poetry figures, but it is small; it has not the structure or the international level of the Medellín festival. Something like this does not exist anywhere, and most of the developed societies do not have anything like it. I must say that I was quite surprised during the International Festival of the Word in New York, where there was a similar enthusiasm one finds here. There was a reading in a very big theater, every chair taken, and I noticed a deep thirst, a desire to be fed by the poetic word. What we see is the international expression of solidarity with the followers of poetry, which is a way of manifesting this rapture of the audience. One can observe that they also write poems and consider poets as part of a community. That is what I noticed from the moment I arrived. It is a very real experience.

Yves Bonnefoy, the great present day French poet, declared in 2003:

If new poetry festivals should appear, it would be much better that they are born in the same circumstances as Medellín’s, that is to say, in the frontier of evil, in the first line of combat against frauds and injustices: it is there where there is a greater need of poetry.

The Belgian poet Stefan Hertmans published a long report in The Standard, a big newspaper in his country, in 2004:

In Europe, one sometimes debates about engaged literature. In Medellín I have seen what it really means to include an audience that radically believes in the vital meaning of poetry in its own society, people that absorb poems with a thirst and a love that can leave no one indifferent.

It is well known that the aggressive nature of the dominant social system of our time, keeps active the machinery of war to affirm its dominance and its appetite of raw materials, and that their strategic enemies, as expressions of the struggle for peace and dignity in life, are poetry and culture. And the intellectuals in power, the president’s men, are the ones who oil the machinery of hate to perversely confound public opinion.

I respectfully ask governments of the world, means of communication, and the national and international community of poets and artists, to declare, in solidarity with the International Poetry Festival of Medellín, against the dark forces that have attacked it through a combination of forms of repression, including calumny and infamy, the interception of our mail, the tapping of our phones, accusations by Colombian diplomats, menaces by phone, shots fired once in front of our office, and even calling us “terrorists”, against whom we take part in a solid, patriotic and peaceful movement against authoritarianism and war, and for a full political, economic, cultural and social democracy for all Colombians, that we are sure will triumph. We shall soon see that day. And we will all celebrate.

The words with which I wish to end are dedicated to the brave young people of Medellín: the lines read by the poet Patricia Jabbeh (Liberia) under the storm, in the closing ceremony of the XVII International Poetry Festival of Medellín, dedicated to the great audience of the Festival:

At the International Poetry Festival, you sit there,
along your hill arena, clapping, thousands of people,
sitting and thinking and listening and hoping,
Medellin, I have never seen anything like this before.
Thousands of people sitting for long hours
at a poetry reading, Medellin…
we wait for that day, Medellin, we wait.
Trust me, I know how to wait, and I know you do too

Fernando Rendón
International Poetry Festival of Medellín´s Director
Alternative Nobel Prize 2006

Poetry is also a just and
honourable peace for Colombia

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