Living Memory Archive


Raul Santos Peñaranda

His family came to the area in 1952 fleeing the violence that was taking place in the interior of the country. “There were only around five or six families, nothing else.” They came to work for one of the oldest coffee farms in the country, ‘Cincinnati’ along with other families from the interior of Colombia and Puerto Rico. The owners of Cincinnati, the Flyes found coffee by accident, and converted themselves into one of the most important families in the region.

Like many families that have come to the Sierra Nevada, coffee was a way to survive and prosper. But all of that has changed. “Before, a coffee farm produced a lot, and now it doesn’t earn anything.” Without chemicals, fertilizers and machinery, it’s almost impossible to make a living, even as the owner of a coffee farm.

Angel Orozco

The coffee in the Sierra Nevada is unique; in other regions of Colombia, coffee is harvested twice a year, but here, there is only one coffee season. This, combined with the traditional and artesanal way the local ‘campesinos’ still process their coffee and the unique tropical mountain climate, make the coffee here among the best in the world.  

Angel Orozco is one of these traditional coffee farmers. He works in the heat of the Caribbean, picking, peeling and grinding coffee beans with a ‘pilon’; a wooden stick whose rhythmic strokes inspired the songs of African slave descends. Angel’s coffee is toasted by hand, over hot coals, slowly and evenly. Angel has been perfecting his craft for over sixteen years, since he came to the region fleeing the Colombian armed conflict. He works his farm ‘No hay como Dios’ with his ten children and twenty three grandchildren. For their family also, coffee was the way they survived after looking their homes, and the way they built a life for themselves after having to start over with nothing.

Franklin Suescun

During the coffee bonanza “Minca was very quiet and everyone lived off of then coffee. It filled us with pride to wake up at four in the morning and see all of the traditional families collecting coffee. Our breakfasts were traditional food: platanos, bananas, yuca…nothing had any chemicals…I remember that at four in the afternoon it was always cloudy and raiding, the river was so big that when we went to fish, we brought buckets of fish home. Today it makes me sad that none of that exists anymore.  

Now, people criticize us for allowing other people to take Minca away from us. The majority of the landowners sold their farms because no one wanted to collect coffee. They prefer to drive motorcycles and work in tourism.” 

Manuel Balaguera

One of Manuel’s earliest memories is of the guerrilla takeover in 1998. He was 7. “The lights went out, and we went outside to see if it was just our house, or the whole town. Everything was dark” He and his cousins saw shadows moving in the distance. Their mothers’ called out to them, and they all hid underneath the bed, piling all of the mattresses and cushions on top of themselves. They knew what was coming. Some of them crowded around the window to watch. “They lined up on the grass down the street in lines of three.” Manuel understands why now. It was a battle strategy that allowed them to take the bodies away after the battle. ‘We heard gunshots, shouting, and huge explosions. It lasted until the early morning.”  

They went outside to see what had happened afterwards. “Trees had fallen over because so many bullets had hit them, there were thousands of shells all over the ground, and there was blood everywhere.”  

Manuel and his family lived through guerrilla attacks, takeovers and then the arrival of the paramilitary. After suffering personal losses, his family left. Manuel himself came back to live in Minca in 2017, and his experience led him to co-found Museo Minca, and share his story in the hope that it can help raise awareness and help his community find peace.

Alfredo Rodriguez

Pompo remembers when he lived further up the mountain, before things had gotten really violent. “One day a group of seven armed men arrives, five men and two young women. They sat down and said ‘We’re in change in Colombia,’ and so I dot up and said, “pardon me, I’m illiterate and I don’t know anything about words, but I know that with arms you are never going to take Colombia. Forget it…I was stupid in saying that”, laments Pompo, now realizing the danger he had put himself in.  

The grief of the region wasn’t limited to the guerrilla. The paramilitary came with just as much violence. “Of all the armed groups, none, none are good.”  

He and his family sold their farm to a famous paramilitary commander. Selling was the only option they had “This was bad, that was bad,” whatever you did made you a target for someone, there was no way to stay safe. “My sons said that we should thank god that we made it out alive and with a little money. What else could we have done?”