Grim portraits of dark chapter in Colombia's history

These life-size cutouts, arranged row after row, in Bolivar Square in Bogota are a reminder of a dark chapter in Colombian history.

Each portrait is of a killed or missing member of the Patriotic Union, a leftist political party that was formed in 1985 out of peace talks between the government of former president Belisario Betancur and rebel groups, including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or Farc.

At the time, there were hopes that the party would help Colombia break with its violent past and embrace change through an electoral process.

But as the Patriotic Union's popularity grew among the public, its leaders and supporters began to be systematically targeted by right-wing death squads linked to the government.

While the exact number of victims is not known, some reports point to a figure as high as 5,000, which includes presidential candidates, lawmakers, mayors and municipal office holders.

The campaign weakened the party so much that it lost its legal status in 2002. It was only in 2013 that it was able to re-establish itself.

The National Day for Dignity of Victims of Genocide against the Patriotic Union is marked every year on Oct 11 by the survivors and relatives of the victims, as a way to remember their loved ones.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 21, 2017, with the headline 'Grim portraits of past'. Print Edition | Subscribe