While the world’s eyes are focused today on the U.S. election, people in Colombia have their eyes on Havana where a preliminary conversation between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrilla army will take place.
On the agenda is the search for a mechanism that will allow some measure of participation by “civil society”—a loose term understood here as including organizations of business leaders, social movements and non-governmental organizations like churches.
During my current two-week visit to Colombia, the search for peace is part of every conversation. Two days ago, the opening session of a round-table meeting of the Colombian Methodist Church included a shared reflection on the country’s political situation.
Rev. José Duque, former professor of theology at the Latin American Biblical University and out-going head of the Methodist Church’s ministerial formation department, asked: What brought about the dialogue? Among the responses from a mixed group of national church leaders and global partners:
- “the development model” (understood here as the large flow of foreign capital into resource extraction industries)
- the international context: success via the ballot box by progressive parties and social movements in other parts of Latin America makes the guerrilla war unnecessary
- the guerrillas are exhausted—but they still have a cause: land
- they may be exhausted, but they are not without resources: the previous government failed to defeat them militarily
- the guerrillas also see that many of their goals of greater social and economic justice are being accomplished in other countries through peaceful means
- regional integration: the effort to focus Latin American governments’ collective attention to regional economic and political challenges (models of development, infrastructure, human rights, etc.); with the previous government of Alvaro Uribe, progress in relationships with the rest of the continent was impossible
Another question: Who makes war?
Among the responses:
- paramilitary death squads, three guerrilla armies (FARC, ELN, ELP), drug-traffickers, businesses, large land-owners (“latifundistas”), resource extraction companies, banks
- War is business. Lots of people make a lot of money by government spending on the military and U.S. funding for the related “war on drugs”
- the war is driven by racism, discrimination and injustice (especially in rural areas)
And then, as Prof. Duque reminded us, we have to ask ourselves:
- Assuming the peace talks are successful, and even lead to agreements with other armed actors, what can be done with demobilized guerrillas afterwards—as well as with the massive official military system?
- What peace do we want? What is the role of the church? How do we contribute to true peace?
With the support of global partners, Colombian churches are coming together around a variety of peace efforts, including the new Program of Ecumenical Accompaniment in Colombia (PEAC). Some of us around the table had travelled days earlier to the conflicted north coast municipality of San Onofre to accompany a dialogue between the Finca la Alemania community and city authorities.
Our short reflection among Methodist sisters and brothers reminded us all of the work ahead.
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