“The mentality has to change in Colombia and in the United States,” a leading Colombian theologian and peace activist told a conference here last week.
“I think that the crisis in Colombia is one of spirituality — not a crisis of religion, which is something else, said Fr. Francisco de Roux, a Jesuit leader in Colombia, told the “Perspectives on Colombia’s Peace Process and Opportunities for U.S. Engagement” conference organized by the Washington Office on Latin America.
“We are in one of the most shameful situations in the world, that of a humanitarian crisis,” de Roux said. “That crisis has taken a lot from Colombians.”
He said that recent negotiations in Havana “have broken down a barrier for Colombia and for the United States. The ongoing negotiations in Cuba have opened a space to dialogue about many repressed issues, including the FARC (the main opposition group in Colombia).”
De Roux said the current Colombian peace process “cannot be reversed. It is very important to move forward and acknowledge the contradictions and difficulties that have been outlined about the situation in Colombia. But we are arriving at a profound moment in Colombia, a moment in which we must speak with clarity and transparency, or we won’t get anything accomplished.”
The longstanding war in Colombia between FARC rebels and the government “is a war in which everything goes, including antipersonnel mines, kidnapping, and indiscriminate killings,” de Roux said. “This war has caused so much damage — damage to justice in Colombia, damage to politics (which have become a struggle of the right and the left), damage to the churches, damage to the campesino organizations, and damage to the labor unions. So much has been taken from us.”
The implications of the conflict for all Colombians are almost unfathomable, he continued. “We try to explain the situation Colombia finds itself in so we turn to the politics we learned in the universities, philosophical explanations or theology, but all of the explanations fail,” de Roux said.
“Men and women, many of whom have lost literally everything, say, ‘No, we do not come from here, we have been displaced, and we have to stay here until the war is over,’” de Roux explained. “I have been travelling the past 20 months, and the cry of my encounters — the cry of women who have lost their children to the guerrillas, the cry of all people was, ‘end this war, end it on all sides, end the army, end the guerrillas.’”
Fundamentally, the Colombian people’s cry is for justice, de Roux said. “Some said that the war of the FARC is unjust, because we know that they are not going to achieve the ideals that Colombians are trying to protect. And, it is unjust that Colombia has the largest army of all of Latin America, which Colombians must pay taxes to support,” he said.
Negotiators in Havana have arrived at an “ethical option,” de Roux said. “They are men who have been willing to die for their cause and die to see their enemy dead. This is important to consider, because it means that they now embody an ethic that is independent of all of their previous actions.”
Colombian President Santos’ new [Victims’ and Land] Restitution Law marks a profound ethical change for the country, de Roux said. “There is a new kind of consistency in Colombia. I think that the U.S. should support this consistency for which Colombia is fighting so hard. The first thing the U.S. can do to help us is to ensure that peace, the biggest cause, continues independently of the outcome of upcoming elections,” he said.
The U.S. can also help Colombia “transition from this scheme of terrorism and counterterrorism. Our system must be based on trust,” de Roux insisted. “I remember hearing [former] President Uribe say: ‘Don’t trust anyone, because in the time of war, you never know who might be a terrorist. Only trust your president and his army.’
“I intervened and said, ‘I’m sorry, Mr. President, but I think exactly the opposite. I think we must trust everyone, and we should talk with each other to build a country of security and trust.’” De Roux recalled.
“This mindset of terrorism and counterterrorism must be overcome by trust.”
Forgiveness is central to the establishment of such trust, de Roux said.
“This is not a situation of giving and receiving,” he said. “We in Colombia have to forgive, which does not mean giving up victims’ rights. It does mean, however, that our memories should not be on our minds all the time. We should fight for land restitution, but we cannot reconstruct our society without forgiveness.”