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COLOMBIA
“We must close the cycle of pain”
Paolo Moiola
5/1/2017
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Interview with Msgr. Luis Augusto Castro Quiroga, president of the Colombian Conference of Bishops

It took four years of negotiations in Havana between representatives of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government. The Peace Agreement that was to put an end to more than half-a-century of armed conflict was signed on Aug. 24, 2016. But the results from the referendum of Oct. 2, in which the citizenry rejected what was agreed on, put the prospect of peace in danger. A new agreement was signed on Nov. 24,  which was endorsed by Congress on Dec. 1. A demobilization process of the guerrilla members started from that date and it is foreseen that the laying down of weapons ends by June 1 of this year.

Paolo Moiola, a Latinamerica Press collaborator, talked with Msgr. Luis Augusto Castro Quiroga, president of the Colombian Conference of Bishops and a mediator in the long negotiations between the government of President Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC, on issues regarding the post conflict, the reconciliation and the need of forgiveness from the victims to get over the feeling of hatred and vengeance, in order to plan for a different future.

You constantly talk about the “pedagogy of peace.” What does it mean?
It is about trying to make Colombia understand the significance of this process, specially the post conflict. I have given myself a task: design an image that simple people can understand. The post conflict is like constructing a new house. What is new about the different rooms? The answer is that each one has something that was not there before; for example, the room of politics. This room needs the element of inclusion, an element that has been absent along these years. All of those who were excluded from politics took up arms against the state.

Let’s take the economy. In Colombia, the country only gives advantages to a small group of Colombians. This is an economy lacking the element of solidarity. Following the signing of the peace agreement, we now have to  invent a solidarity economy, something the Catholic Church has always been after. And it has to be the same for the other sectors: education, culture.

However, a house built without cement will crumble down. There are three types of cement: first, the ethical, which obviously has to do with honesty. Like in anywhere else in the world, corruption is a very damaging element. This deeply damages the lives of all Colombians. This is why ethical cement is needed. In second place, spiritual cement is also needed. It is forgiveness and reconciliation. Lastly, we have the cultural cement. It is necessary to have a culture of life, of rights, of human relationships. The cultural cement is highly important to build this new society.

Well, this is the pedagogy that can easily be understood by anyone, because we all know how a house has to be built. In my opinion, this image makes it easier to understand the future of Colombia in terms of peace.

Has the implementation of the agreement already started?
It started on Dec. 1, 2016. It started with the definition of the areas where the guerrilla members would be concentrated during the various stages of the process. The first stage is disarmament; then comes the training to reintegrate into society in a positive manner. This training also involves job skills; learning elements that are useful to open doors in the labor world. In general, the implementation of an agreement is more difficult than its approval.

The economic and social causes that in 1964 led to the war are still present: land concentration in the hands of a few, inequalities, lack of attention in education and public health. Don’t you think that without a concrete solution to these issues, peace will never be truly attained?
The first cause for the rebellion of the FARC against the state was its exclusion from politics. It was not because of poverty or any other motives. The fact is that, at being excluded from politics, they could not work in other aspects of life. Today, the objective is to get integrated into politics.

Having said that, the peace accord has not much to do with political elements, something given for granted, as it is about all the rest of the aspects of Colombian life. In the first place, the aspect of land, land extremely concentrated in the hands of few people, who are definitely not the poor. And then we have the agricultural problem. All of this has been studied in the peace agreement that has been approved. One thing is to talk about it; something different is to put it into practice. Large amounts of money are needed to do this. Fortunately, many countries have started to help.

We have seen that the number of victims is astonishing. What can you say to a person who has lost a family member or to a refugee?
We can tell these people two things. In the first place, they have the possibility to file a demand against the state for the damages and harmful consequences suffered, because the war was against the state. This is included in the peace agreement.

In the second place, in the Peace Court each guerrilla member is obligated to tell what he or she knows regarding disappearances, deaths, and kidnappings. If they want a sentence reduction, they must tell everything they know. This is the same as it happened in South Africa, where the reconciliation commission said: “If you tell the truth, it will go in your favor; otherwise, justice will fall on you to the fullest extent of the law.”

The victims, many victims, can get answers in terms of the truth, which is what they ask for: “What happened to my son? What happened to my husband? Where is the body? If he was killed, we want to be able to at least hold a funeral.” All of this is to close the cycle of suffering. If it is not closed, everything is left up in the air and the experiencing of this unbearable suffering, continues.

So, on one side a role will be played by the Peace Court [judicial body], and on the other side the Truth Commission [extrajudicial body].

Lastly, we have to invite the victims to perform an act of courage: to forgive in order to not be victims anymore, because this is not the future they deserve. They should not be sad victims, but instead people who have drafted a life project, a different future; people who, with God’s help, will win back the peace and serenity they deserve.

Why do you think that the victims must forgive?
In Colombia, the officially verified victims are 8 million. However, for each one of them there are at least two more: a son with mother and father, a father with his partner and children. If there are two others affected for every victim, we reach 24 million victims. This represents 50 percent of the population.

If they do not forgive, they will never stop being victims. Happy victims do not exist. A victim will always be unhappy. This is why it is so important to go from a state of being a victim to that of survivor: “With God’s help I have been able to get over the hatred, the feeling of vengeance and to build a different future for myself.” This is the hope for every victim; and this is why we insist on forgiveness, and in reconciliation.

Consequently, we could summarize all of this in three words: truth, justice, and forgiveness. Is that right?
Yes, that is right. All three are important words. Truth for the victims; justice because the guerrilla must answer for what they did; and forgiveness, which is the internal motivation of a person to be happy again. —Latinamerica Press.


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Msgr. Luis Augusto Castro Quiroga / Paolo Moiola
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