Monday, November 24, 2014

The Fragility of Peace and International Support

On Sunday, November 16, the FARC Guerrillas captured a general of the Government’s army who was traveling within their controlled territory. The government responded with a suspension of the peace negotiations until his release. This has been the most serious setback for the relatively successful peace process. However, with assistance from Norway and Cuba as guarantors of the peace talks, as well as assistance from the International Red Cross, the FARC agreed to release the general and his companions, which should be happening this coming week.

The peace process is set to continue, and after such a hurdle, the hope is that it will have gained strength. As this exemplifies the fragility of the peace process, I wanted to include information here on the conflict in Colombia and what can be done by our brothers and sisters in the United States to support the people of Colombia to reach a lasting and just peace. A return to the table to negotiate a peace is crucial. While an agreement written down on paper will not automatically bring peace into the everyday lives of the Colombian people, it will lay out a strong blueprint and path for its implementation and the construction of peace.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA, who we work with) builds its relationship with the church and people of Colombia based on the model of accompaniment, or: “walking together in solidarity that practices interdependence and mutuality”. Walking in solidarity with the church and people of Colombia starts with the victims of violence by all armed actors in the conflict. The victims are calling for truth, justice, meaningful reparations and a guarantee that the vicious past will not be repeated, including the root causes of the conflict.

The ELCA is a member of the Latin America Working Group (LAWG), a coalition of over 60 organizations dedicated to promoting U.S. policies toward Latin America that support human rights, social justice, and sustainable development. This coalition has issued a number of quality resources to learn about the conflict that has existed in Colombia for more than 50 years. LAWG has also coordinated advocacy efforts to push the U.S Government to adopt policies that will advance the peace process based on justice and human rights.

The Human Costs of the Colombian Conflict” is an infographic with a number of statistics about the armed conflict.

How can the United States help Colombia Achieve Peace?” is a memo produced by LAWG covering a detailed list of the many different manners the United States Government can support the peace process in Colombia.

Once the peace talks resume (hopefully soon), I will post some action items for those interested. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Diálogo Intereclesial por la Paz de Colombia DIPaz-Colombia

This past Monday, November 10, the Diálogo Intereclesial por la Paz de Colombia or Inter-Eclesial Dialogue for Peace (DIPAZ-Colombia) was constructed. The initiative comes out of a long path taken by Churches and faith based organizations walking together for two years to build an ecumenical body involved in the peace process of Colombia.

The Churches and organizations involved in DIPAZ-Colombia include the Presbyterian Church of Colombia, the Lutheran Church of Colombia, The Mennonite Church of Colombia, Justapaz (a Mennonite organization focused on Justice, Reconciliation and Nonviolent Action), Mencoldes (a Mennonite foundation focused on development), the Inter-Ecclesial Commission for Justice and Peace, the Baptist University, the World Service department of the Lutheran World Federation, and the program of Faith, Economy, Ecology, and Society of the Latin American Council of Churches.

The three areas of work decided on for DIPAZ-Colombia will be 1. Reconciliation 2. Non-violent Action and de-militarization 3. Truth and Justice. The group has decided to work for advocacy inside the churches, with the government, other social sectors and also directly with the peace process between the government and the FARC (Spanish acronym for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) in Havana, Cuba. This work will be developed considering the following components; formation and pedagogy, media and communication, documentation, and specific processes of accompaniment.

The Dialogue (DIPAZ-Colombia) is already planning a trip to Havana, Cuba this December to present themselves to those participating in the peace negotiations and share the proposals being developed by the group. The main focus will be to push for a confirmation that after successful negotiations there will be a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to make sure the story of the conflict and the experiences of violence and rights violations do not go unaccounted by the civilian population that experienced it.

The Human Rights Program of the Lutheran Church of Colombia is very happy to be involved in DIPAZ, as am I, especially at this stage of facilitating dialogue between different churches, all searching to fulfill a reconciling role for these times in Colombia. 
From left to right: Abilio Pena of the Inter-ecclesial Commission for Justice and Peace; Milton Mejia of the Latin American Council of Churches; Jenny Neme of Justapaz and the Mennonite Church of Colombia; Andres Alba of the Lutheran Church of Colombia; myself; and Luis Fernando San Miguel of the Presbytarian Church of Colombia; and the photo was taken by Beatriz Garcia del Foro of Lutheran World Federation. 

After this post was written, before being published the Colombian peace talks were suspended.  The government decided to suspend the negotiations after the FARC guerillas captured and refused to release an army general, considering him as a prisoner of war. There has been no ceasefire agreement, meaning the peace negotiations have been conducted during the last two years while the conflict was ongoing. Please keep the people of Colombia in your prayers, as well as a return to the peace talks and its success.
To read more about the suspension: Colombia Peace Talks