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Colombia peace summit promising


February 23, 2006
-by Dan Dyck

Winnipeg, Man. — The Colombian government last October initiated a Commission on Re-compensation and Reconciliation, similar to Truth Commissions held in South Africa.

Canadian delegates to the summit, Jack Suderman and Janet Plenert, learned more details about this and other developments when they attended a Feb. 13-17 Colombian ecumenical peace summit held on San Andres Island, just off the coast of Nicaragua. Knowledgeable people and excellent presentations characterized the event, said Plenert.

Suderman and Plenert were two of the internationals invited because of their long history of working with the Colombian people through the church. Other internationals in attendance came from Argentina, Finland, Sweden, and the USA,

The summit was initiated as a result of Colombian government’s openness to receiving counsel from the country’s churches on the reinsertion process. Colombia is establishing a process for the peaceful re-integration of persons from illegal armed groups (both guerrilla and paramilitary) into society, known in the country as reinsertion. Reinsertion will be difficult because of the heinous offences committed by individuals who want to resume civil life and community relations.

Suderman and Plenert were asked to present a theological framework for the church’s response to government. The document [45 KB PDF file - Help with PDF files] available at [], laid out a series of Biblically based, foundational beliefs and values that the pair felt all Colombian church groups could agree on – a significant challenge in a country that is 90% Catholic and 10% representing a broad diversity of Protestant groups.

Churches in Colombia have a long history of difficulty in coming to agreement. As a matter of doctrinal preference many have theologically divorced themselves from the political and social ills of the country.

Jorge Rojas is the Director of Colombian Human Rights organization, CODHES. He said, “Without truth neither hope nor reconciliation nor justice are possible.”

By the end of the week, Suderman said the document drafted by Colombian leaders at the summit for use within the church and for presentation to government and other groups “was really good,” and was approved in principle. “It was really quite a feat. I think people felt very good.,” he said.

The words of Eduardo Galeano, a Latin American historian, summarized much of the attitude at the summit. Galeano said, “We have decided to postpone our pessimism until times get better.” Suderman noted this sentiment is common in Latin American culture; ideals are pursued even when conditions may not seem right.

Carlos Alonso, former leader of M-19 revolutionary group and now peace negotiator for the Colombian government, said, “In the last 40 years there have been 100 formal “peace processes” in Colombia. All of them have failed.” It was not clear whether he was hopeful about this particular peace initiative, but later added that, “One urgent task is to shatter the myth of non-negotiation,” referring to typical Western political refusal to negotiate with illegal groups.

“In peace-making we must pay as much attention to process as we do to content. We know the content. We need to concentrate on process,” said Rojas.

“It was impressive to see the level of leadership provided by the Mennonites at a place like this. This kind of thing simply would not happen without the key leadership provided by them,” said Suderman, noting that Colombian Mennonite Church leaders were instrumental in coordinating the summit as well as providing leadership to the process.

Sidebar: Participants at the summit heard staggering statistics:

  • 3,000,000 or about 1 out of every 60 Colombians have been displaced from their homes and jobs in the last 10 years. In 2005 alone, 380,000 persons were displaced;
  • 11 Colombians die in combat every day: 7 are non-combatants; 3 are under the age of 23;
  • 4,800,000 hectares of land have been seized from traditional owners;
  • 100 formal failed peace processes in the last 40 years;
  • 900 Colombians per day are being driven from their homes;
  • 50% of the displaced persons are under the age of 15;
  • 200,000 children are refugees outside of Colombia;
  • 8,500 children are in the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and 2,500 in para-military groups;
  • Indigenous young people and children are special targets for recruitment into armed groups;
  • “Social cleansing” has increased dramatically, targeting the 30,000 children living in the streets;
  • 40% of the national budget is dedicated to the war;
  • There are 4,000,000 arms in Colombia, 3,000,000 of which are illegal;
  • There are three battles raging: traffic of drugs, of persons, of arms

Documents from the Summit