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Colombia: Peace at what cost?


October 10, 2008
- by Mennonite Church Canada staff with files from Rebecca Bartel and Bonnie Klassen, courtesy MCC

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Political violence and armed conflict has become engrained in Colombian culture over the past 50 years. Recent demonstrations of military strategy and force from the Colombian government have sparked hope in some that a road to peace is being forged.

The deaths of three-high profile members of the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC); the military rescue of 15 political prisoners from FARC custody, including three U.S. contractors and Ingrid Betancourt, ex-presidential candidate have been achieved through violence. This destructive approach to peace raises an important question for the Mennonite Church of Colombia (IMCOL), a partner of Mennonite Church Canada, Mennonite Central Committee and other Anabaptist organizations: What kind of peace do we want for Colombia?

As Mennonite Brethren leader Diego Martinez was quoted in a Mennonite Central Committee story, "These actions, based in deception and lies, will never lead us to peace. We are calling on all of the armed groups to build peace through non-violence and truth."

Dismantling the central commands of paramilitary and guerrilla groups including FARC and the National Liberation Army (ELN) without comprehensive processes of truth, justice and reparation will not put an end to the illegal armed groups in Colombia. Instead, it creates a chaotic, dangerous dynamic because in response, many small, independent but well-armed groups become organized, creating more insecurity for regular citizens.

As similar experiences in other countries demonstrate, the cessation of hostilities between warring factions in civil conflict without processes of truth, justice and reparation creates an atmosphere of arbitrary violence and heightened insecurity. Societies become fractured.

Anabaptist theology holds that lasting peace will only come by addressing the problems that perpetuate violence: deep levels of poverty, the large gap between rich and poor, unequal land distribution and the use of violent repression instead of dialogue to resolve social conflict.

Colombian civil society and particularly the millions of victims of the 50-year armed conflict need the support of the international community to assure they have a voice in a peace that offers truth, justice and reparation.

Information for this report came from Rebecca Bartel and Bonnie Klassen, Mennonite Church Canada Witness Associates based in Bogotá, Colombia. Bartel also serves as a Policy Analyst and Educator for Latin America and the Caribbean with Mennonite Central Committee, and Klassen is the Mennonite Central Committee representative in Colombia.