Pope Francis backs reconciliation process in Colombia

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ROME – In 2017, Pope Francis went to Colombia to show his support for a historic peace agreement that put an end to a five-decades-long civil conflict. This week he reaffirmed his support and encouraged locals to walk paths of reconciliation.

In a message read on June 28 during the presentation of the Final Report of the Truth Commission – created in 2016 after the Peace Agreement signed between the State and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) – he also urged the Colombian society to work together “boldly in the pursuit of the good of all.”

The presentation of the report took place at the Jorge Eliécer Gaitán Theater in Bogotá, attended by Colombia’s President-elect Gustavo Petro and Interior Minister Daniel Palacios, representing President Iván Duque, who was in Portugal.

“I encourage you to continue to walk paths of reconciliation that help strengthen fraternity, to be artisans of peace, to generate processes of reencounter, and to work together boldly in the pursuit of the good of all,” Francis said.

The Commission for the Clarification of Truth (CEV) was born out of the Havana Peace Agreement, signed between the Colombian state and the FARC in 2016. The scope of the commission was to learn what happened during 50 years of armed conflict. It has 11 members, and is headed by Jesuit Father Francisco de Roux. 

The CEV began its work in 2018 and over four years, interviewed 27,000 people, including victims, former FARC members, military and former Colombian presidents. 

It also installed 29 centers throughout the country to collect and disseminate information. The final report is 8,000 pages, and it will be released in its entirety in the upcoming months, divided into 24 volumes.

During the presentation of the report Tuesday, Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that “truth is an imprescriptible and transformative right” both for the victims and for society in general, because it opens the door to reconciliation.

“I urge the state authorities and all of society to work together to disseminate the final report as widely as possible and to implement its recommendations. This process not only clarifies the past of the violations that occurred during the armed conflict, but will contribute to putting together the pieces that Colombian society needs to move forward to a future of peace,” she said.

The keynote speech, however, came from De Roux, who said the report “comes from listening to the victims in much of the territory and in exile; from listening to those who struggle to maintain memory and resist denialism, and to those who have accepted ethical, political and criminal responsibilities.”

He described the document as a “message of truth” to stop the tragedy of a conflict in which 80 percent of the victims have been civilian non-combatants and fewer than two percent of the deaths have been in combat. 

The priest also said that there are many in Colombia who have remained trapped in “war mode,” and they struggle to accept that not everyone thinks the same. In this trap, he said, opponents see the other as conspirators or dangerous.

“Thus, opposition becomes deadly because people become mere obstacles,” he said. “This way of thinking is what has made possible aberrations such as human beings being turned into smoke and ashes in the chimneys of the crematory oven of Juan Frio, or become mere figures in the lists of ‘combat casualties’. It was also what made it possible for soldiers to become hunting trophies for the guerrillas, for us to find in garbage bags the remains of shot politicians, for us to get used to deaths, kidnappings and the daily finding of the bodies of ‘uncomfortable’ leaders.”

De Roux also urged Colombians to free themselves from the traps of fear, anger, stigmatization and distrust, and to “remove weapons from the venerable public space,” and to distance themselves from anyone who brings guns into politics and from those who “pretend to support the legitimate social struggle with machine guns.”

The priest also urged those who took part in the violent civil war to own up to their ethical and political responsibilities, because the Commission has found that those who recognize responsibilities, far from destroying their reputation, enhance it, and having been part of the problem, they become part of the solution.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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