Of Hopes for Peace and Goodwill towards Men and Women, in at Least One Part of the World
The fog is thick outside but not because of low lying clouds, the clouds in this central range of the Andes are above seven thousand feet, … as is the city. They seem like a blanket covering the verdant fields surrounding a European-like city set amidst them like a jewel. Still it is cold and damp, crying for a crackling fire in a fireplace I don’t quite have. Matthew, Saul of Tarsus’ disciple, now has a hurricane named after him, it battered the Caribbean last night and we, far inland, are feeling traces of its residue. Its heading North now where my sons live, a strange and terrible link between us.
As I do most mornings I’m reading news, international, United States and Colombian. Most is incredibly foul, twisted, distorted and disturbing reporting of terrible people and terrible events; evil is rampant and seems delighted in its ability to befuddle as well as befoul. But one ray of hope shines through, striking this near equatorial region in the Western Hemisphere, a Middle Earth of sorts, hobbits might someday live happily here:
Tomorrow, fittingly on Mohandas Gandhi’s birthday, the Colombian People are voting on whether or not to ratify the agreements between their government and the People’s Army of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (“FARC”) ending more than half a century of armed conflict between them, although the between is very relative, it has usually been the innocent who found themselves between the contesting forces.
The agreement is unusual in its breadth. It provides not merely for a cessation of hostilities, it is a blueprint for Colombia’s future addressing most of the issues that led the FARC to justify its revolt, among them: non-existent land reform, corruption, lack of education, lack of adequate employment opportunities and medical care for the poor. It repeatedly addresses women’s rights as well as those of the gay and lesbian community and has large sections dedicated to the nation’s “campesinos”, a concept somewhat difficult to translate but dealing with agricultural workers, whether or not owning their own lands, the primary source for FARC membership.
It addresses the rights of all victims, whether of the FARC, the government or other armed groups, by requiring both truth and reparations. As required by the Geneva agreements that seek, usually without success, to provide rules for more humane warfare (a seeming oxymoron), it provides a broad amnesty for all participants except those charged with crimes against humanity (as defined in the Statute of Rome which established the International Penal Court; never ratified but frequently invoked by the United States). As to those, it provides a process through which in exchange for cooperation and complete honesty, they receive punishment limited as to time and scope (in the nature of up to eight years of community service). Those not cooperating will receive up to twenty years in prison. The amnesty does not apply to common crimes. The FARC’s soldiers and their supporters will receive limited financial assistance in a process seeking their reintegration into civil society, less than $3,000 to start an approved business and a monthly allowance of about $200 per month for two years, not exactly the wealth and largesse opponents seem to imagine is being handed to them. FARC members will not only be free to participate in politics but for two electoral cycles, members of the political party into which the FARC will be transformed will be guaranteed five seats in the Senate and five in the House of Representatives. Congressional membership will also be expanded during such period by sixteen additional seats in areas where most of the victims of the conflict reside.
The agreement is far from perfect. It is poorly written from the perspective of the plebiscite where it is to be ratified, too long (almost three hundred pages) for the voters to digest during the thirty days they’ve been given to review it and it is terribly redundant. It requires further political action for its implementation, on both the short and long term, mainly with respect to the funding required for its ambitious social goals. And of course, without societal cooperation, good will and good faith, it is doomed to failure. States can wage war and negotiate peace, but only society and its members can attain it. That will not be easy, especially with respect to those who are being asked to forgive the unforgiveable. Oddly, victims seem much more willing to forgive than are many of those who did not suffer directly, especially among those who thrived during the conflict, but that is hardly unusual. Many Colombians oppose the agreement seeing it as granting impunity and financial and political rewards for lawlessness, a bad example for future generations, and have little or no faith in the sincerity of the leaders and members of the FARC. Others, however, believe that even if the agreement is imperfect, and even if it eventually fails, the wager is worth the price. They want an end to the killing and the initiation of efforts to build the Colombia they hope for.
I hope that the agreement and tomorrow’s plebiscite do not further divide a People already too polarized, albeit not as horribly as the polarization evident in so many other parts of the world, including the United States. The campaign has been bitter, unpleasant and full of distortions. But perhaps, with Gandhi’s blessings, it already has those of Pope Francis’, everything will work out for the best.
Tomorrow I will vote to approve the agreement. After centuries of conflict, Colombians deserve a sustainable and just peace.
We all do.
© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2016; all rights reserved