Support to and cooperation with Europe, with EU and national political bodies and with the Church, equally crucial for the development of long-awaited peace in Colombia following the 2016 agreement signed between the Government and FARC in Colombia after 53 years of armed conflict. A delegation from the Colombian Bishops’ Conference (CEC), in Brussels yesterday and today on the invitation of the Commission of Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE), along with CIDSE, Caritas Germany, Brot für die Welt (Bread for the World) and Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe, an organization for humanitarian relief in calamity situations, reiterated this message and expressed gratitude for what is being done .
CEC President, Msgr. Oscar Urbina Ortega, Archbishop of Villavicencio, and Msgr. Héctor Fabio Henao Gaviria, director of Caritas Secretariat of Social/Pastoral Ministry of the Colombian Church lead the bishops delegation. Yesterday morning the two Church dignitaries had a meeting with a group of NGO delegates promoted by COMECE, after which they joined the assembly of the Commission for foreign relations of the same body. In the afternoon they had a set of meetings in the EU Commission headquarters and at the European Parliament including with EP President Antonio Tajani. Further meetings in EU institutions are scheduled for today.
Europe’s fundamental role. Msgr. Urbina and Msgr. Henao told SIR that the guiding theme of the meetings is the fact that despite difficulties it is worthwhile concentrating on the peace process under way. “The purpose of our visit – said CEC President – is to learn more about the various organizations that have supported initiatives for peace and reconciliation in our Country. Now we need to step up initiatives at local level, for peace must become a reality in various environments. It’s a complex stage, it requires time, but the great wealth of experiences of these international organizations and NGOs is extremely valuable. Moreover, at political level, the EU’s support to the peace process is of the essence.” Many projects are being developed thanks to the cooperation between Caritas Colombia and her European “sisters.” Msgr. Henao pointed out: “For example, we have a project for alternative productions to coca in the Amazon department of Caquetá (in the southeast of the country, Ed.’s note), especially in the area of Caguán and Miravalle, which are former FARC strongholds. In cooperation with Caritas Norway, we are showing that
economic reintegration is a feasible option.
Another project is being developed in the department of Putumayo (in the south of Colombia, Ed.’s note), that aims to restore women’s centrality and participation. The project is being implemented in conjunction with Caritas Germany. As a whole, the projects fast-track communities that suffered from the conflict and the large number of victims”.
Problems yet to be solved. The visit of the Colombian Church delegation is also directed at conveying a message of confidence, despite the worrying signs at domestic level. In fact escalating dissent from within FARC’s ranks is cause of concern and has reached a new phase after the flight from the Country of ex-Senator Iván Marquez, chief negotiator in the Havana, traditionally representing the “political” wing of the movement (also another ex-leader, known as El Paisa, military strategy expert, left with him). Peace talks between the Government and ELN, the Marxist guerrilla group that is still active, have not been resumed yet, by will of the Government. Approximately 350 social leaders were killed in the past years, while Bacrims, or criminal bands that include paramilitary groups, continue sowing terror and death in many parts of the Country. “It’s a complex process, as was expected – said Msgr. Urbina –, but many steps have been made. FARC handed over their weapons and their former-fighters re-integrated into society. They formed their own political party and are represented in parliament.” As regards the negotiations with ELN, on several occasions the Colombian Church urged the involved parties to resume the talks:
“We played an important role as observers during the ceasefire of the past months – added the CEC president -. We have achieved many objectives but now it’s time to return to the negotiating table. ELN has been requesting it, but Colombia’s new Government it legitimately asking for some time to reflect.” Mons. Henao sent an appeal to Iván Marquez: “We hope he will reverse his decision.” But the director of Caritas Colombia is especially worried about the phenomenon of murders and threats that target social leaders: “It was known that many armed groups operate in Colombia, and that a peace deal with FARC was not enough. It could be expected that these groups would want to take control of the territorial spoils left by the FARC. Many armed groups are involved in the illegal drug trade and in illegal resource extraction activities.” In this context, “it’s important to take the appropriate action to protect social leaders, especially farmers, most of whom are afro-Colombians or indigenous peoples. Important projects in this direction are being promoted by France and the UK. We need to be optimistic. A lot has been done and in many areas of Colombia the situation has changed for the better.” Further progress can be made if friend Countries and European Churches continue “investing” on peace.
Looking forward to the meeting between Duque and the Pope. A landmark event in the coming weeks is the meeting between the new president of the Republic Iván Duque and Pope Francis, scheduled for October 22 in the Vatican, just over a year after the Pope’s visit to Colombia. “In fact it will be an important meeting – remarked Msgr. Urbina -. I think that the Holy Father will reconfirm what he told us last year: Colombia must not be afraid of peace and reconciliation. Then, as he did a year ago, he will ask Government leaders to look into the eyes of the poor and give priority to poverty and to the grave unbalances in our Country.”