For a few weeks last year, I posted the flags of countries that had been affected by terrorist violence as my Facebook profile picture in an attempt to remind us that the countries that are suffering most grievously are not in Europe or North America. I appreciated the response I got in comments, likes and tearful faces.

But this week, I realized that outrages were happening everywhere and I just couldn’t keep up.

There were the attacks on the Intercontinental Hotel and Save the Children in Afghanistan, car bombings in Libya, and, closer to home, the massacre by unknown assailants, of seven people in Yuramal, a town 75 miles away from Medellin.

So, I am going to leave the flags to one side for now, but hopefully not my heart.

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The BBC recently reported that 12 members of the FARC had made the transition to civilian life at a ceremony attended by representatives of the UN.

That’s twelve down, just 6988 to go!

So Colombia is entering a new, golden era of peace, right?

Well, not exactly.

Remember, that the FARC are not the only armed group operating in Colombia. The second biggest, the ELN, is still active, and the criminal gangs, successors to the right-wing paramilitary groups which disarmed 10 to 15 years ago, are moving into the areas vacated by the FARC. In one place, a town begged the FARC not to leave because they were more afraid of who might replace them. And 300 guerrilleros are reportedly fighting on.

Away from the conflict, a third of the country’s provinces are at risk of flooding and half a million workers, including teachers and prisons guards, are on strike.

If all that leaves you a bit gloomy, please read this, a beautiful piece by Sandra Ines Henao, the  wife of an  army general, who volunteers at the military hospital in Bogotá. Last year the hospital received on 36 soldiers injured in combat and this year, none!

And if, after reading all this, you can’t quite work what you feel, welcome to my world!

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I was doing some research on the Colombian conflict for a funding application and I found this site, the register of victims of the conflict, with 8,347,566 victims registered to date. You can search for figures for the different Colombian departments and municipalities, by type of incident and by date.

This is the kind of mind-blowing paradox that Colombia throws up constantly.

How is it possible that a state capable of registering victims with such precision wasn’t capable of preventing these people becoming victims in the first place?

Couldn’t it?

Or wouldn’t it?

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The flag of peace

In Colombia, white is the colour which has been associated with the desire for peace. In 2008, two massive marches against the FARC were held in many cities and everybody wore white T-shirts.

At the circus, we divide the children into groups and each is given a flag of a different colour, making the circus tent into the most fantastic, multi-coloured spectacle. Throughout the event, the teams compete in different challenges and receive points which are totalled at the end and the winning team is given a prize.

Well, guess which team won?

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Justified fears


Here’s a cartoon taken from last week’s Semana magazine that neatly expresses many people’s fears about the peace process.

Translating from the top left, anti-clockwise, the woman says:

Long live peace! Of course….but watch out: here, every time one war ends, the next one starts.

And these fears are perfectly legitimate. One unit of the FARC has already said it won’t disarm.

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Swords into ploughshares

Yesterday afternoon, after the ceasefire deal was signed, I had a little browse in social media to see what Colombians were saying and found a mood of genuine optism. Young people especially expressed both hope and the determination to make the post-conflict work.

Today, the free papers I was handed on the way to work had the same tone. The End of the War and  The Future is Peace, were their headlines:


And check out the cool pen President Santos gave the leader of the FARC:


It’s called a balígrafo – a play on the Spanish words for bullet and pen. It’s actually made from a bullet and it has the words “Bullets wrote our past, education will write our future,” engraved on it.

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A Colombian life

Whenever I haven’t got anything particular to say on my blog, I just go to a Colombian news-site and there is always something interesting to pass on.

Today it is the story of Cruz Elena, a hundred-year-old victim of Colombia’s conflict, who, after being featured in the press a couple of weeks ago, has been financially compensated by the Colombian state. In addition, a group of people from a newspaper and a university in Medellin have got together to make it possible for her to see the sea for the first time in her life.

As well as losing two sons in the conflict, she has been displaced from her little farm SIX times in her life.

In 1947 and 1957 by the violence between the Conservative and Liberal Parties.

In 1987 by the ELN (Colombia’s second biggest left-wing rebel group).

In 1990, 1992 and 2001 by Medellin’s urban militias.

Even if you don’t speak Spanish, take a look at the video of Cruz Elena and marvel at the Colombian’s campesino’s capacity to endure and to forgive.

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War and peace

Twelve members of the armed forces died in an ambush organized by the ELN (the National Liberation Army), Colombia’s second-biggest rebel group.

The 11 soldiers and one policeman were attacked as they escorted ballot papers from Sunday’s local elections being transported from a indigenous area.

It seems that the ELN want to participate in the ongoing peace process.

In the strange parallel reality of Colombia’s armed groups, the way of showing ones desire for peace is to perpetrate an act of war.

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The photo is the easy part, now for the peace.

I wonder if you noticed the announcement on 23rd September that the Colombian government and the FARC rebels had committed themselves to signing a final peace deal on 23rd March, 2016?

It’s very hard to know what is going on in Havana, Cuba, where the talks are taking place. My friends reacted to the news in a range of ways: from extreme scepticism to cautious optimism. My view is that some sort of peace deal, however imperfect, must be signed for the country to move forward but that the years after the deal are likely to be pretty turbulent as thousands of demobilized fighters struggle to re-enter society and old scores are settled.

Antonio Caballero, a commentator in the Colombian news weekly, Semana, put his finger on the real issue, the persistence of the conditions that caused the conflict in the first place. He writes:

Signing a peace treaty doesn’t take us to the end of the war but rather it takes us back to the beginning of the war. Which will start again if those problems [massive inequality, for one] are not addressed.

So if you have been praying for peace in Colombia, be encouraged, but keep going.

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The peace process – how to pray

Yesterday we had our monthly morning of prayer at Vive Kids and I had the task of leading a slot in which we prayed for the peace process which has been going on in Havana, Cuba between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrilla group for over 1,000 days.

I had the idea of taking the five areas being covered in the talks and thinking about what the Bible might say about each one.

The areas are:

1) Agrarian Reform

2) The drug trade

3) Political representation (how the FARC will participate in politics after any deal)

4) The Victims

5) Disarmament.

The ensuing conversation and prayers were fascinating and moving. Some key words were: justice, forgiveness, wisdom, praying for our leaders and for our enemies, protection (the last time the FARC tried to launch a political party its members were almost completely wiped out), change at the level of people’s hearts, care of the environment, restoration, restitution and reparation.

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