No euphoria

You may have seen that the FARC have completed their process of disarmament, although hundreds of weapons caches remain to be dismantled.

A time for great national celebration, then?

Not at all. In the cities, it is almost as if these historic events were not happening.

A cartoon from the Semana magazine suggests one reason for this apathy:

When the war doesn’t hurt you, the peace won’t make you happy either.

The conflict with the FARC mostly affected the countryside and that’s where the effects of the peace will first be felt.

But as well as that, there is widespread mistrust as to the FARC’s intentions when it becomes a political party. Colombia’s socialist neighbour, Venezuela, is rapidly disintegrating and many people are genuinely afraid that that could happen here.

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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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A vote for change

Last week I asked someone from an area that was badly affected by the armed conflict how he voted in last year’s referendum on the Peace Process.

This was his reply:

I voted “yes”. Not because I think anything just was being achieved but because we have to get those people (the guerrillas) down from the mountains.

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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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Roller coaster ride

What to say about the last few months in Colombia?

First, there was the hope generated by the bilateral ceasefire and the signing of the peace deal with the FARC. Then the “what now?” moment, when the peace deal was narrowly rejected by Colombian voters on 2nd October.

Next, the Nobel Peace Prize for President Juan Manuel Santos and the revelations in an unguarded interview of the “no” campaign’s sneaky strategies. (The “yes” side probably had plenty of its own).

Now, big demonstrations by students, calling for the deal to be implemented now. And the plaintive call by one town in the conflict zone, aching for a better future, for the peace deal to be put into action at least for them, since they had overwhelmingly voted “yes”.

In the middle of that, my conversations with taxi drivers and strange encounters on the streets (the unconscious Russian woman on the pavement, the blind man on the metro, the world-weary Peruvian on a flight) seemed to pale into insignificance and I didn’t know where to begin to make sense of it all, let alone write about it a couple of hundred words.

But one or two people have noticed my silence (always gratifying) so here I am, just to let know you I am still alive!

And heading off to the Coast again for the third of our annual regional leaders’ camps.

No doubt something extraordinary will happen there and I might manage to shape it into a blog for you to read.

Keep praying for peace, so desired, so elusive.

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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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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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A blow to the peace process

This week the peace process between Colombia and the FARC took a blow when eleven soldiers were killed by FARC fighters in an ambush in the Cauca region.

This is why we must have peace, someone in the area said, but for many it’s just confirmation of the FARC’s lack of good faith.

A cartoon in the Semana magazine showed a hand labelled the FARC snuffing out the candle of peace.

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