Rosa Emilia Salamanca and Ricardo Mendoza argue that whilst the peace talks between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP) and the government provide an important juncture in the peace process, Colombian society still faces considerable challenges in transforming relationships between citizens, and between citizens and the state, that have been shaped by decades of conflict. They argue that four aspects of reconciliation will be particularly important in achieving this transformation: forgiveness by victims, access to truth, building trust in the state, and including marginalised groups.
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A country shaped by conflict rather than peace
Tragically, the most perverse result of 60 years of conflict in Colombia is a culture of vengeance, in which the use of arms is considered to be the solution to everything. How can we change that culture, that narrative, in order to generate a culture of forgiveness and reconciliation?Leonel Narváez, President of the Foundation for Reconciliation, ‘Elementos Básicos del Perdón y La Reconciliación’, 2004
Understanding reconciliation in Colombia
In Colombia, reconciliation is both a personal and political issue. It relates to individual experiences of the conflict, but is also shaped by different ideological interpretations of the causes of the conflict.
The immediate challenge that Colombia’s ideologically diverse population faces is to learn how to coexist: this is the first step to reconciliation. Coexistence means accepting difference within society. Deeper reconciliation is about trying to talk to and understand each other, which requires building relations. Despite the enormous difficulties we face regarding sustainable peace and reconciliation, the current negotiations have opened a window of opportunity. The need to coexist while reconciliation is progressing is set out in the agreement reached in Havana on transitional justice:
The [proposed Truth] Commission must promote coexistence in the territories. […] it shall foster an atmosphere of dialogue and create spaces for dignifying victims; for individual and collective acknowledgement of responsibility; and, in general, for the consolidation of citizens’ respect for and trust in one another, cooperation and solidarity, social justice, gender equality, and a democratic culture that fosters tolerance and does away with our indifference to others’ problems. Thus shall the foundations be laid for non-recurrence, reconciliation, and building a stable and lasting peace.
Four aspects of reconciliation are particularly relevant for Colombia, and are discussed in the following sections.
Forgiveness by victims
The meeting in Havana was very difficult at first, because I was face to face with the material authors of the assassination of the people I loved most in my life … But when Iván Márquez sincerely asked for forgiveness, that transformed the scenario of victims and perpetrators into that of a new beginning, which gives us the responsibility of building peace. Forgiveness is a personal act in which individuals opt for either the path of magnanimity or the abyss of hatred.
Building trust in the state
is not just something that takes place between perpetrators and victims. … Rather, it is necessary for all social and political actors to come face to face with one another and come clean. And they should do so not in order to forget or to make pacts among elites, as has been the case before, but rather, to create a more inclusive and democratic society where …everyone else can coexist in disagreement.Speech at Fundación Buen Gobierno forum, ‘Reconciliación, mas que realism mágico’, 5 May 2016