By Colombian writer William Ospina
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN volunteer translator)
Source : Kairos Colombia via email
Date : April 9, 2013
This prayer was read at the multitudinous March for Peace on April 9, 2013, before an estimated 1.1 million people gathered in and around the Plaza de Bolivar in downtown Bogota. The Prayer was a second Prayer for Peace; the first was pronounced by Jorge Eliecer Gaitan on February 7, 1948 before a silent gathering of some 100,000 people, a quarter of the city’s population at that time, in downtown Bogota. Gaitan, the leader of the Liberal Party, called for peace and an end to the inter – party violence which had broken out after the election of Conservative Mariano Ospina Perez in 1946. Gaitan, a great orator who spoke out for the common man and for justice, was assassinated on April 9, 1948 in downtown Bogota. The March for Peace was held on the 65th anniversary of Gaitan’s murder in homage to him. The present-day conflict in Colombia is in a sense a continuation of the violence which erupted upon the assassination of Gaitan, known as the “Bogotazo”.
Sixty-five years ago today a cry for peace in Colombia arose from this lectern.
Sixty-five years is a human lifetime. That means we have waited our whole lives for peace. And peace has not come. We don’t know what it looks like.
A people who can wait 65, 70, 100 years for peace is a very patient people. One hundred years of solitude. It is a people that works, that trusts in God, that dreams of a dignified and happy future, because, in spite of what the useless opinion polls say, we are not living in a dignified present or in a happy present.
They don’t provide us with any reality here. They provide us with statistics. The people are hungry, but statistics show that food is abundant. The people suffer from more violence, but statistics show that everything is getting better. The people are wretched, but statistics show that they are happy.
Now we understand that a people cannot just sit and wait for a peace that is not coming. That in order for peace to flower, people have to plant it. That peace is much more than a word.
The real name of peace is the dignity of the citizens, trust among the citizens, and kindness among the citizens. And where there is so much inequality, so much discrimination, and so much contempt for the people, there cannot be peace. Where there are no jobs, it will be hard to have peace. Where there is no real, respectful and liberal education, it will be hard to find peace. Where health care is a business, how can there be peace? Where forests are chopped down shamelessly, there can be no peace, because the trees, which give everything and ask for almost nothing, who give us air and water, are the most peaceful beings in existence.
Where the indigenous people are silenced, where their culture is erased, where their history and their nobility are denied, how can there be peace?
Where the grandchildren of the slaves are still in invisible chains, and are still not seen as a sacred component of our country, how can we call it peace?
Peace seems like a word, but in reality, it is a world. A world of respect, of generosity, of opportunity for everyone.
And we have to understand that selfishness is the first thing that destroys peace. Selfishness is what seizes land belonging to everybody for the benefit of a few. It is what uses laws applying to everybody so a few can get rich, and is what seizes everybody’s future to provide fortunes for a few. That is what leads to violent rebellions and leads to transgressions and crimes.
We have been learning what peace is . . . by adding up what we are missing.
Peace is potable water in every town and pure water flowing in all of our springs. There can be no peace when waters are poisoned, when forests are chopped down, and when the children are sickened by the water they drink.
Peace is a decent job for every pair of arms that want to work and for all those who have only been offered blood, violence, and crime for their salary.
Peace is beautiful towns and harmonious cities that appear to be part of the natural world.
Because the mountains, the rivers, the plains, the jungles and the oceans of Colombia are wonders of the world and we have not learned to live in them with respect, prudently making use of them and sharing them generously.
Because for a lot of big landowners, their idea of generosity has just one name: barbed wire. They have that medieval idea of owning a huge amount of land while the majority of people are stacked in miserable slums.
But peace doesn’t just demand a public that is respected and great and dignified. It also demands true leadership. And true leadership does not struggle twenty years for approval of a free trade agreement, and then when the agreement is approved they are surprised that their country lacks highways and lacks ports, with impoverished agriculture, with industry in crisis, relying only on selling the metals and minerals in its denuded soil so that the huge multinationals can exploit them however they like. Not only is generosity lacking, but also intelligence. Pride and greatness are absent.
In any country in the world, when a free trade agreement is negotiated, the first priority is what their own nationals consume and what they need. Why does it have to be a priority to put gold on the tables of others before putting food on our own tables? Today the world has rushed into an obscene carnival of consumption. But those countries that worship consumption, like the United States and Europe have at least had the prudence to first make sure that their people have clean water, decent housing, reliabale and free education, health care for all, jobs with decent salaries, an economy that makes an effort to offer quality jobs and doesn’t, as they do here, call it a job when people dig desperately through trash or beg or traffic in violence.
If we at least would be able to offer the citizens their basic needs for a decent life, it would not be so absurd for us to preach the crazy gospel of consumption, but even then we would have to think responsibly about our planet, because that indiscriminate consumption becomes a threat. We have fragile climates because we have rich and precious ecosystems that produce water and oxygen for the whole world. Colombia is a country with beautiful land and a benevolent climate. This is not Europe or the United States, where the climate demands millions of things; here we can live a simple life with marvelous landscapes; here we don’t have to take refuge in strident and unhealthy cities; the country truly is The Big Beautiful House. What is interfering with this good fortune? Violence and inequality. The greed that hovers over everything. Nature is not just a cupboard full of resources; it is the temple of all life. But a misreading of the country and a niggardly way of administering it have converted this temple of life into a house of death.
Sixty-five years ago Gaitán cried out here for peace. His enemies not only murdered him, but they also led the country into war, into violence that killed 300,000 people. The whole country entered into an orgy of blood. We lost our sense of humanity and we almost became accustomed to horror. We stopped shuddering at death. The taboo of murder was lost. Colombia became tolerant of crime, and in the last half century, it is possible that another half million people were killed because we had no peace or solidarity.
And every day that we fail to sign a peace agreement between the government and the guerrillas, there are more dead from every side, and more victims are added to the list. Because it is not just the conflict in the countryside. In the shadow of that conflict, there are wars of survival in the cities, the violence of the mafias, the crime, the family violence, the helplessness, the ignorance.
But the only thing that will stop the hand that is ready to kill is a feeling that what you are doing to a victim, you are doing to yourself. The only thing that stops that hand is compassion, and to feel compassion, you have to feel that the other person is your brother, a living miracle, ephemeral, precious, irreplaceable. If we cannot feel that, we cannot feel anything. Without that deep respect for another person, we can never feel real love for ourselves. But in order to have that deep affection for our fellow citizens, we have to be taught generosity, in generous institutions. We have to be loved. One who is not valued, respected and appreciated in childhood, how can we ask him to love others or to value and respect them?
Because of that, a society is so blind when it gives the people nothing, yet asks them to give everything in exchange for that. When it provides adversity, obstacles, and discrimination, but asks the citizens to behave as if they had been educated by Socrates or Saint Francis of Assisi. The government has become irresponsible. The citizens have lost respect for the government and the government has lost respect for the citizens. There is no country where there are so many bureaucratic formalities for any thing at all. And the one who is at a disadvantage is the one who has no money for bribes, to hasten the formalities, and to run from office to office. Frequently the government does not help to make your life easier, but rather it is a hindrance to the most basic efforts.
The prisons are full of people who never received anything, who were brought up with harsh treatment and insecurity. Society demanded of them that which it had never given.
Because in this country we demand respect only from those who have never been respected.
We have to cry out that our people are not bad people, but rather a mistreated people. And yet we are going to ask this mistreated and admirable people, although we have no right to do it, we are going to ask them to give us an example of their better nature; we are going to ask them, in exchange for a hopeful agreement with the guerrillas, to show that they are capable of forgiveness.
There is no ceremony more difficult or more necessary than the ceremony of forgiveness. But it is the people who have to forgive, not the stingy executives and not the violent guerrillas who took up arms against them. And of course we all have to take part, humbly and fraternally, in the ceremony of forgiveness if, by doing that, we can open the doors to a country that is different, more generous, that will lay down its fratricidal weapons, abandon its hatreds, and build a future that will be dignified for everyone, most of all for a future that is dignified for those whose needs have always been passed over.
For sixty-five years we have called for peace, begged for peace, and have waited for peace. Today we can no longer request it or beg for it or wait for it. If an agreement between the government and the guerrillas is achieved, we will have to build peace for everyone, peace with just laws, peace with a democracy that doesn’t play tricks, peace that is a real feeling in our hearts, peace with true generosity. And the only condition necessary to build that peace is that protests not be killed off, that peaceful resistance not be annihilated, where ideas can flourish, a peace that allows this great and patient country to be the master of itself and of its future.
The peace that we will build will be a comfort for those thousands of dead who left this earth without love, sometimes without mourners, sometimes without even a name on their graves.
Then we will know that peace is not just a word, but that peace means living together with respect; it means general prosperity, true justice, fields that are cultivated, profitable businesses, forests and jungles protected, rivers that we have to clean up and springs that we will purify.
Once again there will be deer in the savannah and wholesome fish in the river. We will save the greatest number of bird species, Mauricio Babilonia’s butterflies* will be flying and Aurelio Arturo’s horses** will make the earth shake as he wears his bronze helmet. Men and women will go fishing at night in Guillermo Cubillos’ pirogue***, and the traveler we meet in the moonlit fields will not produce fear, but joy instead.
May there be indigenous songs on the Colombian savannahs, and African lullabies on the riverbanks. May the weapons rust or be melted down and may ports and highways be built, and may ships and trains travel to Mexico and Buenos Aires. May our young people have friends all over the continent and may one industry become unnecessary and require aid to change its production: the industry that manufactures locks and bolts and padlocks and iron bars, because all people will have what they need and can trust each other.
Because peace is based on trust and on openness, instead of the disputes that require a thousand iron bars and a thousand traps and a thousand laws. Right here, all around us, we have the arms that are going to build that peace, the feet that are going to walk in peace, the brains that are going to think it through, and the lips of the people who are going to sing in without rest.
So that those who today are the enemies of peace will be thrilled to see its face.
May peace come now, and may we all deserve it.
- Mauricio Babilonia a character in the novel
- “One Hundred Years of Solitude”
- ** Refers to a famous Colombian poem
*** A popular song referring to the lonely rower of small canoes in Colombian Rivers
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