EL ESPECTADOR, February 3, 2021
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
In the dialog “Let’s Tell The truth”, spokesmen and women for the victims, business owners, former FARC, the military, and the President of the Truth Commission stressed the importance of what the document can contribute to reconciliation. Still, Francisco de Roux has no doubt that it will arouse discomfort.
“Our account will not be politically correct. It will disturb political groups, the institutions, the former Presidents, as it will have to disturb everybody. There are far-reaching deeds about which Colombia cannot stay silent. It is not a truth meant to point fingers or to delegitimize anyone. It is not a truth meant to destroy institutions. On the contrary, it is a base so that our institutions can grow stronger.”
With these words, Francisco de Roux, President of the Commission for Finding Out the Truth, made clear that the report being made public by the agency he heads, in November of this year, will bring pain, pride, and discomfort, but also reconciliation and relief, principally for the victims of the conflict.
He made that point in the conference, “Let’s Tell The Truth” held yesterday by El Espectador’s Colombia 2020, allied with the Embassy of Germany in Colombia. Also taking part were Clemencia Carabalí, a social leader in northern Cauca and winner of the 2019 National Human Rights Prize; Javier Alberto Ayala, Brigadier General of the Colombian Army; Gonzalo Restrepo, business leader and a government negotiator in Havana (Cuba), and Rodrigo Londoño, President of the Commons Party.
Those invited talked about their expectations of the report and also discussed the responsibilities that had been admitted, or not, the armed groups, and the different sectors of the country that had put this account together.
Rodrigo Londoño, as a former FARC-EP commander, hopes that this report “will produce a tsunami of social conscience in this country, that it will cause all of the sectors to reflect”. And after that shake-up, that “it will be clear that we are working together for peace and reconciliation, to be able to take weapons out of politics once and for all.”
He was emphatic as to which truths he wanted to be contained in the document, such as the origin of the war, out of the dispute between liberals and conservatives, the government’s considerations about military expenditures during the conflict, the events and personages that affected the Uribe Agreement in 1984, the responsibilities for what happened at the Palace of Justice, the extermination of the Patriotic Union Party, and even the responsibilities of the insurgents in the war.
“We ought to answer to the victims for the war crimes by the FARC-EP, such as kidnapping, recruitment of children, and the cases of sexual violence. The former commanders of the Secretariat have accepted our responsibility publicly. And we will continue to do that to restore the dignity of the victims,” said the former guerrilla chieftain.
General Javier Alberto Ayala, for his part, cautioned on how important it is that the report “respect institutional legitimacy” and the vision of the Armed Forces as guarantors of human rights, liberty, and democratic practices. He also insisted that his men and women, who are continuing to fight the armed groups, be recognized as heroes that have maintained constitutional order and prevented “the armed conflict from being converted into a possible dictatorship that could have come out of the fighting.”
The military man emphasized that, since the signing of the Peace Agreement, the Armed Forces had turned over to the Truth Commission 18,000 pages of information about the serious violations of human rights committed by the illegal armed groups, and he reiterated that the Armed Forces will maintain the dialog with the Commission until its mandate is completed.
On the other hand, for Clemencia Carabalí, a victim and an Afro-Colombian leader from northern Cauca, the report must keep in mind the multicultural nature of this country, and the connection between racism and the war. “We need to have it tell who benefited economically and politically from our displacements as black people, women, boys, and girls.”
The account that we are preparing, added Carabalí, must “bring out the pain that we lived through as victims”, so that later “concrete measures of reparation are adopted that will allow us to surmount the racial inequality that the armed conflict expanded to our territories and to our bodies as women, and to our lives.”
The leader used the occasion to look for answers. She told Rodrigo Londoño that the people in ethnic groups expect them to tell the truth, as they have in the case of the politician Álvaro Gómez Hurtado. She asked him if they are equally committed to reveal the atrocious actions taken against the Afro-Colombian communities.
She mentioned to General Ayala the testimony of former paramilitary chieftain Salvatore Mancuso, who had assured that it was the Armed Forces that furnished paramilitaries with the lists of towns and Afro-Colombian leaders to be attacked. She added that paramilitarism had been government policy. “As long as we don’t get answers to that, we are only going to have headlines. Are you going to turn over the information? We need more flesh for this report,” she added.
Londoño responded that now, more than ever, they are disposed to tell the whole truth, and that the country can rely on the truth of their admissions of the crimes that they committed, without any justifications. He admitted, for the first time, that the former guerrilla chieftains were wrong when they first approached their victims. “We have learned a lot. The line between explanation of what happened and the justification of it is a very thin line, and we have learned how to talk with the victims. This experience has taught us that getting close to them is something that has to be managed in a different way.”
General Ayala insisted that the Armed Forces could not ever “accept the seriousness of her question, because, as an institution, they are the guarantors of respect for human rights. In addition, he emphasized that “all of the men and women that make up the Armed Forces deserve respect”. For Ayala, the question should be answered by those that are involved in those crimes: “Those were individual responsibilities of the individuals who at some point put aside the legal and constitutional order.” And he stressed that 2,800 men are now submitting to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP).
Gonzalo Restrepo, the business leader, insisted that, beyond the responsibilities that the fighters are admitting, there is a truth that must come first and which is irrefutable: the victims have endured atrocious events. “That’s why the transitional justice system was agreed on as the fifth point in the section on the victims. From there we are choosing to tell the truth: from those people that, without being participants, suffered through the war. And that is important, because by starting there we must begin to think about how their pain can be healed,” explained Restrepo.
And that great mass of victims, of course, is heterogeneous. The armed conflict was endured in black people’s towns, but also in the economic sector. Although Restrepo admits that there were civilian third parties that incited the war, he said that many more were victims and, in spite of that, a large percentage today are choosing to accompany the processes of re-incorporating the former guerrillas. “Now, instead of Éxito, we are buying products from them. We are dreaming of having a common trademark so that people see that those who were fighting before are now supporting a Colombian countryside that, if we don’t rescue it, there won’t be a Colombia that can exist in the future,” he said.
Fr. Francisco de Roux stressed that today the former combatants are in transitional situations and that, thanks to them, last year the country had confronted some truths that had been forbidden for years, and had met requests for forgiveness which the victims, for decades, had hoped for, like the case of Ingrid Betancourt, kidnapped by the FARC. In the report she preferred to call it “an act of life for Colombia and a call for brotherhood.” She also mentions the importance that each individual accept “your personal, social, and institutional truth, so as to leave behind the tragedy that has left us with nine million victims.”
The most important thing now, according to de Roux, is that after that recognition, society will understand that the victimizers are human beings who made mistakes, but that they can have a second chance: “The true reconciliation is the one where a society says to those that fell into violent acts: “Come, because your transformation is our transformation; we believe in the willingness that you have. Without that moral disposition, it’s difficult for Colombia to get past the conflict.”
For now, according to the President of the Commission, they want to keep moving with an alliance to mobilize a legacy for the entity, which now has almost completed its term, and which includes organizations, media, and a society that is complete. More than that, it will build a committee that will follow up on the recommendations made by the Commission to bring an end to the armed conflict.