By Santiago Torrado, EL PAIS.COM/America-Colombia, May 10, 2022
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
The former President of the Constituent Assembly, a survivor who has lived in the bush, in prison, and in exile, reflects on the situation in Colombia.
Antonio Navarro Wolff (Pasto, 73 years old) was one of the three Presidents of the National Constituent Assembly that drafted the celebrated political document that has ruled Colombia for more than 30 years now, the only one of the three that’s still alive. Besides the Conservative Álvaro Gómez and the Liberal Horacio Serpa, Navarro represented the Democratic Alliance M-19, the movement that came out of the guerrillas and that ended up laying down its arms and then was on the list that received the most votes. For a while, its voice stammered, because after he was attacked with a grenade, they amputated a leg and a piece of shrapnel damaged his speech. In the middle of this interview, his prosthesis started to make clicking sounds—tick, tick, tick—to underscore the value of forgiveness in his own skin, “the effects of which are extraordinarily healing,” in a country that is seeking reconciliation. He knew the bush, prison, and exile. A sanitary engineer, Minister of Health, Member of Congress, Mayor of Pasto, and Governor of Nariño Department; he’s been just about everything in Colombian politics. At present he is Co-President of the Green Alliance Party.
Before the Constitution, Navarro had signed what he describes with pride as the first peace agreement in contemporary Latin America, along with Carlos Pizarro Leongómez, the most recent commander of the M-19. He persisted in his efforts in spite of the assassination of Pizarro, then a candidate for President, shot to death in a plane that was flying between Bogotá and Barranquilla in April of 1990, just a month and a half after demobilizing. The eme, as the organization was called, also had in its ranks a youngGustavo Petro, now the favorite in the polling for the Presidential election on May 29.
P. How would you define the time that Colombia is passing through?
R. It’s an election time where we could get a government such as we have never had in this country. We are sensing the possibility of an important change. Without mentioning names, the polls show that, to put it in a single word, the people want change.
P. What is the change that the country needs?
R. First of all, Colombia has incredibly high inequality; we have to diminish the inequality. Our economic growth is insufficient. Corruption is a pretty much generalized problem in our public life, and we have to leave that behind also. Politics have to be improved; we have to have proposals and ideas, and not the politics of favoritism and patronage. We also need to improve security; we have to preserve lives and consolidate a peace process. We haven’t achieved total peace in this country yet, and Colombia has deserved that for so many years.
P. There is enormous social discontent, especially among young people, and that has been manifested in the protests of recent years. Does the 1991 Constitution have any answers for this discontent?
R. The Constitution is a good framework, it’s modern, advanced, egalitarian. But if it isn’t converted into specific laws, organization for those laws, and functioning by the government, it just remains a general framework. The Constitution is a good one, we shouldn’t change it, we have to apply it in a progressive and democratic manner.
P. You have said that you had agreed with Carlos Pizarro that, if either one of you would be assassinated, the other would go back into the bush. Why didn’t you do that?
R. We talked about that before what happened; they killed Carlos Pizarro 32 years ago. I didn’t do it because the people wouldn’t let us; they surrounded us, hugged us, told us to stay here, we need you, we love you, we appreciate you, we support you. And that was reflected afterwards in the election of the National Constituent Assembly. The M-19 Democratic Alliance, which was our Party at that time, obtained 27% of the seats, something unprecedented for a collegial body. It has never been repeated. I told Pizarro then, from my heart, “I won’t be able to keep my word, because Colombia won’t let us.”
P. Is the Constitution of 1991 the background for the Peace Agreement?
R. It was the consolidation of a peace agreement, the framework in which we could get back to reality. It served not only the M-19, who had already signed the peace, but also the EPL, the PRT, the Quintín Lame. It also served as a point of reference for other guerrilla groups like the FARC, who signed an agreement several years later, and it continues to be a reference point for everything that’s needed for a society that’s more just, more civilized, and more decent.
P. What has been the legacy of the AD M-19?
R. First their role in the Constituent Assembly, which was extremely important. It showed that signing the peace gave opportunities to get votes. And well, today one of the favorite candidates was a member of the Democratic Alliance M-19, that’s Gustavo Petro. It showed that peace was worth the trouble.
P. What is it about his experience in the M-19 that you see in the Petro of today, the one that’s campaigning for President?
R. I see a lot of intention to change this society, to work for equality. There is a new and extremely important element, and that’s the environment; we are confronting climate change, and that is something that’s also contained in the Constitution and its development. Many of the things that are being proposed now are not just Petro, but also the alternative sectors in this country. They have to do with ideas for change that came from 1991.
P. Do you see Carlos Pizarro’s ideas in Gustavo Petro?
R. I see the ideas of the Democratic Alliance M-19 in Gustavo Petro, but I also see the finer points in other Presidential candidates. He isn’t the only one who has alternatives for change in Colombia. Sergio Fajardo also has some.
P. Fajardo was the candidate for Vice President with Antanas Mockus in the green wave in 2010. In the current campaign, the Green Alliance Party has been much more ambiguous about what it supports. Which of these coalitions is the closest?
R. The Green Alliance Party decided to give its members free rein to choose a Presidential candidate. And now they have three candidates: Gustavo Petro, Sergio Fajardo, and a minority with Rodolfo Hernández, the former Mayor of Bucaramanga. And the free rein in the Green Alliance Party is so great that it’s going with a candidate that wants continuity, more of the same. No. Free rein only among candidates that represent a change.
P. Are you referring to Federico Gutiérrez? His candidate for Vice President, Rodrigo Lara, was part of the Greens.
R. I’m talking about the fact that we aren’t authorized to vote for Fico Gutiérrez; he can’t be a candidate supported by the Green Alliance Party, we’re against him. He’s one more version of the same ones that have governed us.
P. Some members of the Liberal Party have supported Fajardo outside of Liberal Party authority. Would you support Fajardo outside of the position of Greens officials?
R. As I am the Co-President of the Party, I want to maintain a neutral position on the freedom that everybody has to decide whom to support of the three, either Petro, or Fajardo, or Hernández, nobody else.
P. The center and the left are competing in this election. Do you think an alliance with the alternative forces is viable?
R. We hope that in the second round we will all converge on what’s happening. If Petro and Fajardo get through, it would be certain that there would be an alternative administration and there could be an option to vote for the one or for the other; but if it ends up being one that’s alternative and one that’s traditional, I’m sure that we would all unite behind the alternative one.
P. Can this election mark the end of Uribism as a dominant force in Colombian politics for the last 20 years?
R. May God hear you.
P. “Today and a thousand times, whatever it takes, we beg the forgiveness of all the families who lost their lives, or who will never see their loved ones again after those fatal days,” you have written about the attack on the Palace of Justice, although you had no part in that operation, because you were recuperating in Cuba. How can forgiveness and reconciliation be built in Colombia?
R. You have to understand that peace is necessary, but it isn’t enough. We need to beg forgiveness, give forgiveness, and thus, reconcile. The society has to leave behind the very long period in which we have had violence in Colombia. I myself, look—tick, tick, tick—have a prosthesis. I was attacked in 1985, and I’ve already forgiven the people that threw that grenade at me.
P. In spite of that attack, in spite of Pizarro’s assassination, you persisted with the agreement that was signed.
R. Of course, the only way to change the society is changing yourself as a person, and trying to be accepted as an agent for change in the new society that we want to build.