By Gloria Castrillón Pulido, COLOMBIA+20, EL ESPECTADOR,
September 10, 2022
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
Fr. Francisco de Roux, who was the President of the Truth Commission, says they missed obtaining a better understanding of big business and the military. He speaks of how the Duque administration’s lack of confidence affected the Commission’s work.
The Jesuit priest, Francisco de Roux, says that a great weight was lifted from him on the day he was no longer a member of the Truth Commission. He feels free now and, although he never stopped saying mass, or serving the sacraments, or meditating, or jogging nearly five kilometers a day, he has more time to think about how he can contribute to reconciliation in this country. He doesn’t want to give any more interviews to the media and is thinking about a future in the United States, where two universities have invited him to dedicate himself to teaching. This is a critical look at the Final Report that was submitted on June 28.
How are you feeling now that you are no longer a Commissioner?
I am pleased with the results. It’s not perfect, but it was done with all my heart, with the greatest possible seriousness. I admire the quality of my companions on the Commission, and of the people we were working with. I was struck by the victims on every side, and by the nobility there is in Colombians in dealing with all of the pain, the questions, and the difficulties. I was also struck by those responsible who had the courage and the nobility to accept their responsibilities. They are confident that there is a future. We wanted to give the country the hope and the conviction that Colombia is capable of gathering up its truth and building from that an alternative of reconciliation. I hope that all of us understand that even though we inflicted pain on others, it’s possible to admit that and build together.
How did the country receive the Report?
The majority of the messages we received are messages of gratitude, of approval, of hope. We also received criticisms, some very valuable because they are meticulous, academics or social leaders pointing out what could be improved, what’s lacking, or what could be re-stated. We also received very strong political adversity that on some occasions sought to destroy an individual. In general, the reception has been positive.
What criticism did you consider appropriate?
I would like to have had a deeper conversation with the business world, and to have been able to create an atmosphere of confidence. We didn’t achieve what we had been hoping for. Some of them are afraid of generalizations, that it would affect their reputation, and thus affect their businesses. They had the idea that what we were doing was the work of the left, questioning capitalism and questioning the economic model, and believing that we had a critical view that didn’t understand their efforts to create employment, to advance the country. They thought our side had limited understanding of business culture, of the things that are important in business, and of the risks they were running during the difficulties, the internal armed conflict.
There was criticism of the backgrounds of the people that made up the Commission, of their being from the left, and that generated mistrust. Do you think diversity was lacking?
We had the team they gave us; we didn’t create it. It was established by the Selection Committee, which was absolutely independent of the government and of the FARC. None of us were militants of any political party, neither of the left or the right. If we had a very clear characteristic, it was a great sensitivity toward the wounds of Colombia, for the suffering of the victims. We had a former member of the Armed Forces. It was not easy for him to be with us, and it wasn’t easy for us to be with him. I would have preferred for him to stay with us until the end, but he resigned five or six weeks before the end of the Commission’s term, and that’s why we weren’t able to find another person to replace him.
What’s your view of the work done by Major Carlos Ospina and his resignation from the Commission?
Major Ospina, from the beginning, had the idea that we were a leftist group and that we wanted to develop a narrative opposing the government and against the Colombian Army and, frankly, he wasn’t able to depart from that position or join into the group’s discussions. We approved a methodology that he voted for, and we defined which were the documents that would make up the volumes of the Final Report, and how we would work collectively. He had a team, paid by the Commission, to help him work. He would have made a significant contribution, but, except for three things that were considered and several critical memoranda, instead of reading the texts that we were working on and preparing memos for the discussion, and taking part in the debates, he started writing other volumes in disagreement, which had not been approved for the Final Report. One day he came and asked that the things he had done on his own and had not been discussed by the full Commission be one of the volumes of the Final Report and that the Commission had to publish it. That was contrary to what we had agreed upon and we had to tell that those volumes could not be part of the Report. They do remain as part of the Commission’s archives.
Were you able to talk with him before he left?
Yes, of course. Right here in this room (in the Jesuits’ residence) we were conversing; he came and brought me his letter of resignation, and I asked him not to resign; I said it every which way. The Commissioners were actually annoyed by the effort I made to keep him on, because he acted outside of our internal systems and on some occasions in opposition to the group. The conversation was very calm. He expressed the objections that he had. I answered that we could not publish those documents as part of the Final Report, because they had not been analyzed or discussed by the full Commission. He received that very calmly; he insisted on his irrevocable resignation and said good-bye. At that time, he had already taped an interview that was critical of the Commission, and it had been issued five minutes after his departure from our conversation. I’ll be frank, his pain for the military victims during the conflict is an honest pain. And he came to the Commission to work for the military victims and sometimes, in moments of reflection, he brought conceptual elements of the Army’s understanding and of his way of seeing the government that were important for us.
Some people think Major Ospina was used by a political sector and by some retired military to attack the Commission . . .
I don’t want to get into that. But I can tell you that we on the Commission did not consider ourselves representatives of any group. I think that he never stopped thinking that he was there as a representative of the Armed Forces. And that, of course, complicated things. All of the Commissioners were there to search for the truth of the victims on every side, and no one was representing any group in society or any governmental institution. He contributed useful elements that were considered, but he didn’t read the documents that we had approved for the Report.
What did it mean to work during an administration that was opposed to the Agreement, to the Commission, and to you?
We were working in an administration that felt very uncomfortable with our task. I must say that President Iván Duque respected us and respected the public funds and the cooperation of those that were assigned to work with us, but he didn’t trust us. Their initial criticisms of the whole system and particularly of the JEP, the insecurity demonstrated by the killing of social leaders and former FARC combatants, the absence of a leadership that could make the country come together for a more complete advance of the peace, all of that made us think that even though we were a government institution, the leaders of the government were not with us.
Did that affect your work?
Obviously, if we had had a President who at least once had spoken well of the Truth Commission and had invited the country to accept and support what we were doing, and if the Ministers had created some enthusiasm for the task, we very definitely would have been able to do much more. If there had been created an outlook of confidence with the Armed Forces, everything would have been different. But we did the work in spite of all of that, and with the great support of the international community, which protected what we were doing.
President Duque turned over some documents that, according to him, contained the truth. How did that happen?
One of the evidences of his mistrust of us was the solemn act in which the President of the Republic gave us the book of contributions to the truth by the military, so that it could be incorporated into the report. We read it and the text is cited several times in the Final Report. When the President spoke to me, in front of all the public, he told me, “Father, you know that there is only one truth and I am giving it to you here.” All of the people that had been invited and the military command staff rose to their feet to applaud. I remained seated, along with Eduardo Cifuentes, President of the JEP, because I don’t agree that there is only one truth, and still less that it’s the government’s truth. What we produced is not a final truth; it’s a document that contains some very serious truths that we offer for discussion so that they enrich us, that are complementary, and to be corrected if there are facts and other interpretations that explain it better.
What do you think of the documents that the military provided to the Commission?
I want to give them thanks for that contribution. Additions like the Génesis Report, that collects the public knowledge that the Armed Forces have about the FARC, and which General Mejía gave us when he was Commanding General of the Armed Forces, were very useful. The other documents are analyses made for the purpose of protecting the legitimacy of the government’s security forces, and that’s understandable, but it’s problematic when the task is seeking the truth. There is room for an apologetic version, for defense of an institution that is important for the creation of a sense of belonging and identity for the soldier, and that would support the unity and corporate loyalty and enthusiasm for the cause. But that has no place in a disinterested historical analysis where what matters is the truth of the events, even though that may be uncomfortable for the institution itself. You don’t construct the truth. You construct the method, but you always have to seek the truth.
What things could have been done better?
Although we had three years and seven months of work, every time we went more deeply into an area, we realized that there were more things to learn. And so—in the midst of the Covid emergency—we received from the Constitutional Court the possibility of concluding the report once the political campaign was over, which was very important. I would have liked to have a stronger contrast, so that the conversation with other points of view could have been more extensive. I mean that there was a huge effort, we compared more than a thousand documents, there were more than 50 events of recognition where those responsible admitted the truth of the evil they had caused the victims, but if we only had had more time for more comparisons, with the social organizations and victims’ organizations, with the academic world. We also needed to listen to business owners, politicians, bureaucrats, and the military that were responsible. We had limitations and we weren’t like the JEP that has the power to summon people to appear. We could only make a voluntary invitation to those that wanted to come and so a lot of people were left out. Fortunately, we were able to have all of the living ex-Presidents. However, I insist that our effort was intense to incorporate everything possible of the great accumulation that there is in Colombia about knowledge of the violence.
You are a person that knows this country very well; you have been close to all of the armed groups, so it would not have been easy to surprise you. What surprised you?
I was surprised, in the first place, by the magnitude of the crime of the false positives, and the immeasurable pain of the mothers and other members of the families of the young people that were deceived and murdered. I was surprised to the maximum to learn of the government’s serious responsibility for this crime against humanity, murders perpetrated by several thousand armed public officials, supposedly responsible for protecting the lives of all Colombians, and that they acted in complicity with prosecutors and police. In my view this, besides putting in plain view the indignant question of the mothers and fathers, “Who gave the order?”, which points to the heart of the government, it evidences an intense moral and corporate corruption that is inexplicable, and also devastating for the honorable people who serve in the Colombian Army.
I was surprised at the multitude of boys and girls brought into the war by the guerrillas and the paramilitaries, and I couldn’t have imagined that the numbers and the manipulations and the violations could have been of such proportions. I was surprised by the accounts of the humiliating treatment received by the tens of thousands of kidnap victims. I was surprised at the courage of the multitude, above all the women, who are searching for the more than 120,000 people that have disappeared. I was surprised at the quandaries of the soldiers and police with neither arms nor legs, because of land mines, and the petitions of the widows of the soldiers that were taken away to the jungle by the guerrillas and never returned. I was surprised by the disdain that we as a society have shown to the groups of ethnic people, indigenous, Afro-Colombians, Raizal people from the archipelago, and the Roma, and how, by doing that, we have destroyed our own human values. And I was surprised to find, nevertheless, the organizations of victims and survivors, in popular groups and groups of young people, campesino memory associations, church communities and teachers’ groups, in reservation and Afro-Colombian communities, including women’s and LGTBI groups, their decision to keep fighting for the future and for the peace.
I was surprised to find how the paramilitaries were not just simply the Castaño brothers going out to kill people to try to legitimize the way they were battling subversion, but also the network in which there were politicians, some business owners, military, police, drug traffickers. I was surprised at the magnitude of the drug trafficking presence in this country. The number of politicians that received money from drug trafficking. I was surprised by the generous attitude of many victims who, far from demanding vengeance, asked that their pain not be repeated. I was surprised by the courage of the legless soldiers that are now professionals and talking about peace. I was surprised that the former FARC combatants were advancing with sincerity and deciding to admit in the victims’ presence and in public the errors and the crimes they were responsible for in the war, and by their determination to continue in peace in spite of all the obstacles. I was surprised at the contrition and transparency with which high ranking Army officers admitted the false positive murders to the families and on television. And I was surprised to find myself among people who denied everything and absolutely refused to admit anything.
Finally, I was surprised at myself and all of us Colombians, our lack of awareness of what was happening to us—of course with the exception of those who never stopped resisting—but I couldn’t avoid the question that was growing in me about where we all were in that immense human tragedy. Why did we allow this? Wasn’t it our own dignity that was being torn to shreds?
What are you going to do after all this? How do you see the Report in ten years’ time?
I want to dedicate myself to reconciliation in this country. That is what’s most important to me. But that has to start with the truth. I’m convinced that it’s not possible without the truth. My great interest, I confess, is that we understand that the tragedy we lived through is part of our identity. That we embed our pain and our responsibility with the victims of our history. That the children and the young people know about it. We are those ten million victims who died and those that survived with the emotional and physical wounds of that absurd war, just as we are also a beautifully intercultural, interethnic, ecologically rich and very creative and capable country. A country that definitely wants to get out of the “war mode”, that never again wants to think about internal enemies or to take up arms because of politics. A country that has to get out of the drug traffic in ways that are effective, but are not war, a country that goes back and recovers the lives of the campesinos, and that works from the countryside for inclusion and equity, and the protection of our rivers and jungles.
This is a time of total peace, of regional dialogs. Are you going to go along with those searches?
Yes, I see myself doing that, so as to contribute from the place where I am now. And I will do it by talking about the Report we produced. In the dialog and in the search. At the beginning, in the Commission, we thought that what would happen to our Report would be what has happened to a lot of other reports of Truth Commissions, that there would be some rejection, as we saw in the previous administration and around here, and then in ten years they would take it out and tell us we were right. But the reverse happened; the Report was released, and the level of acceptance vastly exceeded our expectations. And President Petro has said that he would see that the recommendations we made after listening to the cries of the victims are complied with “to the letter”. And I think that if things go in the direction that this administration is outlining, and the next administrations progress in that direction, and above all if the young people make progress, we will go forward. Let’s build on the riches of our differences, and on an ethic of respect for the equal dignity of everybody in this country. That’s what Colombia’s children deserve.