By Julián Ríos Monroy, Colombia+20, EL ESPECTADOR, June 25, 2023
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
On June 28, it will be one year since the delivery of the Final Report of the Truth Commission, the entity presided over by Fr. Francisco de Roux. In an interview with Colombia+20, Fr. de Roux talked about the “Total Peace” that the Gustavo Petro administration is betting on, and the progress being made on the recommendations for avoiding repetition of the conflict.
By this morning when he arrived in the garden for the interview, the words of Fr. Francisco de Roux had rung out in several corners of the world. Dozens of communications media had called on him to recount the principal findings on the war in Colombia. Early on Tuesday, June 28, 2022, he led the presentation of the Truth Commission’s Final Report, whose mission it had been to scrutinize the events of the armed conflict in this country, and present a series of findings and recommendations to avoid any repetition.
This time, as the first anniversary of the presentation of the Report is nearing, de Roux answered Colombia+20’s questions in the midst of his own most hectic weeks. On Tuesday, in
México, he received an honorary doctorate from the Jesuit University system. On the next day, he traveled to the United States for a seminar on philosophy and conflict.
In two weeks, de Roux will be 80 years old, and he has dedicated more than half of his life to working for the victims. He has been out of the country for several months, but he remains up to date on what’s going on. He affirms that Colombia has not been able to “get out of the war mode”, but he has hope that the push for “total peace” by Gustavo Petro’s administration will come to fruition.
A year after the presentation of the Final Report, which are the principal advances in the implementation of the recommendations?
I think the national mobilization that the Commission team did along with the victims and many national and international allies, left the country with the conviction that serious change was necessary, and that’s why the mobilization for the truth remains alive in the country in spite of the political and institutional difficulties, the murders, and the uncertainty that you see in every time of change. That seems to be the strongest advance achieved, through the efforts of all those who, starting with the victims, adopted the slogan: “There is a future if there is truth”.
President Petro has committed himself to implementing the recommendations, but the Article on that in the Development Plan was defeated. Have you talked with him about whether he maintains that commitment?
After the decision by the Congress to remove the Article on the Recommendations, I had a few words with him on the occasion of the finalization of the liquidation of the Commission and the Delivery of the Commission’s Complete Document at the end of last May. I felt that he was as disposed as always to go forward with the Recommendations. Of all those, what’s important is carrying out the crucial matters that have to be resolved in order to put an end to the brutal armed violence against people’s lives. The concrete forms that the Commission proposes have to be discussed in democratic settings.
What has to be maintained is the policy of the government and the society to continue to respond to the seriousness of those matters which, if they are not resolved, will never allow for peace or tranquility in this country, plus the insanity of both sides in resolving them with war, which has made them worse and worse for 60 years. There can be no doubt that Colombia has many cultural, institutional, political, and economic achievements, and thousands have contributed to make that possible, but all of that has been built over a human tragedy that day by day is tearing us apart.
Some people have warned that “we are forgetting the Final Report”. What do you think about that?
The Commission no longer exists, and thus there is no governmental entity that has the authority and the funds to do the educational work and to have the enormous public presence that we had during the mobilization. That doesn’t mean that the Report has been forgotten. The educational work and explaining the findings and recommendations has been maintained, not only in Colombia but in the outside world. We members of the Commission have been witnesses to that.
The digital platform that we produced with the purposeful intention of permanence, has had more than 1.7 million visits in 11 months. That means more than 13,000 daily visits. There are more than 5,000 schools involved in teaching about the Final Report in the different high school grades. During this year, almost all the universities in the country have invited us to settings for conversation and teaching, not to mention the occasions, events, and recognition that have taken place in other countries. Notre Dame University has placed internet access in worldwide networks carrying the content of the mobilization and of the Report. The documentary background has been turned over to the JEP for administration by the National Archives, and there is an encrypted copy that is being protected by the Swiss government. There is much more to do; we need to have a permanent conversation in this country in order to be able to get to the future that we all deserve.
One of the challenges that you warned of in the Final Report is that the war is still going on. What are your concerns about the situation of conflict that the country is going through right now?
I want to call attention to the immense gain achieved in the negotiation between the government and the FARC-EP; whatever happens, that successful negotiation is unique in the world, and it has to be protected and its implementation must be carried through to the end. I am concerned that we have not been able to get out of the war mode, of internal enemies, accusations, activating hatred, conspiracies, useless battles for this side and that one, using up the time that could be spent in reaching agreements and making the changes that are necessary. Colombia chose change when, in the second round, it chose the two candidates that offered a different way. And now we are at the point of getting lost in the same sterile political rhetoric instead of starting to debate and negotiate on the big issues, and negotiating profound changes, from the perspective of a country no longer at war, without more victims, capable of containing the wealth of its differences, a country that’s thinking of its children, both for today and for tomorrow, and has the courage to reconcile.
The Gustavo Petro administration wants to seek peace with the principal armed groups and criminals in the country. How do you see this attempt to have seven months of dialogs simultaneously?
The Commission recommended a negotiated exit of all of the armed groups that are political, and conversations for submission to justice by the armed and violent drug trafficking organizations. The dimension of simultaneity is part of the process; it makes a lot of sense. It requires planning and rigor. It’s difficult because there are problems with many unforeseeable aspects that require a lot of listening to the different groups in society that see themselves affected by the diversity in the violence.
What is it that the administration can’t forget, so that this project comes out successfully?
The fact that the immense majority of this country wants change and wants to be part of the process of change; that a process of change is controversial because there are risks and fears that have to be listened to. The criticisms, even the harshest of them, don’t have to be heard as declarations of war, but rather as expressing interests that have to be attended to. It’s not necessary to relax in anything regarding changing the things that have to be changed so that a decent life and the protection of nature can be possible, but the less you look for your personal limelight, the greater the achievements are going to be, and they can come from many of those that are included, even though they aren’t in agreement with everything. Finally, the President must continue his determination to put the human pain of the victims first, as well as the pain that nature has endured.
You have been saying for years that Colombia must seek “the great big peace”. Do you identify Petro’s “total peace” with what you suggested?
Yes. The idea of “the great big peace” refers to a process that commits every individual, all the groups in society, to national reconciliation, and from there to political, economic, and social agreements. That idea includes “total peace” with all the armed groups but, beginning with a sustained national convocation of all of the citizens from all of the places. We build the future together with everybody as far as possible, or there will not be a serious and peaceful possibility for anybody.
The most advanced dialog is with the ELN. How do you see that process?
I haven’t been following the details of the process, but I have the impression that never before have we gone this far, both parties, with the ELN. That gives me hopes. But I have three concerns: that the ELN demands that structural transformation be undertaken as a condition of signing the peace; that they want as a condition for signing, the organized and constitutionally approved participation and operation in the whole society, in terms that are impossible to meet before the end of this administration’s term in office. Because that idea of direct democracy makes sense, but it requires transformations that will take much longer than three years, and third, that the people are waiting for the ELN to say that they have decided to make peace during this administration.
The ELN know that, with the exception of small groups of leaders and territorial organizations that dominate, nearly 50 million Colombians believe that everybody that’s still at war is against the Colombian people, and they see the ELN as another perpetrator of unbearable victimization. The participation of civil society in the process is very important, always preserving its intrinsic nature: independent and autonomous of the ELN and of the government.
In general, the groups that have joined “total peace” are continuing to commit crimes and do harm. What’s your opinion about that?
That it’s not true that those groups love the people of Colombia. They know that every day of war makes more distant the possibility of making the needed changes, and that every day of war increases the country’s pain. I think that, in addition to the efforts by the government, it’s indispensable for the bosses of these groups to reach a place where they can hear from credible people in the communities, and from the spiritual, ethnic, and academic leaders to set up a frank dialog pointed to Enough Already!
Eradicating the violence requires structural changes that are the banner of this administration. However, the reforms have not been easy. What’s the basis for the opposition?
I’ve spoken before about the need for the President, while he maintains the intensity of the changes, to construct a pathway to dialog and to incorporate as many as possible. I have to add that that’s the least that could be expected of the political parties at this point, but they have lacked the human magnanimity that the country demands of them, in spite of what’s at play in the lives of thousands of people and the loss of our sense of humanity. We can’t be satisfied with a tiny little peace and tiny little politics subject to short term ambitions.
If the “total peace” is successful, the country might need another Truth Commission. What lessons did your work with the Commission leave for subsequent institutions or mechanisms with similar objectives?
I think that if the peace calls for that, we will have to have the necessary commissions and institutions. I would rescue a lot of things from our Commission, like the total disposition to be at the side of the victims, and to listen to those who were responsible. I would increase the dialog with those who made the decisions in the country, and deepen the presence of academia; I would give more presence to the spiritual dimension, because I believe there is a crisis among us in the sense of how to be human, and I would take much more care of the team of people that are part of the Commission and are subjected to emotional tensions and immense risks. Of course I hope that the JEP (Special Jurisdiction for Peace) continues with restorative justice and the Unit for the Search of Disappeared Persons, with the transformations that may be necessary.
You left the country after delivering the Report. What have you been doing since then?
Keeping on working from my place as a Jesuit, from the Catholic Church and as a citizen of a pluralistic society, for the country’s reconciliation.
In 2022, during the last months of your work, the Commission was hit with a series of attacks delegitimizing its work and its Final Report. A year later, how do you see the effect of that?
I see solid criticisms and reflective analysis by people who have studied the documents thoroughly as very important. The Commission established a platform, a new, well-founded point of departure to make progress in the conversation and arrive democratically at serious solutions, but in seeking the truth, there is never a last word. The Final Report inevitably is controversial because it touches many interests and is prepared with the objective of finding the truth for the victims, not with the concern for satisfying the expectations of groups, institutions, or parties. I won’t respond to the criticism by political parties in a campaign, because we are not campaigning. We welcome deliberation and controversy with enthusiasm, but always with rigor, knowing that the versions and the narratives alone are not the whole truth.
Reconciliation continues to be a challenge in this country. Can it be achieved?
Yes. And it’s possible if we take the risk of having confidence, each with the other, and place our vision on the right of the children to live in peace, on the right of future generations to have the Colombia we dream of, that we ourselves will never see.
What is your message to the victims who keep on enduring the conflicts in the countryside, and to the country in general?
To the victims, that they don’t lose hope and that they understand that their clamor for justice and their pain have a moral authority that nobody else has in Colombia to demand an end to the wars and the violence. Therefore, don’t restrict the point of your cause to obtaining the individual vindication you justly deserve, but rather, include everything that has moral significance, so that all of us will be able to change. We are grateful for the generosity you have shown in the search for peace and the enormous contributions you are making every day to build a future that is reconciled. We thank the country that we need not be afraid to participate positively, creatively, critically, but convinced that it’s possible to construct a country at peace, and that that shares the unavoidable changes.