Churches Oppose Military Build-up


by Monsignor Héctor Fabio Henao, director of Social Ministries, Catholic Bishops Conference


I would like to summarize the position and activities of the Bishops Conference of Colombia regarding the conflict. I refer not only to the Catholic Church, but to all the churches of Colombia that are committed to peace. In fact, a number of churches have formed a coalition to take a common position and work on these issues. We have identified three major areas where we think we can have an impact in Colombia today. One is citizen peace-building. This means not only supporting negotiation, but organizing different groups and sectors of the population to build a new country. The second is human rights, and particularly the issue of the internally displaced, which requires the attention of both Colombians and the international community. The third area is poverty, which I will only briefly discuss....

When I come here or go to Europe, I get the sense that people see Colombia as a complete catastrophe. I think there is a big difference between the internal and external visions of Colombia. Those of us in Colombia see both the complexity and the hope in what is happening. We do not believe the war will continue indefinitely or that it=s inevitable.

Moving on to the second issue, I would like to tell you about the last time I was here, with Bishop Jaime Prieto. We met with a U.S. Senator who began by telling us he was Catholic and very open to the opinions of different people. With this in mind, we sat down to talk to the Senator. It turned out that the Senator hardly let us speak. Though he was so open and so Catholic, every time we proposed an alternative, he immediately said, ANo, that won=t work, we=ve already tried that.@ We said that maybe the peace talks would advance, and he said no, that had been tried and it failed. After an hour like this, Bishop Prieto said to the Senator, AI don=t speak English, but when I was a child I learned English songs. I only remember two words: try again.@

This is our message to the United States. You have to believe that it is possible to resolve conflicts in this world without violence. The world does not need anyone to inject war into every conflict. Instead, in these difficult situations, we need people to inject hope, build bridges, and create reconciliation....

This leads me to my next point: human rights. Three years ago, I went to Panama with four or five organizations. We went to talk about a group of Colombians who had gone there to escape bombings in the region of Chocó. The Panamanian government took a very hard line in our meetings. They claimed that the Colombians destabilized Panama because they were looking for work rather than fleeing the war.

I went to the Darien Gap to visit these people and found them working the land. They had been welcomed by the Afro-Panamanian community. At this time I realized the impact and the depth of the problem of forced displacement. With over one million people displaced, it is a humanitarian and political problem. Politically, it represents a loss of citizenship. The internally displaced feel rejected in their own country, and do not feel accepted in new communities because of their displaced status. Those who leave Colombia have no citizenship because no country recognizes them as refugees. They are told that there is not a war in Colombia, and that they could live peacefully if they move to another region of the country. No one is aware of the magnitude of the problem.

We have a combination of problems with human rights and with civil and political rights. The tremendous suffering in the communities and the political assassinations are increasing at a troubling rate. There is a great risk for those who think outside the establishment or are not allied with a traditional political party. Last year we had a higher rate of political assassinations than ever before. Civil society and the civilian population cannot make any progress if we say that we will resolve the human rights question once we have peace. Instead, human rights must be included on the agenda of current concerns in Colombia....

We need to globalize hope. For hope to be possible, it must be a reality for all of humanity, rather than confined to people in a few safe countries. Our only option is to consider ourselves part of the human family. Thank you.