Rafael Rincón Patiño, Executive Secretary and member of the Coordinating Committee of the Civil Society Permanent Assembly for Peace, and co-founder of the Red Nacional de Paz (REDEPAZ), spoke of the movement to build a single, united Colombia through citizen initiative. It is inspiring to see the way in which the anti-war movement is also moving ahead outside of Colombia, through the involvement of world citizens. On October 26, 1996, one child went to a public school at 8:00 a.m. to vote against war. This was the first of 2,600,000 votes against war a childrens mandate for peace and in favor of human rights and a negotiated political solution to the conflict. One year later, 10 million people stepped forward in a citizens mandate -- to vote and be counted as peace-builders and to condemn violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. There is immense pressure on President Pastrana from civil society to make progress towards a negotiated political solution. After seven years of struggle, it was a victory to see the FARC at the negotiating table. Hundreds of organizations have joined in diverse efforts, forming a national network for peace, affirming that Colombia is a viable country. This takes place in a context of grave human rights violations, with 7 kidnappings daily, and 7 families displaced every hour. Five agreements have been reached, which require a permanent politics of peace not just by the government, but as everyones effort. This movement involves all elements and all regions of the nation and requires a great act of will, and a commitment to life itself to make sacred the right to life. Specific movements or activities include active neutrality, Peace Communities, the Womens March for Peace, Peace Week, the Marches on the theme of No More and For Life. There have been some important strides forward after 7 years, such as the initiation of negotiations within the war, within the barbarism. There is a humanitarian agreement, which seeks to implement practices of respect for the non-combatant population. Some military officers involved in human rights violations have been forced to retire. There have been some efforts in the direction of military reform. The National Police has taken steps to reform its organizational culture; the army could do the same, seeking a more positive relationship with the community. The peace movement requires the involvement of citizens; it cannot be accomplished with only the involvement of the guerillas and the government. Civil society does not want the guerillas to be the only party to define the kind of country that we want. What is needed is a serious policy of respect for human rights, not simply a diplomacy aimed at improving the image of the government. The ties between the military and the paramilitaries must be broken. Unfortunately, the Plan Colombia eliminates the personeros locales (local ombudsmen), which is a mistake; they should instead be strengthened. There should be a strengthening of the Office of the Public Prosecutor (Fiscalía), the Procuraduría, and other agencies in the justice system; but unfortunately the opposite is occurring.
Rafael Rincón stated that the position of the U.S. should be to recognize the political nature of the confrontation, avoiding involvements that will result in prolonging the war. If the US offers excessive military aid it may well result in a change in public opinion, resurrecting the image of military victory, an illusion that has been discarded by civil society. Another element of US policy should be reducing the demand for drugs, along with a commitment to support Colombia as a viable democracy. In solidarity with Colombian civil society, people in the US and around the world can join in the march on October 24, sharing in a vision of a negotiated end to the conflict. In this way we as civil society can be peacemakers not just the government.
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