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“For a more human, more just, more open to minorities and thus more inclusive country”
Paolo Moiola
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Interview with Father Antonio Bonanomi - Part I

The south-western department of Cauca has been an important theatre of war where guerrilla groups, the National Army and indigenous populations have confronted each other. The northern region of Cauca is a strategic location to have communication between the south and north regions of the country, and also for its proximity to the city of Cali. From the very beginning of the armed conflict in 1964, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) settled in this territory by establishing the “Sixth Front.” Other armed groups arrived afterwards, such as the M-19 (April 19th Movement, disbanded in1990), the Quintín Lame (disbanded in 1991) and the PRT (Colombian Workers’ Revolutionary Party, disbanded in 1991). The National Police and the Army arrived in response to this situation and thus the area gradually became one of the principal scenarios of war that brought serious consequences to the civilian population, 95 percent made up by people belonging to the Nasa indigenous peoples.

Father Antonio Bonanomi lived in Toribío, located in the north of Cauca, between January 1988 and June 2007, where he worked as coordinator for the missionary team made up by the Consolata Missionaries, Missionary Sisters of Mother Laura and local laypersons. He left Cauca and Colombia due to health reasons but he still accompanies the path of the indigenous communities from north of Cauca through social media.

Paolo Moiola, Latinamerica Press collaborator, talked with Father Bonanomi about the past and about the future that has opened up after the signing of the Peace Agreement on Aug. 24 and the unexpected NO vote on Oct. 2.

In the plebiscite, a small majority of Colombians — a little over 6 million of the 13 million voters that went out to vote — said NO to the agreements signed between the government of President Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC. Why this outcome and what happens next?
The voting shows a country that is strongly divided, with a majority (66 percent) that did not vote. Former President Álvaro Uribe Vélez (2002-2010) won over current President Santos. After the results of the referendum were announced, everyone, winners and losers, stated that they wanted peace. With a substantial difference: the winners said that they wanted peace without the agreement that had been signed.

On one hand, one can understand that there are different reasons for the NO to the agreement: some have said NO for economic reasons, as they feel that their interests would be affected; others for political reasons, the fear to lose some of their power; others have also said NO for religious reasons, because they thought that the agreement would open the door to a group of communists, atheists and who favor the civil rights of those with “different” orientations.

The victory of the NO vote is that of a project for a country, culturally neoconservative, economically and politically neoliberal.

It is not easy to say what will happen now. With the vote on Oct. 2, a historical moment that could have marked the birth of a new Colombia has turned into a dramatic moment with a clash between two different projects for the country.

However, it is important to accept the challenge and keep working tirelessly and without losing hope of a new idea for the country: a more human, more just, more open to minorities and thus more inclusive country.

According to international reports and information of the big media, since the 1990s the FARC has undergone a transformation from a guerrilla organization (or terrorist, depending on the interpretations) to a drug cartel that takes in millions of dollars. Is this representation close to reality, or has it been exaggerated for political reasons?
I have often had the occasion to talk about this issue with some of those people responsible for the “Sixth Front,” and they have explained to me that in the mid 80s, the main guerrilla groups, the FARC and the ELN [National Liberation Army] thought that it was then the time for the final fight for the victory of the revolution, and to do this, they needed more armed personnel. To achieve this, and in order to have the largest number of combatants, they took the decision to open the doors to all of those who decided to join them. This decision entailed an increase of the economic costs required to arm and finance the new recruits. That is the reason why they turned to kidnappings and drug trafficking.

So, the guerrilla also became a role player in drug trafficking?
Let me explain myself. Normally, the FARC used to limit their actions to imposing taxes on the production and sale of drugs, taking advantage of the fact that these crops had been mainly planted in areas under their control. Thus, the FARC were not producers or marketers of drugs (cocaine, marihuana, poppy). In fact, when they were able to, they forced the farmers use part of their lands to food production.

It seems that, in some cases, there have also been some groups of the FARC that turned to drug trafficking, thus creating de facto a drug cartel. According to what I have been told by persons of the Sixth Front, the decision to enlist all of those who came forward, and the following decision to enter the world of drug trafficking was the apple of discontent within the movement, as these two decisions had created a climate of mutual distrust and the temptation for corruption.

Lastly, we have to point out that in Colombia, in the last 30 or 40 years, all of those persons with power — political, economic, military, judicial and in some cases even religious — they have enjoyed the benefits or drug trafficking. In summary, only a few can cast the first stone.

What has been the role of the Colombian Catholic Church in the dialog between the parties in the conflict?
It is not easy to discuss the Colombian Catholic Church as it is a very broad and complex reality. There were prophetic voices and gestures, but the hierarchy and the catholic population in their majority took conservative positions and in opposition to change. Some of the more important figures, in this regard, are Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, Dario Castrillón and the current Archbishop of Bogotá, Cardinal Rubén Salazar Gómez. In general, this is about agreeing with those who hold power and to reject any proposal for change, to the point that many included the Catholic Church among those responsible for the violence in Colombia.

This situation caused many Catholics to support the NO vote, not because they opposed the agreement in itself, but because they oppose the proposed change, particularly the cultural change, resulting from the agreement.

What the vote has highlighted is that in Colombia, most people, for various reasons, are not willing to forgive and reconcile. In that sense, I think the contribution of Monsignor Luis Augusto Castro — who as president of the Catholic Conference of Bishops could not declare in favor to the YES vote due to the opposition of many bishops to this option — has been to promote an educational process, or a pedagogy of peace, to educate Colombians in forgiveness, inclusion and reconciliation. —Latinamerica Press.


Father Antonio Bonanomi/ Paolo Moiola
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