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COLOMBIA: “The change towards just peace has become an even bigger challenge”
Paolo Moiola
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Interview with Father Antonio Bonanomi — Part II

The second part of the interview with Father Antonio Bonanomi, conducted by Latinamerica Press collaborator Paolo Moiola, on the past and future that has opened up following the signing of the Peace Agreement this past Aug. 24 and the unexpected victory of the NO vote in the plebiscite held on Oct. 2, addresses the need to implement psychological and work to be done for the victims and to respect what was signed in the final text of the Peace Agreement, which recognizes the rights and needs of the indigenous peoples.

Father Bonanomi lived in Colombia for almost 36 years, from January 1979 until June 2014. Between January 1988 and June 2007 he lived in Toribío, north of Cauca, where he worked as coordinator for the missionary team made up by the Consolata Missionaries congregation, Missionary Sisters of Mother Laura and laypersons.  He left Cauca and Colombia in 2014 due to health reasons, but he still accompanies the path of the indigenous communities from North of Cauca through social networks.

After 52 years of internal conflict, Colombians are finally talking about peace. However, the economic and social causes that led to a war are still present: concentration of the land, inequalities, lack of health and education, just to name a few of the main ones. Don’t you think that, without a concrete solution to this problematic, peace, any peace will not be effective?
It is very true that the causes of the armed conflict that have accompanied Colombia throughout its history, not only for the past 52 years, are still present; but it is also true that the representatives of the national government and the FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia], who worked in Cuba to seal the accord, have examined in depth the causes that brought on the conflict and have tried to propose solutions. A long and arduous work period must have been opened to implement the reforms included in the agreement. Nowadays, in a more polarized Colombia after the vote, the road to a just peace has become an ever bigger challenge.

How can thousands of people who have been guerrilla fighters for many years be reintegrated into society, civilian life, politics? The history of Colombia already shows two failed attempts: the leftist Unión Patriótica (UP-Patriotic Union), founded in 1985 and whose members were exterminated in a few short years, and the paramilitary members of the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC-United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia) who went on to join the ranks of organized crime.
The problem is real. During the years I lived in Toribío I saw the hardships of those who decided to abandon the guerrillas and return to the path of family and community life and at the same time I saw the difficulty of the families and the communities to take them back. It was clear that a climate of estrangement existed in both sides. Even if the YES vote had won, reinsertion would not have been easy because the conflict has left a legacy of hate, resentment and desire for revenge. Now, with the win of the NO vote, this will be even more difficult. It is necessary to follow a two-way road: a patient psychological and spiritual work for the conversion of the mind and heart, and a process of training and preparation for the concrete work.

The numbers of victims are impressive. What can anyone say to someone who has lost a member of his family or to a displaced person?
Although we consider that the armed conflict has ended, its consequences still exist: thousands killed and wounded, disappeared and displaced. It is an open wound in the national collective memory and a sea of pain in the heart of many. Some measures are established in the fifth point of the agreement to deal with this situation. Psychological and spiritual action will be required to treat these wounds. As well as words of consolation, we need concrete actions to help the people see and build the future with hope.

You talk about work in the psychological and spiritual areas. Do you have a specific example in mind?
The most famous example is that of the Schools of Forgiveness and Reconciliation, founded by Father Leonel Narváez Gómez, a missionary of the Consolata with specializations in England and the United States. At a local level I can also think of the psychological clinic that another missionary of the Consolata, Father Renzo Marcolongo, opened in San Vicente del Caguán [in the southern department of Caquetá, where the unsuccessful peace process with the FARC took place between 1998 and 2002 during the government of former President Andrés Pastrana].

You lived for almost 20 years with the Nasa indigenous people. What have these 52 years of conflict meant for the indigenous peoples of Colombia?
From the very beginning, the FARC established itself in indigenous territories, whether in the cordillera or in the rainforest. Usually, the relationship between them was ambiguous. On one hand there was certain harmony because the indigenous people and the FARC were fighting for land and against the state and the national government. On the other hand, existed certain rivalry because the indigenous peoples considered themselves as sole legitimate owners of their territory and demanded respect for their culture.

The indigenous peoples in general have accepted the guerrilla as an ally, but not as their superiors. This is precisely why in the 80s, in the north of Cauca, the Nasa indigenous people opened their doors to M-19 [April 19 Movement, dissolved in 1990) and created their own guerrilla group, the Quintín Lame [dissolved in 1991], against the FARC, because they wanted to appropriate the land and they didn’t respect the indigenous culture.

That is the point, father Bonanomi, the indigenous culture and the guerrilla culture are far apart one from the other.
This is true. There has always been a strong discrepancy between the Marxist and materialistic culture of the FARC and the spiritual culture of the indigenous peoples; between the struggle for power of the FARC and the fight for autonomy of the indigenous populations.

When the negotiations were started in 2012 [between the Colombian government and the FARC] in Cuba, many indigenous leaders expressed their doubts and concerns regarding the agreement and asked for their voices to be heard. Luckily, the final text of the agreement recognized the rights and needs of the ethnical minorities, hence, the rights of the indigenous peoples. This led their organizations and authorities to promote the YES vote in the plebiscite on Oct. 2.

I believe that the agreement, if it is finally applied, would be an opportunity for the indigenous peoples of Colombia in their long struggle for territorial, socio-economical, political and cultural autonomy.

On Nov. 12, the government of President Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC signed a new agreement; what is your opinion on this?
I have just read the news of the signing of the new “Agreements of hope”. It pleases me very much that this new agreement was signed. I have not read it yet so I cannot give you my opinion, but for what I know, I believe that the substance of the first agreement has not changed, although this new agreement accepts some changes proposed by those of the NO camp. Going beyond the first and second agreement, what interests me the most and pleases me is that the “peace process” is underway, and there is no turning back now. It is now important at the national and international level to show support for the peace process and the educational process of the consciences towards pardon, reconciliation and inclusion. —Latinamerica Press


Father Antonio Bonanomi/Paolo Moiola
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