Colombians celebrate historic peace accord

Sep 19, 2016 by and

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BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Angélica Rincón could not stop smiling. All around her, crowds cheered and waved signs, banners and Colombian flags. Rin­cón — like others who have worked with Mennonite Central Committee’s partners in Colombia — have longed for this turning point toward peace for many years.

Pastors Marta Gomez, left, of Pereira, Colombia, and Patricia Rosero, right, of Santa Marta, Colombia, discuss their experiences of reconciliation with Angélica Rincón of Justapaz, the Mennonite center for justice and peace in Bogotá. — Anna Vogt/MCC

Pastors Marta Gomez, left, of Pereira, Colombia, and Patricia Rosero, right, of Santa Marta, Colombia, discuss their experiences of reconciliation with Angélica Rincón of Justapaz, the Mennonite center for justice and peace in Bogotá. — Anna Vogt/MCC

On Aug. 24, hundreds gathered in Bogotá’s city center to celebrate a historic peace accord between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrilla group. The announcement, delivered by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Rodrigo Londono was broadcast live from Havana and shown on large screens across the country.

After nearly four years of negotiations, the permanent cease-fire agreement effectively ended the longest-running armed conflict in the Western hemisphere. Fighting between armed groups has killed some 260,000 people and displaced close to 7 million since 1958.

Rincón spends her youthful energy working with MCC partner Justapaz, the Mennonite center for justice and peace in Bogotá, and believes the moment was “the fruit of the work of Colombians who, over the years, have prayed for and advocated for termination of the armed confrontation. The accord is an opportunity to begin to change the country’s history of violence, and this fills us with hope.”

A long journey

The relatively small community of Colombian Anabaptists — with a little more than 4,000 members — has worked to build peace in a variety of ways since the mid-1970s.

Justapaz advocates for victims of violence and promotes conscientious objection. Mencoldes, the relief and development arm of the National Colombian Mennonite church and the Mennonite Brethren church, supports victims of armed conflict with emergency assistance in the cities of Bogotá and Ibagué. In the Chocó region, MCC supports MBs as they help small-scale farmers find viable alternatives to growing illicit crops.

Local Anabaptist churches engage in peacebuilding, becoming safe havens for children and youth at risk of being recruited into armed groups and gangs.

For Rincón, building the kingdom of God as a faithful witness means meeting under a mango tree with farmers who are under threat from paramilitary organizations, discussing nonviolent solutions to their problems.

Hope for the future

While these churches and faith-based organizations celebrate Colombia’s new peace accord, some emphasize it will not automatically bring peace to every corner of the country.

“Ending the war doesn’t mean ending the violence,” said Alejandra Arboleda of Edupaz, the MB peace education foundation in Cali. “But without a doubt, this is an indispensable step for rebuilding a country with deep wounds. Why not hope that the promise of Isaiah may be fulfilled, that the wolf and the lamb will eat together at the table?”

Ricardo Esquivia, director of the peace and justice organization Sembrandopaz, also an MCC partner, highlights the importance of social justice as the foundation for a true and lasting peace.

“Today an important and significant step was taken for the Colombian people. We, as a people, from the grassroots, with our hand to the plow and our feet on ground, are looking forward with expectation . . . we welcome the accord, continuing to cultivate peace in our region as we have been doing for all these years.”

Chocó MBs recognize the importance of education to the process. They are concerned that this development “will not actually lead to change in rural areas which have been most affected by the violence.

“We believe a simple pedagogical process should be facilitated with businesses, churches, universities and communities, so the agreement can be lasting and respected by all. Colombia should be congratulated for this progress toward peace, which will be complete with Christ in our hearts.”

On Oct. 2, Colombians will vote to show their approval or disapproval of the agreement. Uncertainty remains. In the meantime, MCC will continue to support Colombian churches and Anabaptist partners in pursuit of peace.


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