Not endless after all

Peace in Colombia a sign of hope for region, world

Sep 26, 2016 by

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“War-torn” preceded “Colombia” in media reports for so long it seemed the three words would always cling together. For more than 50 years Colombia endured the longest war in the Americas. Fighting between government forces and the FARC guerrilla group claimed the lives of about 260,000 people.

On Aug. 29 church bells rang to celebrate a day long prayed for: the start of a cease-fire to end five decades of armed conflict. Colombians will get a chance to ratify the accord in a nationwide vote Oct. 2.

The end of hostilities in Colombia marks a milestone for peace in the region and the world. Colombia’s conflict was not only the Western Hemisphere’s longest war, it was the only one still going. War — when defined as fighting between national armies or between a government and an organized rebel group — has disappeared in the Americas.

In a time when U.S. citizens accept the war on terrorism as business as usual, Colombia’s peace accord proves that even “endless” wars need not go on forever. The world can change. Who predicted the Cold War’s end? Celebrating peace in Colombia includes raising the hope that those who still fight wars today — including terrorist groups and superpower nations — will see the futility of killing and dying with no victory in sight.

Americans today live with the dissonance of being always at war but never experiencing it. An American’s odds of dying in a terrorist attack are estimated as one in 45 million. We are among the five-sixths of the world’s population that lives in regions free of armed conflict, observe Steven Pinker, author of The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, and Juan Manuel Santos, the president of Colombia, in The New York Times. Pinker and Santos note that wars today are concentrated in a zone stretching from Nigeria to Pakistan, where a sixth of the world’s people live.

Thus, by a specific but significant definition, the world is growing more peaceful. So is the United States: Contrary to false statements made in the U.S. presidential campaign, violent crime has declined by half over the past 20 years.

But just as peace is more than the absence of war, peace is also more than the absence of battles between armies. Drug-related gang violence plagues Mexico and other Latin American countries, and gun violence remains a U.S. national shame.

Ricardo Esquivia, a Colombian Mennonite peacemaking leader, laid out the task before us in a sermon at Hyattsville (Md.) Mennonite Church in July: “We in Colombia must rebuild from the war, but you must join us in rebuilding the planet.” He urged respect for the land, limits on consumerism, welcoming immigrants, respecting the beliefs of others and understanding that climate change endangers human existence. This wide-ranging peace agenda, Esquivia said, requires “such faith in salvation that we are able to see the tree within the seed.” From a Colombian watching an “endless” war end, that’s a word of hope as well as challenge.


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