EspañolRepresentatives of 37 victim groups of the Colombian guerrilla gathered on July 3 at club El Nogal in Bogotá to meet members of the government’s negotiating committee and demand that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) ask forgiveness for their crimes.
Victims of kidnappings and families of missing persons asked officials to address their request for active participation and presence in the peace process that has been taking place in Havana since 2013, in order to “talk to the guerrilla face-to-face.”
The event began with an offering of flowers in tribute to those killed and injured when the FARC bombed the club in 2003. Fabiola Perdomo, widow Juan Carlos Narváez, a politician killed by the guerrilla after seven years in captivity, then addressed the crowd.
“All victims yearn for peace. But making peace does not mean forgetting the dead, kidnapped, missing, wounded, and displaced,” said Perdomo. “The dead of Club El Nogal are our dead too. Your grief is our grief.”
Event organizers said they are ready to travel to Cuba and engage the guerrilla in conversation. They say they are willing to do so without losing their dignity, and urge the FARC to “put their arrogance aside and apologize to our victims and to Colombia.”
The journalist Herbin Hoyos said the goal of the meeting was to “ask the national government to guarantee the victims’ full participation in regional fora and at different stages of the peace process underway in Havana.”
Hoyos added, “This group won’t prepare a document with proposals to the FARC, but instead send a list of a hundred questions to the rebel group in their relentless pursuit of the truth.”
Politician and kidnap victim Sigifredo López also participated in the event. “The victims of FARC wish to tell Colombia and the world several things: first, we support President Santos in his efforts to end the conflict; second, that the victims groups won’t be an obstacle, (because) we want peace,” said López.
In addition, he asked for respect towards the victims and said that they “don’t want to become invisible,” and that “there is no peace without truth” in the context of the negotiation process.
Luis Mendieta, a retired general who was kidnapped for twelve years, expressed similar concerns. “It seems that there is pressure to make victims of FARC invisible; to deny that we exist; to silence our voices. That is, we do not have guarantees,” said Mendieta.
The peace process seeks to end a conflict between the Colombian government and the guerrilla that has gone on for more than 50 years and killed more than 220,000 people. The negotiations began in October 2012 in Oslo during Juan Manuel Santos’ first presidency. Since November of that same year, they have continued in Havana, and were a central issue in Santos’s recent reelection campaign.
For now, the government and the FARC have agreed on three out of the six points on the negotiation agenda: land reform, political participation for the guerrilla, and drug trafficking.
On the issue of land reform, the government and the guerrilla have reached agreements on various points, including access to land and its use, property formalization, the agricultural frontier, and protecting the Reserve Zone.
As far as political participation, both sides have agreed to create “zones especially affected by the conflict and neglect” that will have their own seats in the House of Representatives.
Finally, they agreed to intensify the manual eradication of drug trafficking, and the FARC pledged to cut any ties with this illegal business.
The next items on the agenda are the victims, disarmament of the guerrilla, and developing a method to confirm the agreements.
A Public Yearning to Participate
Juan Esteban Ugarriza, a professor at the University of Rosario who heads the Experiments on Political Reconciliation in Colombia research project, said during an interview with the PanAm Post that there is massive interest in participating in the peace talks in Colombia, and that the government should provide mechanisms to make this happen.
“We see it all over Colombia, in the cities and the communities we visit. People would like to have a better chance to participate, to have more access, a better chance to be part of the debate. They want to have access to the authorities who make decisions,” said Ugarriza.
“Perhaps what is happening with the peace process here in Colombia will open new possibilities for involving communities.” The professor added that he believes it is important to “not just create the mechanisms for public participation, but also the right conditions for communities to make use of them and fully participate in the public debate.”