Ending Colombia’s cycles of revenge

A new president takes office Sunday vowing to uncouple the military and police forces as the country seeks healing after decades of conflict.

A member of Colombia's military prepares for a parade before the Aug. 7 inauguration of leftist President-elect Gustavo Petro, in Bogota, Colombia.

Societies torn by conflict sometimes wait generations for a path to peace. In Colombia, which has long been beset with drug and political violence, many hope that moment has come. On Sunday, leftist economist Gustavo Petro will be sworn in as president with a promise to restore trust between the people and security forces, restart talks with rebel groups, and address inflation, hunger, and inequality.

Mr. Petro’s rise to power reflects a yearning among Colombians for an end to violence and corruption. His term starts just weeks after Colombia’s truth commission began releasing reports on a half-century of civil war that left more than 450,000 people dead. That commission grew out of a 2016 peace accord with a large Marxist rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (known by its Spanish acronym FARC).

“Colombians are teaching reconciliation in the midst of the most brutal pain,” said Francisco de Roux, a Jesuit priest and director of the truth commission. The long pursuit of peace, he said, has taught people that “we need to leave fear aside.”

Mr. Petro brings an unusual perspective to the presidency. As a member of an erstwhile guerrilla movement in the 1980s, he breaks an uninterrupted line of centrist or conservative leaders. He was imprisoned and, he claims, tortured. He eventually turned to politics, first as the mayor of Bogotá, the capital, and later was elected to the Senate, where he exposed corruption in the military and ties between the armed forces, politicians, and rebel factions.

He inherits a society riddled with overlapping conflicts involving drug cartels, urban gangs, and various paramilitary movements. He has promised to boost spending to address the social and economic reasons that drive many former soldiers to join with guerrilla forces. He has also proposed separating the police from the military and putting it under a new agency focused on reconciliation.

The reforms, Mr. Petro argues, are meant to break a culture within the security forces that regards almost any citizen with left-leaning political views as “the internal enemy.” That change, he argues, requires building a foundation for the rule of law based on a mutual respect for the rights and economic development of both soldiers and civilians. “Human security cannot be built if the soldier and policeman cannot be looked at humanely” and without suspicion, he wrote in a newspaper opinion piece.

His chosen defense minister, Iván Velásquez, has long experience in investigating military abuses of civilians. To lessen a fear within the military that the government will seek revenge and retribution in probes of wrongdoing, he tweeted a message last month: “A government for peace cannot generate revenge or promote hatred, but neither can it protect impunity. You can’t persecute, but you can’t cover up either. So should be the magnanimity of the ruler.”

The new president is also up against widespread concerns among Colombians about violence, the economy, and corruption. Yet Mr. Petro walks into the presidential palace bearing cautious hopes of Colombians that cycles of violence can be broken. That means reforms must win over revenge.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Ending Colombia’s cycles of revenge
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today