A willingness to listen

Victims and FARC dialogue

“Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet… Righteousness will go before him,” (Psalm 85:10,13).

The people of Iglesia Cristiana Menonita de Colombia believe in this vision of justice and reconciliation even when it is hard. On 27 July 2020 in the San Rafael region of Colombia, Carlos Sanchez of the Colombian Mennonite Church (IMCOL) cofacilitated a meeting between five local residents who were survivors of the war-related violence and persecution and eight former FARC guerilla members who signed the 2017 peace accord. IMCOL president Yalile Caballero, Mennonite pastor Peter Stucky and Mennonite director of Sembrandopaz Ricardo Esquivia brought greetings of support to the initiative.

The meeting was not only an opportunity for the groups to listen to each other but also to sign a document of intention for truth and reconciliation.

“There was a willingness to listen to both sides,” says Carlos Sanchez.

Supported with press clippings, the survivors presented their stories. One lost her father in the “EPM dump truck massacre” in the Tesorito rural community. Another was denied basic rights and had his freedom of movement restricted by the presence of paramilitaries and guerillas in his home community. Another saw family members disappeared.

The survivors expressed their fear that violence would return to San Rafael. The San Rafael municipality is made up of 54 rural communities, with nearly 17 000 inhabitants. It has three power plants and has mining, coffee and sugarcane cultivation. Its rich resources make the territory vulnerable to future violence due to tensions over resource extraction and unequal economic benefits.

They want to change that direction: jobs for young people, a search for those who are missing, and dignity for the families of those who were killed. They asked the signatories: what can we do? How can we help?

After listening to the survivors, the former FARC members reiterated their willingness to clarify and bring to light the acts of violence reported by the survivors. 

Together, survivors and former guerrilla considered steps forward.

Ideas included

  • convening similar events to include victims’ organizations,
  • implementing activities to tell the truth and reconstruct the historical memory,
  • promoting greater awareness and adoption of the Peace Accords,
  • holding public forums and events for Forgiveness, Hope, Truth and Reconciliation (including the army and the power and utility company)
  • carrying out processes to search for the 253 persons disappeared by the armed parties,
  • offering reparations for victims,
  • engaging children as peacebuilders, and
  • using communication media.

The meeting closed with planting a coffee tree, in this way representing together the identity and values of San Rafael before the violence came to their community.

—Mennonite World Conference release with files from Carlos Sanchez

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