April 19, 2016

Adventists Back Peace Efforts in War-Weary Colombia

As Colombia’s government and rebel groups move toward ending nearly five decades of violence, Seventh-day Adventists are seeking ways to support the peace efforts and to help rebuild society.

A two-day peace forum held at the Adventist Church’s South Colombia headquarters in Bogotá brought together the leaders of faith and non-governmental organizations, academicians, and others to discuss strategies to support post-conflict reconciliation and rebuilding.

“The main goal of this forum was to develop a deeper understanding of the basic elements of the post-conflict phase in Colombia and the peace-building process,” said organizer Gabriel Villarreal, who serves as country director of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency in Colombia.

The forum also was supported by the International Religious Liberty Association and the Adventist Church.

Villarreal said the initiative was inspired by ongoing peace talks between the Colombian government and the South American country's largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or Farc. On March 30, the two sides announced an agreed framework for talks aimed at ending the conflict. The second-largest guerrilla group, ELN, also has entered peace talks. 

Villarreal moved to organize the forum in response to an appeal by Colombia’s government to nongovernmental organizations and faith communities to be ready to support post-conflict efforts.

The forum’s presentations focused on ways that nongovernmental organizations and religious groups could contribute to peace efforts, while also helping to support vulnerable people in Colombia, Villarreal said.

When peace comes, Villarreal said, it is vital for the Adventist Church and ADRA’s Colombia branch to be prepared to make substantial contributions.

Lorena Ríos, a senior Interior Ministry official who coordinates religious affairs in Colombia, represented the government at the forum and afterward thanked ADRA and the Adventist Church for the initiative. She said the forum stood out from similar events because it integrated both nongovernmental organizations and religious denominations into the process of improving the lives of people affected by the conflict.

Other public officials at the recent event included Roger Carrillo, a Bogotá city lawmaker, and Charles Schultz, a member of the government’s National Peace Committee.

Ganoune Diop, public affairs and religious liberty director for the Adventist world church and secretary-general of IRLA, told participants that the aftermath of the two world wars demonstrated ways that members of Colombia’s nongovernmental organizations could work together for peace. He focused on the need for various groups in society — even those with opposing religious or political views— to find common values and shared goals.

Since the late 1950s, Colombia’s government has struggled to maintain social and economic stability while battling insurgency groups on one side of the political spectrum and right-wing paramilitary organizations on the other. Torture, killings, and widespread hostage-taking have been hallmarks of the civil conflict. Renegade groups have also engaged in large-scale cocaine cultivation and drug trafficking as a way to fund their activities, which has in turn fueled the rise of powerful drug lords.

The conflict has uprooted more than 5 million Colombians from their homes and has killed more than 220,000 people, according to estimates from Colombia’s National Center for Historical Memory.

Last month’s agreement between the government of Colombia and Farc follows almost four years of negotiations, which began in Oslo, Norway, and have involved the governments of Ecuador, Venezuela, Brazil, Chile, and Cuba.