Ingrid Betancourt, who was kidnapped by the FARC, hugs Father Francisco de Roux during an act of the Truth Commission last June.LUISA GONZALEZ / Reuters
Added to the formidable obstacles to peace in Colombia was a pandemic with an uncertain outcome. The country has struggled to leave violence behind without dodging the truth of the war, and the emergence of the coronavirus slowed the implementation of hard-negotiated agreements that still stir public debate. Of the institutions that emerged from the historic pact with the FARC guerrillas, probably the Truth Commission, chaired by the Jesuit priest Francisco de Roux, is the one that has been most affected by the unprecedented health crisis. Their field work includes collecting testimonies in remote villages, ethnic territories and indigenous reservations, but mobility restrictions limited their territorial deployment.
The commission, like the other components of the renamed Comprehensive System for Peace, has had to navigate through political polarization.
His long-awaited final report, which marks the conclusion of his three-year term, should be known in November, and will land in an electoral campaign environment to choose the successor to President Iván Duque.
The president is a critic of the agreements that his predecessor, Juan Manuel Santos (2010-2018), signed with the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), today converted into the Comunes party.
But now, the Constitutional Court is studying a lawsuit from various victims' organizations to extend that period.
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The main argument is that the impossibility of traveling to the territories affected by the armed conflict has significantly damaged the pillars of the commission's mandate: clarification, recognition, coexistence and non-repetition. The plaintiffs - the Corporation of People with Diverse Abilities (Percadi), the Association of United Victims of Granada (Asovida) and the Colombian Network of Places of Memory, with the support of the Universidad de los Andes and the Dejusticia thought center - explain that the commission has only worked one year, three months and 14 days under normal conditions, less than half of its period. "The rest of the time, although they have not suspended activities, they have had to move to virtuality and reduce direct contact with the communities," they point out.
Keeping the period unaltered, they argue, would violate the victims' right to truth and non-repetition. An essential point of the agreement. To begin with, in many rural areas of that deep Colombia, connectivity is deficient, and also the victims do not feel that virtuality guarantees the conditions of security and trust necessary to contribute their testimonies. "If it is already hard to give a testimony face to face, imagine yourself on a cell phone that does not have a soul," explained Gloria Elcy Ramírez, representative of Asovida. What they are asking is to find a formula that makes it possible to compensate for the time lost due to the pandemic.
The commission has continued to work without pause, supported by virtuality and with blended events. Among other events, he has organized voluntary appearances of several former presidents. Ernesto Samper (1994-1998), César Gaviria (1990-1994) and Santos have already given their testimonies, while Andrés Pastrana (1998-2002) also prepares their contributions for the end of August. Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010), Duque's political mentor, has rejected that possibility. In July, victims of the kidnapping confronted the leaders of the defunct FARC face to face, for the first time, including Ingrid Betancourt. Although several of those acts that produce deep and restorative dialogues have been developed despite the limitations, there is little time left to decant the information and write the final report. The commission, in addition,it has had to overcome the death of two of its eleven commissioners. At the end of 2019, the journalist and sociologist Alfredo Molano died, and a year ago, due to coronavirus, the leader Ángela Salazar.
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Father De Roux himself was for the first time this week in favor of the lawsuit progressing in the Constitutional Court to be able to deepen the preparation of the report until July of next year.
"I prefer to deliver the final document to the new president and be out of the political campaign, to avoid that manipulation," he said during a virtual conversation with the Center for Faith and Culture.
The debate on the advisability of extending the period of the commission begins to make headway. Humberto de la Calle, the government's chief negotiator in the Havana dialogues, is one of the voices who has expressed the opinion that the report should be postponed until after the presidential elections of May 2022. “On the functioning and purposes of the Commission From the truth, it is evident that the pandemic has made it difficult for them, particularly in relation to victims in remote areas of the country, to carry out their task. And as for the opportune moment for society to receive and constructively evaluate the final report, I have no doubt that the conclusions of the commission could be altered by the political discussion typical of the electoral period, ”De la Calle told this newspaper."The risk is that the report is affected in the middle of the political struggle and that we lose the opportunity to assess it and use its findings constructively," he reasons.
The experience of other commissions in the world shows the difficulties in satisfying all sectors. "If the expectation is of a better political context for the delivery and socialization of the report, I am afraid that the longer it is postponed, the more complicated the context will be," warns Gonzalo Sánchez, who for years directed the National Center for Historical Memory and is part of of a commission advisory committee. But if the argument is about the limitations imposed by the pandemic, he clarifies, "there are more than enough reasons to attend to the voice of the victims in the sense that the term is extended so that the consultation with them has a real basis." Given the complexities and duration of more than half a century of the Colombian conflict, ditch, the time allotted to the Truth Commission is "clearly insufficient."
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