Reconciliation and Peacebuilding seminar – Cali, Colombia

14th – 16th November 2016

The seminar was organised by Mo Bleeker, Special envoy for Dealing with the Past and Prevention of Atrocities, and Philipp Lustenberger From the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs in close cooperation with local reconciliation activists Jesus Alfonso Florez, Padre Jesus Albeiro Parra.

The participants (around 40) of the seminar were high level leaders, women and men, from communities, indigenous groups and also from the dioceses who have played crucial roles in peace processes that took place in last years in Colombia. In particular they developed specific agreements in parallel to the Havana peace-talks with non-state and state armed actors, within their respective subregions.

International experts from Guatemala (Helen Mack), Chile (Elisabeth Lira), Mexico (Dolores Saravia), Northern Ireland (David Bloomfield) and Balkans (me) were invited to provide support and input to a process of consultation and exchange about upcoming challenges of peacebuilding in Colombia.

The very fortunate circumstance, was the fact that the night before the start of the event, the new peace-deal was announced by the government to have been agreed with FARC rebels, weeks after a disaster referendum which declined peace agreement on violence ongoing for over 40 years, with thin margin, based predominantly in areas unaffected by violence directly.

The unpleasant role of an international expert that I happen to find myself in, ever more often, made me feel rather uncomfortable, especially that I was one of the two persons present who spoke no Spanish and had to rely on translation services. But, it was the atmosphere and the vibrant spirit of participants that truly fascinated me and I found myself increasingly attempting to understand speakers, by looking at them firmly, avoiding blinking. It didn’t help much the first and second day, but by the third I felt I was getting somewhere. It might have to do something with a fantastic translator that we had present.

I was relieved and awfully pleased to hear in a small-group where I reported of our work with ex-combatants and answered many well placed questions, that my input was relevant and valuable to people. In the wake of the peace agreement thousands of ex-combatants are about to return to villages, some of them being branded as victimisers and oppressors. Communities as such are divided about ways to deal with this situation and many problems are anticipated.

It was very good to see how representatives of Swiss Ministry treat those local activists with utmost respect and how they seek to provide them with support in a most appropriate way. It has helped me feel less uncomfortable in the role of international expert. My comfort enhanced as I was taken by surprise how quickly I grew keen of people and place I was in, as it happened in Cali.