When Ana Carolina* began participating in San Francisco’s reconciliation forums, space where participants can speak freely about the conflict between the Colombian military, right wing paramilitaries, and left wing guerrillas, she did not have in mind the 4 elements of reconciliation: truth, mercy, peace, and justice. She had in mind her son who had been disappeared several years prior.
After one of the forums, carried out with support from Survivor Corps and partner ConCiudadania, a person who self-identified as “victim” came up to a demobilized paramilitary, Diego, and demanded truths. Diego replied that he knew some things, but not everything. However, his former commanderLuis Eduardo Zuluaga Arcila, alias MacGiver, had answers and was interested in speaking to the victims. Many of the victims, though, were without resources to even think about leaving San Francisco. Diego spoke with MacGiver, who agreed to fund the group’s trip to Bogotá, a nine hour bus ride through the mountains.
40 people made the journey east to Bogotá. Accompanying the victims and paramilitaries, a representatives from local organizations as well as ConCiudadania came along. Human rights defenders joined the group as well.
Everyone had different questions for MacGiver. Although the majority of the disappeared or killed in San Francisco were victims of the guerrilla, some fell victim to paramilitaries, or autodefensas, too. As was the case with one woman. Breaking her way to the front of the group, she demanded to know the whereabouts of her missing son. MacGiver (right), a soft spoken of small frame, stated her son’s fate. “Your son is dead, señora,” he replied. After years without answers, she was no longer compelled to search. Although grief took the place of desparate anticipation, she had an answer.
Human rights defenders who accompanied the group had initially been skeptical of the reconciliation process. This group of human rights defenders had believed that justice and protection of rights was the only way towards rebuilding the community. “I thought he [MacGiver] would be a monster,” one had stated. Noting the human side of this commander and the reaction of the mother whose son was concluded dead, this group left the prison with a greater sense of the impact of reconciliation; best articulated by the distinguished John Paul Lederach in a play inspired by conflict transformation workshops carried out in Nicaragua. Each participant would personify Truth, Mercy, Peace, and Justice. ”In [Justice’s] haste to change and make things right, he forgets that his roots lie in real people and relationships.” (read the whole play here)
The point of reconciliation forums such as San Francisco’s, creating soccer teams with demobilized paramilitaries or guerrillas mixed in with victims, holding workshops where each group can intermingle is not solely an end in itself. While these projects are amazingly important for the community, the greater impact is the rippling effect which occurred as a result the meeting with MacGiver. It is attaining understanding of why something, often tragic, occurred and with that information being able to move on with one’s life. Even though the commander of the paramilitary group was behind bars, a person responsible for extortion, disappearances, a few dozen murders he personally committed, illegal recruitment, and even “social cleansings,” this community lacked an essential element to move on.
Lederach best sums up the greater impact of the meeting “[Justice is] the pursuit of restoration, of rectifying wrongs, of creating right relationships based on equity and fairness. Pursuing justice involves advocacy for those harmed, for open acknowledgment of the wrongs committed, and for making things right. Mercy, on the other hand, involves compassion, forgiveness, and a new start. Mercy is oriented toward supporting persons who have committed injustices, encouraging them to change and move on.” While reconciliation forums provided the woman with a disappeared son a space to express her pain, making contact with a real person behind the act provided her with the invaluable: a new start.
*name has been changed