Choosing Hope

“A Colombia in peace must have memory, courage, and hope: memory of the received history, courage to face the present, and hope for the future” (Pope Francis)

In a workshop organized by Dejusticia last year, professor Kathryn Sikkink asked the participants if we believed that the human rights situation in the world would improve, worsen, or remain the same. Thirty small pieces of paper compiled the answers from representatives of Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, India, Burma, Egypt, Turkey, Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Mexico, and Colombia. The tabulation gave an unexpected result: the majority thought that the situation would improve. However, this did not surprise Professor Sikkink, who did not hesitate to attribute the results to the overrepresentation of Colombians in the group.

It seems that the present situation and imminence of the signing of the peace accords had injected us with optimism and polarization towards the positive side, which personally gave me a lot of satisfaction. I have always been a very optimistic person, and while it is true that through my first quarter of a century I have not known a single week without seriously violent news, it is also true that in the last four years I have clearly perceived a decrease in the news related to the conflict. It has been four years since the FARC guerilla and the Colombian government, historical rivals, began negotiations to end the oldest armed conflict in Latin America, which has left more than 220,000 deaths and the second highest rate of displaced persons in the world.

A mural and men on a Pamplona street corner. (1984-1985). Photo by: The Real Estreya

A mural and men on a Pamplona street corner. (1984-1985). Photo by: The Real Estreya

Meanwhile, the world is amid turmoil. The first semester of 2016 has been especially difficult due to the different and complex situations of insecurity and violence around the globe. Only to name a few events: the shooting at the Orlando club, the terrorist attacks in France, the military coup in Turkey, the Venezuelan crisis, the attack to facilities for people with disabilities in Japan, the worst bombing in Iraq, the bombing of a maternity hospital in Syria, the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union…

There is an atmosphere of threat and hopelessness everywhere and it is not strange that these series of events strengthen radical messages and attitudes. The rhetoric of fear has become the norm around the globe and has gained popularity because violent acts generate strong feelings of frustration that lead people to seek an aggressive answer instead of hope.

In a disturbed world, the peace process in Colombia awakens hope, a feeling we must channel into the change we seek. Throughout recent history, we Colombians have been exporters of bad news rather than hope. It seems that, with the peace process, this is changing.

Photo by: Juan Carlos Pachón

Photo by: Juan Carlos Pachón

In his presidential acceptance speech in 2012, Barack Obama defines hope as:

I’m not talking about blind optimism, the kind of hope that just ignores the enormity of the tasks ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path. I’m not talking about the wishful idealism that allows us to just sit on the sidelines or shirk from a fight. I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting.

This definition is very appropriate for the Colombian case since beyond recognizing the immensity of the task, it suggests that the goal implies a great amount of effort and work. Peace is not an empty illusion. In addition, Obama’s speech salvages a very Colombian quality, persistence, which throughout the conflict has not successfully been eliminated by violence. The persistence of social movements, organizers, and the conflict’s victims…

Nonetheless, how do we turn hope into a tangible reality? How do we maintain hope as the driver that inspires the process to consolidate peace?

The agreements achieved during the negotiations regarding topics like land distribution and political participation, while not perfect are possible and a good indicator of how to materialize hope in a future process that requires real implementation. In addition to peace, hope is the other foundation of a more plural and equitable Colombia.

Everything seems to indicate that one of the few territories of this planet where people are working towards hope and peace is Colombia, as if wanted to contradict the rest of the world. Nonetheless, we are just sowing the extremely fragile seeds of peace, which require a lot of care and protection. We know it will take many years until it becomes a solid and strengthened reality, but we do not doubt that we are on the right path even if we are just taking the first steps.


* Ana María Ramírez Mourraille a researcher at the Center for Law, Justice and Society (Dejusticia).