Category Archives: FREE FLOW OF INFORMATION

Moscow TV protester plays ‘Russian roulette’ with risky comeback

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A dispatch from Agence France Presse (AFP) published by Radio France International (copyright 2022 AFP)

Marina Ovsyannikova, who denounced Russia’s intervention in Ukraine during a live TV broadcast, knew that coming back to Moscow would be akin to playing a game of Russian roulette.

Speaking to AFP in an interview, the 44-year-old mother of two, who returned from Europe last month, said she understood she could be arrested at any moment.


Photo Stringer AFP

“I decided to play Russian roulette,” the former editor at Channel One television said, sitting on a bench in central Moscow in an elegant black dress.

“If they make this decision, they will arrest me in a single day. It will only take a few seconds,” she said after dropping her 11-year-old daughter off for art lessons.

In March, Ovsyannikova shot to prominence for interrupting a live TV broadcast to denounce President Vladimir Putin’s military intervention in Ukraine.

In the months following her protest, Ovsyannikova spent time abroad, working for Germany’s Die Welt for three months.

In early July, she made the “difficult decision” to return home when her ex-husband, an employee of Kremlin-backed broadcaster RT, sued her for custody of their two children.

Since her widely publicised protest, Ovsyannikova has been fined several times and is due to appear in court again on Monday over discrediting the Russian army.

She will also be attending custody hearings.

Public criticism of Russia’s intervention in Ukraine has been outlawed, and most government critics have either fled the country fearing prosecution or ended up behind bars.

Ovsyannikova said however she would continue speaking up.

“I am a fighter, I continue to actively denounce the war,” she said cheerfully.

“I do not plan to stop, I am not afraid despite the constant intimidation from the authorities.”

‘Putin the murderer’

Since her return, Ovsyannikova came out to support opposition politician Ilya Yashin in court, staged a protest with a poster calling Putin a “murderer” and published anti-government posts online. She was briefly detained by police near her home in mid-July.

Ovsyannikova, who does not currently have a permanent job, works as a freelancer for foreign media. Most of Russia’s independent media have either been shut down or operate from abroad.

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Questions related to this article:
 
Can the peace movement help stop the war in the Ukraine?

The courage of Mordecai Vanunu and other whistle-blowers, How can we emulate it in our lives?

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he journalist, who worked for state TV for 19 years, said she had recently sold her car to bring in some extra money.

Her protest has drawn hostile reactions from many quarters.

Pro-Kremlin officials and former colleagues have accused Ovsyannikova of betraying her country. Critics in Ukraine and the West have claimed she is a spy still embedded in the Russian state media.

Many members of the Russian opposition have blamed her for jumping ship in an opportunistic move and seeking fame.

Ovsyannikova rejects the allegations.

“It is convenient for the authorities to constantly create new conspiracy theories around me, people already don’t know what to believe,” she said.

But Ovsyannikova admitted she had made mistakes in the past and has stayed “too long” in her comfort zone, without “finding the strength” to leave state television sooner.

For her, inaction and indifference, embraced by many Russians, are a form of “self-preservation” fuelled by fear.

“Our people are really very frightened,” she said.

“Even those who understand the absurdity, the horror of what is happening prefer to stay silent.”

In a throwback to the Soviet times, many Russians now criticise authorities only “in their kitchens” where nobody can hear them, she said.

‘Unenviable fate’

Apart from facing criticism in Russia and abroad, Ovsyannikova said she also had to fight a “war at home.”

She said her mother had become a victim of state propaganda, her son turned against her and she had to fight for the custody of her children.

“My fate is unenviable,” Ovsyannikova said.

She stressed, however, that her problems were nothing compared to the suffering of the Ukrainian people, faced with an offensive that has claimed thousands of lives and displaced millions.

Authorities have not announced the opening of any criminal investigation against Ovsyannikova. But her repeat convictions of discrediting the Russian army may lead to a criminal conviction, punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Ovsyannikova believes that authorities will be reluctant to draw more attention to her case, pointing to her “solid international support”.

Ovsyannikova said she would like to be able to leave the country together with her daughter.

For now, she will stay in Russia.

She is under no illusion that official pressure on her will grow.

“They will intimidate me further,” she said.

Using an old Soviet expression, she said authorities under Putin could punish just about anyone.

“Give me the person and I’ll find the crime.”

Satish Kumar to Receive the 2022 Goi Peace Award

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An article from The Goi Peace Foundation

The Goi Peace Foundation will present the 2022 Goi Peace Award to Satish Kumar, peace activist and environmental thought leader.

The selection committee has chosen Satish Kumar for the Goi Peace Award in recognition of his lifelong dedication to campaigning for ecological regeneration, social justice, and spiritual fulfillment. Through his writings and educational activities, and as an embodiment of ecological and spiritual principles of living simply, he has inspired many people to transform themselves in order to transform the world.


Photo from the Dartington Trust

Satish Kumar will receive the award during the Goi Peace Foundation Forum 2022 to be held on November 23, 2022. (More information about the event will be announced soon.)

Satish Kumar, a former monk and long-term peace and environment activist, has been quietly setting the global agenda for change for over 50 years. He was just nine when he left his family home to join the wandering Jains, and 18 when he decided he could achieve more back in the world, campaigning for land reform in India and working to turn Gandhi’s vision of a renewed India and a peaceful world into reality.

Questions related to this article:

Where in the world can we find good leadership today?

In 1973 Satish settled in the UK becoming the editor of Resurgence magazine, a position he held until 2016, making him the UK’s longest-serving editor of the same magazine. During this time, he has been the guiding spirit behind a number of now internationally respected ecological and educational ventures. He cofounded Schumacher College, an international center for ecological studies, where he continues to serve as a Visiting Fellow.

His autobiography, No Destination, first published by Green Books in 1978, has sold over 50,000 copies. He is also the author of You Are, Therefore I Am; The Buddha and the Terrorist; Earth Pilgrim; Soil, Soul, Society and Elegant Simplicity: The Art of Living Well.

He continues to teach and run workshops on reverential ecology, holistic education and voluntary simplicity and is a much sought-after speaker both in the UK and abroad.

About the Goi Peace Foundation and the Goi Peace Award

Based in Japan, the Goi Peace Foundation  is a public benefit organization supported by members around the world working together to create a culture of peace. Its mission is to foster a sustainable and harmonious global society by promoting consciousness, values and wisdom for creating peace, and building cooperation among individuals and organizations across diverse fields, including education, science, culture and the arts.

Established by the Goi Peace Foundation in 2000, the Goi Peace Award  is an international award presented annually to honor individuals and organizations in various fields that have made outstanding contributions toward the realization of a peaceful and harmonious world as envisioned in the Declaration for All Life on Earth.

The World’s First Ever Practice-based PhD in Cultural Diplomacy

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Received at CPNN from Christelle Walker (WAALMPSA)

The University of Salford, School of Arts, Media, and Creative Technology in Manchester, UK, proudly announces that the first ever degree of Doctor of Philosophy, PhD by published works in the field of Cultural Diplomacy is conferred to Dr. Mosi Dorbayani, a Canadian practitioner, and a well-regarded scholar in the field.

Questions related to this article:

What is cultural diplomacy?

According to Salford’s Doctoral School, this PhD is the first ever practice-based research degree in the field of Cultural Diplomacy, which looks at the subject matter beyond typical International Relations or Political Science. It brings Cultural Diplomacy to the global communities around the world.

Prof. Dr. Alan Williams, the lead supervisor on this project adds: “what makes this work unique, is the way that it combines management and business theories with international relations and the arts. It examines arts and music, cross-cultures, cultural products, and creative industries, as well as their roles in economic developments, well-being, and social welfare. It provides new definitions, guidelines and methods in the practice of Cultural Diplomacy.”

Further on that note, the Salford Practice as Research Centre of Excellence (PaR) highlights that the topic of ‘Cultural Diplomacy: The Role of Music and Creative Industry in Establishing Dialogue and Understanding for Social Impact’, by Dr. Dorbayani, contains several real-life case studies on how Culture and Artistic Productions could / can impact societies socially and economically, and establish dialogue and understanding at local, national or even international levels. It shows in practical ways how for example song writing can address global audiences to advance a Cultural Diplomacy agenda.

Source: University of Salford – Research with Impact

United States: Statement by the National Council Of Elders

. .DISARMAMENT & SECURITY. .

An article from The Progressive Magazine

We are veterans of a long struggle for social justice in our nation and peace in the world. We are the National Council of Elders (NCOE) and stand alongside legions of elders who work to resist oppression and build dreams of new worlds. Our commitment is to accompany younger twenty-first-century leaders in their effort to bring a greater measure of justice, equality, and peace to our country and world. Individual members of the NCOE who are signing this statement are listed at its end. For more information about the NCOE, see www.nationalcouncilofelders.org.


February One is the name of the 2002 monument dedicated to Ezell Blair Jr., Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil and David Richmond who were collectively known as the Greensboro Four. On February 1, 1960 they staged a sit-in at the Woolworth Department store in Greensboro, NC. All were students at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in their freshman year. Shortly afterwards sit-ins began across the South. James Barnhill, sculptor

We are offering this out of our deep concern for the future. We are appalled at the brutality of Russia’s war against Ukraine, the killing and uprooting of thousands, and the destruction of their homeland.

Yet we have questions about our own country’s role in the lead-up to the war and the decision to supply Ukraine with weapons and intelligence information while failing to work for de-escalation of the conflict and for peace between Russia and Ukraine. Though Ukrainians are valiant, we must support them by insisting that there be negotiations toward peace before their country is utterly destroyed. We recognize the longing for peace within Russia, as many Russians risk their lives to denounce the invasion of Ukraine.

Our government has proven to be able to turn global crises into opportunities to extend its domination of other people and to gain control of resources. It must be stopped from waging a proxy war against Russia to maintain world domination, initiating the Cold War all over again. In committing billions of dollars to Ukraine for weaponry, our Congress seems oblivious to the danger that escalation might lead to nuclear war, putting all life at risk. It has refused to provide the same pressures toward a peaceful, negotiated resolution of the conflict.

The U.S. capitalist system rests upon a power that is secured by violence and the threat of violence. Hence violence pervades all aspects of our lives here in the United States, corroding our most essential connections to each other. Our government is ready to spend trillions on war, but will not legislate to provide money to feed the hungry, house the homeless, or provide a good education for our children or health care for all.

Questions related to this article:

Where in the world can we find good leadership today?

The peace movement in the United States, What are its strengths and weaknesses?

A deepening sense of grief has settled over many as we witness the outrage of war in Ukraine and the egregious gun violence here at home, in the neighborhoods of Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, and elsewhere. Any violent death by noose, knee, gun, drone, missile, howitzer, or bomb is a dramatic symptom, not the disease.

The mounting bloodshed at home and abroad engulfs us all. Domestic gun violence has broken our hearts and greatly wounded our lives. It has destabilized our society by inducing wide-scale fear, distrust, and loss of faith in the laws of civility.

Most egregiously, gun violence has killed or injured more than 34,500 children, 6,500 of whom are under the age of 12. Guns are the number one cause of death for teenagers, some of whom have been targeted by a “toy” industry that inures them to violence and the preciousness of life.

The profits from the arms industry, from handguns to missiles, are skyrocketing. Many members of Congress and gun manufacturers are so heavily invested in the sale of guns, and the culture of violence and war that they try to deflect attention from the horrors we are witnessing—and which we are responsible to stop—by insisting that mental health problems and the failure of school safety measures are to blame for the loss of so many innocent lives.

We know the profound hypocrisy of their message. We must not allow legislators whose objective is U.S. global dominance and who have been corrupted by bribes from the gun lobbyists to sacrifice the lives of our children and the people’s peace to their own arrogance, greed, and inhumanity.

At the international level, we call for:
● Intensification of demands for peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine.
● A pledge that the United States will never again use nuclear weapons. 
● Re-engagement in nuclear arms reduction by all nations.

At home, we call for:
● A ban on the sale of weapons of war.
● Demilitarization of local police forces and an end to racist police violence,
● Increased funding of programs that ensure essential social and economic resources to communities, and cultivate the critical and creative capacities of our children.

Our society is drowning in more than 400 million guns. By all means at our disposal, and with all measures that will restore our spirituality and our respect for our neighbors, we will work toward a culture of peace. We call on everyone to become actively involved in the local and national efforts that are focused on keeping our communities free of weapons of war. Foremost, we must commit ourselves to protecting the children and helping them see the possibilities of a world where life is valued, protected, and cherished.

Signers:
Rachele Agoyo ~ Dorothy Aldridge ~ Judy Baca ~ Dorsey Blake ~ Lewis Brandon III ~ Candi Carawan ~ Mandy Carter ~ Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz ~ Marian Wright Edelman ~ John Fife  ~ Aljosie Aldrich Harding  ~ David Hartsough ~ Gloria Aneb House ~ Shea Howell ~ Dolores Huerta ~ Phil Hutchins ~ Joyce Hobson Johnson ~ Nelson Johnson ~ Frank Joyce ~ James Lawson Jr. ~ Philip Lawson ~ Sherri Maurin ~ Catherine Meeks Eugene ~ Ed Nakawatase ~ Eugene “Gus” Newport ~ Myrna Pagán ~ Suzanne Pharr ~ Lyn Pyle ~ Bernice Johson Reagon ~ Frances Reid ~ Loretta Ross ~ Kathy “Wan Povi” Sanchez ~ Charles Sherrod ~ Shirley Sherrod ~ G. Zoharah Simmons ~ Louie Vitale ~ Hollis Watkins ~ Arthur Waskow ~ Junius Williams ~ Bob Wing ~ Janet Wolf.

The Two Waves of Latin American Progressive Governments

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An article by Fernando Casado in Telesur English

The recent consecutive electoral victories of progressive parties in Latin America evoke memories of the leftist’s hegemony in the region at the beginning of the century. If the disastrous liberal policies of the 1990s led the spread of the first progressive wave, the same structural causes of hunger, inequality, and marginalization are at the bottom of the ongoing second one.

However, both waves have differences that are important to pinpoint to ensure a better understanding of the current political process Latin America is experiencing. Thus, it is critical to look at the forerunners of the countries involved in each of these waves. Whereas in the first one the leaders considered to be at the front-line were Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Luz Ignacio Lula da Silva in Brazil, Nestor Kirchner in Argentina, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, and Evo Morales in Bolivia.

The second wave has been dominated by countries that never fell under the influence of the first, such as Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in Mexico, Gabriel Boric in Chile, Jose Pedro Castillo in Peru, and Gustavo Petro in Colombia.

It is also worth mentioning that the first wave had its climax when the ex-bishop, Fernando Lugo, won the elections in Paraguay in 2008. However, the following year after a coup d’état ousted Manuel Zelaya from the Presidency in Honduras, the decline of the first wave started. This wave could be considered to have brought to a definite end after Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment in Brazil in the year 2016.

On the other hand, the second wave is an ongoing process that will actually be boosted if Lula da Silva regains Brazil’s Presidency, as all the opinion polls forecast in the coming elections of October 2022. 

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Question related to this article:

Solidarity across national borders, What are some good examples?

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The main similarity of both waves of progressive governments is their aim to curb poverty and inequality through the intervention of a strong State in charge of redistributing the wealth which, historically, has been gathered in very a few very greedy hands. Furthermore, all the progressive governments applied inclusive policies and pleaded for a fair multi-ethnic society based on the support of the outcast majorities. 

Additionally, both these governments’ waves have a common opposition to the U.S. intervention in their internal affairs, identifying the Monroe Doctrine, “America for the Americans”, as a new form of imperialism. Having said that, the actions taken by certain countries so far were actually firmer during the first wave. In fact, back then, Correa in Ecuador closed down the U.S. military base in the city of Manta while Venezuela and Bolivia ousted the DEA from their countries. 

Nonetheless, the awareness of the importance of deepening the integration within the countries of the region varies in both waves. During the first wave numerous leaders envisioned projects to bypass the U.S.-controlled Organization of the American States and attempted to consolidate alternative integration organizations such as the Union of the South, the Bank of the South, or the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America.

After the decline of the first wave these projects stagnated or even disappeared. Notwithstanding this, the alternative regional integration organizations are not in yet on the list of priorities of the leaders of the second wave, who are mainly focused on their domestic agenda. Greater political instability and less economic resources could explain the lack of international ambitions and coordination among the countries of the region. 

Concerning the political discourse and specific actions, there has been a significant shift in the second wave as well. The new progressive governments do not claim to confront the capitalist system but rather the effects of the impoverishment and marginalization it produces.

Whereas the governments of the first wave put the emphasis on changing the free-market economy into a socialist system, somehow the new leftist governments have moved towards the centre regarding the political spectrum, in what could be explained as a consequence of the global drift to the right followed in the Western democracies. 

Hence, the new progressive governments’ moderation has enabled them to avoid direct confrontation with mass media and the establishment, or at least to a lesser extent than the governments of the first wave experienced it.

There is still a long way to go before the second wave of progressivism in Latin America can be accurately assessed, until then we can only wait and see if things develop in the right direction, because otherwise the future to come will be riddled with violence and misery.

Brazil’s ex-president Lula pledges to bolster Latin American integration if elected

TOLERANCE & SOLIDARITY .

An article from Xinhua

Brazil’s former President and current presidential candidate Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Tuesday unveiled his government plan to strengthen Latin American integration.


Photo from Libérez Lula – click on image to enlarge

“To defend our sovereignty is to defend the integration of South America, Latin America and the Caribbean, with a view to maintaining regional security and promoting development, based on productive complementarity,” the plan’s foreign policy section read.

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Question related to this article:

Solidarity across national borders, What are some good examples?

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If elected, Lula, who served as president from 2003 to 2010, said he will strengthen the Southern Common Market (Mercosur), the Union of South American Nations, and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States.

“We advocate working toward the construction of a new global order committed to multilateralism, respect for the sovereignty of nations, peace, social inclusion and environmental sustainability, which takes into account the needs of developing countries,” the plan said.

Lula’s plan also calls for the resumption of the “South-South policy toward Latin America and Africa” that started during his presidency.

Attending the unveiling of the government plan in Sao Paulo were the seven parties that make up the Let’s Go Together for Brazil coalition that has nominated Lula as president and former Sao Paulo Governor Geraldo Alckmin as vice president.

Lula, founder of the Workers’ Party, leads in the polls ahead of the Oct. 2 elections, where incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro is seeking a second term. 

(Editor’s note: See also Brazil’s Lula proposes creating Latin American currency to ‘be freed of US dollar’ dependency.)

Colombia: What is Gustavo Petro’s campaign proposal for ‘total peace’?

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An article from Colombia es euro (translation by CPNN)

After the election of Gustavo Petro as President of Colombia for the period 2022-2026, he and his union and government team have been working on a concept that has been widely discussed since June 19, the date on which he announced his candidature for the presidential race: the Great National Agreement. The President-elect wants to unite all the political forces of the country to, first, put aside polarization, and second, to achieve consensus to execute many of the programs that the country needs in economic, social, educational and peace matters.

One of these issues that has been a priority for Petro is to end the conflict in Colombia. In addition to optimally implementing the peace agreement reached in 2016 with the former FARC-EP. guerrillas, he plans to resume talks with the ELN; even more so with the announcement made by the armed group on Monday, June 20.

In addition to this, another challenge for the Petro government will be, with a possible agreement reached with the National Liberation Army, to reduce the assassinations of social and environmental leaders, as well as the crimes against ex-combatants of the Farc and the massacres, because according to figures of the Institute of Studies for Development and Peace, from August 7, 2018 -the day Iván Duque was sworn in as president- to June 4, 930 leaders were assassinated and 261 massacres were perpetrated, resulting in 1,144 casualties.

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(Click here for the original Spanish version of this article.)

Questions related to this article:

What is happening in Colombia, Is peace possible?

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What is the “Total Peace” policy promoted by the Historical Pact ?

Given the complex panorama that the country has faced in the last four years in terms of social and political violence, the government has considered implementing a “Pact for Total Peace” that includes not only the implementation of the existing agreement and the creation of others with other illegal armed agents, but it goes beyond the end of the conflict in the territories.

Another article that may interest you: Interview with Iván Cepeda about the meeting between Petro and Uribe: “I will be willing to contribute in anything”

As proposed by the Historical Pact, this proposal would also contemplate the search for consensus with different political sectors in order to eliminate polarization. This was aggravated during the last presidential campaign that gave the leftist candidate the victory. It also proposes to generate dialogues in the territories, for which it focuses on five key points where, in addition to bringing together various elements of the Peace Agreement with the former FARC, it adds others to overcome inequality and a resurgence of war, such as has happened since 2018.

The first strategy focuses on learning from the implementation of the agreement with the former guerrillas to design an ideal roadmap to achieve the “other half” of peace, by way of negotiations with the ELN guerrilla. In this sense, the Pact proposes to create citizen participation mechanisms to promote the construction of territorial peace. The second focuses on the combatants who did not join the process with the former guerrillas and decided to become part of residual armed groups, also called dissidents.

For them, the Pact proposes that legal guarantees be given to those who decide to avail themselves of the agreement, since it is worth mentioning that they could not enter transitional justice but would be subject to ordinary justice. In addition, restorative justice would come into play by promoting actions for their social and political reintegration.

Inside a reintegration camp for Colombia’s ex-guerrilla fighters: ‘Words of reconciliation are our only weapons now’

DISARMAMENT & SECURITY .

An article from The Conversation

The election of Iván Duque four years ago was a threat for us. But we will continue to follow the peace agreement regardless of who is the next president of Colombia. We are more determined than ever to comply with the peace accords, and this is the reason they want to kill us.

Olmedo Vega  spent 35 years as a guerrilla commander during Colombia’s armed conflict – one of the longest the world has ever seen. “The FARC is my family – I grew up with the guerrillas. But now I really want to commit to this new life here in Agua Bonita, along with my old comrades.”


One of the many thought-inspiring murals painted on the houses of Agua Bonita. Photo: Juan Pablo Valderrama. Author provided

Over the past four years, we have carried out 42 in-depth interviews with former guerrilla soldiers in Agua Bonita and some of the other 25 Territorial Spaces for Training, Reintegration and Reincorporation (ETCR in Spanish), developed by the Colombian government and the UN to resettle thousands of former FARC fighters after the historic 2016 peace agreement.

We sought to understand the barriers faced by ex-combatants  as they try to reintegrate into civil society. With President Duque’s reign almost over and his successsor due to be elected on June 19, the result has major implications for the future of Colombia, the survival of the peace agreement, and the prospects of all those former combatants who have committed to a life without conflict.

After six decades of fighting, it is estimated that almost 20% of the population is a  direct victim of Colombia’s civil war – including  almost 9 million internally displaced people, 200,000 enforced disappearances, up to 40,000 kidnappings, more than 17,000 child soldiers, nearly 9,321 landmine incidents, and 16,324 acts of sexual violence.

For the almost 13,000 former FARC guerrillas, the end of the conflict initiated a process of “disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration” into Colombian society. But while positive steps were taken on both sides, more than 300 massacres  have been recorded since the peace deal was signed on September 26 2016. Some 316 FARC ex-combatants  and 1,287 human rights defenders  have been murdered during this period of “peace”, putting the agreement under increasing threat.

‘A place to have a dignified life’

The Agua Bonita  (“Beautiful water”) guerrilla demobilisation camp is located on a small plateau on the edge of the Amazon basin, about an hour’s bumpy drive from Florencia, capital city of the Caquetá department in Colombia’s Amazonía region.

Since 1970, Caquetá had been the headquarters for both FARC and the guerrillas of the Popular Liberation Army  (EPL). It is a geographically strategic corridor for illicit drug trafficking (particularly related to the production of cocaine), the transport of illegal weapons and the smuggling of kidnapped people. It is also one of the first places where guerrilla groups used landmines  to wrest territorial control from the Colombian army.

In 2017, when ex-FARC combatants first arrived in the empty area where Agua Bonita now stands, they worked with local builders for seven months to construct 63 houses using glass-reinforced plastic and average-quality plywood. Local workers from Florencia and the nearby towns of Morelia, Belen de los Andaquíes and El Paujil helped them build the camp.

“At the beginning, it was difficult to work side-by-side with the local builders because of our stigma as guerrilleros,” recalled Federico Montes, one of the community leaders. “But after six months of working with us every day, a couple of them moved with their families to live here!”

Agua Bonita is situated amid one of the most biologically diverse terrestrial ecosystems in the world; home to around 40,000 plant species, nearly 1,300 bird species and 2.5 million different insects. Red-bellied piranhas and pink river dolphins swim in the waters here – yet in both 2019 and 2020, Colombia was named the world’s deadliest country for environmentalists  by human rights and environmental observers Global Witness.

According to Montes, Agua Bonita’s high year-round temperatures and humidity mean “the weather is perfect to grow yucca, plantain, cilantro and pineapple. And if you are feeling more adventurous, you can have trees of arazacopoazuyellow pitaya  and other Amazonic crops. We are in the middle of a fruit heaven here.”

The community started with a population of more than 300 ex-FARC combatants. These days, it boasts a library with 19 computers and four printers, a bakery, convenience store and restaurant, a football pitch, health centre and community centre with a daycare facility for toddlers. Former combatants farm eight hectares of pineapple cash crop and have their own basic processing plant for fruit pulp. They also have six 13-metre-long fish tanks, a big hen house and dozens of large communal gardens.

One of the main attractions for visitors is the vibrant murals  painted on the 65 modest houses,  portraying  everything from local flora and fauna to guerrilla leaders and FARC paraphernalia. The most recurring features are the words “peace”, “reconciliation” and “hope”.

“Our main aim,” said Montes, “is to create a place to have a dignified life, where all together can be free, safe and secure, living in proper houses with access to health, employment, and education.”

Yet since the establishment of Agua Bonita in 2017, 29 ex-combatants  have been killed in the area. According to Olmedo: “During the government of Duque, there has been a shortage of food, goodwill and economic support in Agua Bonita – a total lack of governmental support. But the presidential elections are giving us hope for a better future.”

‘A lot of stigmas and negative attitudes against us’

In the run up to his election in June 2018, Duque, as leader of the right-wing Centro Democrático party, fiercely opposed the peace agreement with the FARC, vowing to renegotiate what he described as a “lenient” deal  while pledging not to “tear the agreement to shreds”.

After four years in charge, Duque – Colombia’s least popular president  in polling history – has undermined  the implementation of the peace agreement, and further polarised  the country and its politics. Levels of respect for human rights, security, quality of life and poverty have all worsened  under his militaristic tenure.

Olmedo Vega, 49, has lived in Agua Bonita from its earliest foundations. When we met him, Vega was taking part in a video letter exchange project  with young people from Medellin, Colombia’s second-largest city. “Some of the questions from these students were really difficult to answer,” he told us. “There are a lot of stigmas and negative attitudes against us as ex-FARC members. ‘Terrorist’, ‘murderer’, ‘killer’, ‘scumbag’ … these are the words some people used to introduce me.”

But these days, Vega is proud to call himself a student too. One evening, during dinner, he asked us: “What did the arrival of an American astronaut on the Moon mean politically?”

As we fumbled for an answer, he interrupted to say: “I am studying four hours every day to get my qualifications: two hours in the morning, two in the afternoon. We are 30 comrades working so hard to sit the ICFES (Colombian A-level exams) next September. This is why I believe in the peace process, because now we have the opportunity to study. I want to be a doctor in the future, this is my dream. I want to help people, and to build a more equal society in Colombia.”

That evening, Vega offered us cancharina  for pudding and the sugar cane drink by paramilitary groups  in 2021.

“Jorge was my pal. He taught me how to be a good guerrillero, a good comrade. He strongly believed in the power of peace and reconciliation. I cannot understand why he was assassinated in front of his family in that bakery.”

Expressed as a cold statistic, Garzón was ex-combatant no.290 to have been murdered since the signing of the peace agreement. The political assassinationFrancia Márquez, a black environmentalist, also received death threats.
Petro led the presidential election first round on May 29 with 40% of the votes. His rival in the run-off on June 19 will be Rodolfo Hernández, a businessman-politician who is viewed as a right-wing conservative and populist outsider.

Colombia is the only major country in Latin America that has never had a leftist leader. The country’s right-wing parties and liberal establishment appear determined to maintain this record, amid campaigns that have been regularly accused of racism, sexism and classism  against Márquez in particular.

Yet according to a recent survey, 79% of Colombians believe the country is on the wrong track. Political parties have a collective disapproval rate of 76%, with the Colombian Congress only marginally less unpopular.

The successful reintegration of thousands of ex-FARC guerrillas into civil society remains one of many daunting challenges for the next Colombian government. Reintegration problems encountered by ex-combatants worldwide have included  a lack of educational opportunities, the absence of suitable career options and insufficient psychological support.

In Colombia, we have identified three crucial aspects  that are challenging successful reintegration for FARC ex-combatants: a lack of participation in the civilian economy, a lack of access to educational opportunities, and a failure by the authorities to exercise “equal citizenship” that guarantees social and civic reintegration.

At stake is the entire future of the peace agreement, and with it, prospects for reducing poverty, inequality and other dynamics of economic exclusion. Three generations of Colombians do not know what it means to live in a peaceful society. The reintegration of ex-combatants is crucial to building a general understanding that reconciliation is key to creating a new Colombia, where violence is not the answer to overcoming your problems.

‘The stigma makes it impossible to get a job’

The access road to Agua Bonita is not easy. There is no public transport, and the roads are extremely precarious. The poor transport infrastructure of Caquetá in general severely hampers the productivity of this region.

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Question related to this article:

What is happening in Colombia, Is peace possible?

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While the camp – which operates entirely as a cooperative – has not suffered from trade boycotts, unlike some other reintegration camps, raw materials can take months to arrive here. And the twin spectres of discrimination and unemployment loom large over residents here.

“I have plenty of stories of people saying to me: ‘You cannot get a job because you don’t deserve it, just get out of here,’” Vega told us. “I have to fight against this stigma every day, and it is worst when I have to apply for a job because sometimes people have the wrong idea about us. I am a proud ex-combatant that just wants the peace of Colombia and a decent job!”

Daniel Aldana  is one of the youngest ex-combatants living in Agua Bonita. He has been trying to get a job since 2019 but, due to the extent of criminalisation and stigmatisation of ex-FARC guerrillas in the region, he said it is almost impossible for him even to secure an interview.

“When the employers saw my identity card had been issued in La Montañita [the nearest town to Agua Bonita], they said I needed to have a ‘special selection process’. That means they will double or triple-check with the authorities if I have a police record or if my name is on a terrorist database list. If you say you are from Agua Bonita, the people say you are a terrorist. This stigma is making it impossible to get a job here.”

Aldana is not alone. Jorge Suarez, a builder who spent more than 13 years as a FARC commander, recalled going for a job interview in Florencia. “It was so humiliating. ‘Assassin’, ‘murderer’ and ‘scumbag’ were just a few of the words the people at the recruitment agency used to refer to me. Never again.”

Suarez added: “The problem is that people don’t trust us. We have done everything to show that our intentions for a peaceful future are real, yet so far we are getting only two things back: no proper jobs, and tons of bullets.”

Such experiences are not unique to ex-combatants living in Agua Bonita. Esteban Torres, a former guerrilla doing his reintegration in the Pondores  camp (ETCR Amaury Rodríguez) in La Guajira, told us he had experienced the same negative reaction.

“In Riohacha City, when I was looking for a job, the people said to me: ‘Well, you look like a nice bloke, but you have blood on your hands. You will never have a job here because you have the blood of innocent people on your hands, and you are a terrorist – a disgrace.’”

Torres continued: “That is when you realise that this is a long-term process. We need a process to remove the stigma against us from Colombian people’s hearts.”

Lessons from Northern Ireland

As well as our interviews with former guerrilla soldiers in Colombia, we also conducted 12 in-depth conversations with ex-combatants in the conflict known as The Troubles. Despite Northern Ireland’s peace agreement  having been in place for nearly a quarter of a century – and the country’s very different societal context – we found many of the raw grievances raised by ex-FARC combatants mirrored by these former political prisoners in Northern Ireland, all of whom asked to remain anonymous.

While we heard common themes expressed by loyalist and republican interviewees alike, we highlight some republican voices here as these ex-combatants were dedicated to a form of counter-state insurgency that resembled the aims of the FARC’s armed struggle against the Colombian state.

One former member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, (P)IRA, spoke about his difficulties finding meaningful employment, despite the fact that he had gained educational qualifications during his time in prison. “I could only get low-level jobs. In prison I had studied so I had qualifications, but I was still only working as a kitchen porter or doorman.

“No one would employ an IRA guy,” he continued. “In one job, I was asked to leave because people found out about my past. They weren’t comfortable working with me any more.”

Another ex-(P)IRA combatant explained the complexity of simply filling out a job application form. “A job application asks: ‘Do you have a criminal record?’ If we say ‘no’ because we claim we don’t have a criminal record – we are not criminals – then we have lied and can be dis-employed, which has happened to many people. But if we say ‘yes’, then we will not get through the vetting procedure.”

Our interviews also highlighted a common resentment about the forms of legally structured discrimination that former combatants in Northern Ireland have experienced.

“We can be stopped from travelling to certain places, and certain jobs are completely off limits to us,” explained another ex-(P)IRA member. “Even our ability to spend money is restricted; we can’t purchase home insurance and car insurance. It’s an inhibitor. We can’t get business loans … It all adds up to making things more difficult for us than for everyone else.”

Many of our interviewees had either worked or volunteered for community-based organisations that sought to diffuse inter-community tensions in Northern Ireland, and to steer young people away from participation in violence. In general, an incredibly small number of ex-political prisoners on both sides have returned to political violence, and very few have been convicted for other forms of violent criminality. Yet despite this, the loyalist and republican ex-combatants we spoke to complained of being largely denied equality of citizenship, and still face blockages to participation in the civilian economy.

‘Society resents us’

More than a decade ago, Esperanza* served as a commander and learned about equal rights as she fought side-by-side with the FARC men. But as soon as she stepped into civilian life, she told us she lost her autonomy again.

“Historically, this is a patriarchal culture. Those of us who go to war break traditional roles and stereotypes set for women, so society resents us. I used to give orders and command 100 armed men, and now they are expecting me to do a cooking course! What the hell?”

Problems highlighted by Esperanza and Tania Gomez, another female ex-combatant living in Agua Bonita, include an absence of suitable career options for women, and a lack of psychological support and understanding of their needs and interests following the war. Such concerns are leading female ex-combatants to drop out of the reintegration programmes.

When the Colombian Reintegration Agency offered Gomez the chance to do a sewing and childcare course, she recalled saying to the official: “Are you kidding me! After 10 years of fighting against the Colombian Army every day, you want me to open a kindergarten? I didn’t join FARC to become a substitute mother, I am a revolutionary!”

For female ex-combatants, after long years as a fighter, the idea of “mainstream” family life can be very unappealing. “What would my life be like in the future if I follow this path?” Esperanza asked us. “Just at home with a husband, kids and playing ‘happy house’ forever? No way! I wouldn’t last a day doing that!”

The reintegration process has clearly failed to achieve genuine gender inclusiveness. When we asked Nelcy Balquiro why she joined the FARC 11 years ago, she said without hesitation: “I wanted to change the world and become somebody. I wanted to be part of something important. My dream now as a civilian is to empower everyday women about their rights and fight this patriarchal system. As a female ex-FARC commander, this is now my more important political mission.”

Discussing the wave of violence that is killing ex-combatants, Balquiro countered immediately: “Nobody says anything about the murdered females – once again the spotlight is on men! Nobody is saying a word about Maria, Patricia, Luz and the other 10 women  who have been murdered [since the peace agreement] – it is shameful.”

Balquiro wants to fight for equal pay and the right to work outside the home. She argued that “feminism is a main part of being a female ex-combatant. We are fighting now for Colombian women to have freedom from abuse and male exploitation.”

‘We are dreaming of peace’

Colombia’s outgoing leader Iván Duque will be widely remembered as a president that did nothing  to implement the peace agreement. Colombia’s election now offers a critical opportunity to address the problems amplified by four years of governmental neglect and lack of political will.

Simón* is a FARC ex-combatant living in the Icononzo  camp (ETCR Antonio Nariño) in the Andean region of Tolima. “I don’t want to live in fear for another four years,” he said.

“The feeling that paramilitary soldiers can kill you at any moment, working in alliance with the actual government, like what happened in Putumayo recently … it’s becoming unbearable. This presidential election is the opportunity to build new roads, new ways, and leave the torturous one that we are having now.”

According to Esteban Torres from the Pondores  camp: “The implementation of the peace process is similar to [Colombia’s traditional festival], Barranquilla’s carnival. Those who live it, enjoy it – and we want to continue the party. [Our goal] is not just to stop killing each other any more in Colombia; it is about creating a new culture of peace, a new rhythm.

“Duque almost killed the party. He didn’t know how to dance along with people that don’t like guns and his extreme-right perspectives. He just likes the rhythms of war. But now we have the opportunity to start tuning good vibes once again and change our future as new citizens of Colombia. My hope is to restart the party!”

Over the six-decade conflict, the Colombian state helped to create and sustain an image of FARC combatants as bloodthirsty barbarians. The new government will need to take brave and imaginative steps to break down these deep-rooted conceptions. There have already been some important initiatives, such as the letter exchanges  between former FARC combatants and Colombian civilians. However, much more must be done if the Colombian state is to avoid the long-standing forms of discrimination still being expressed by ex-political prisoners in Northern Ireland.

It’s also important, in time, to remove legal barriers to equality of citizenship. Understandable measures taken in the immediate aftermath of the conflict, such as the need to carry forms of personal identification that highlight an ex-combatant’s background, need to be subject to sunset clauses – to be lifted, for example, if an individual has met certain requirements that demonstrate their dedication to peace. Similarly, criminal records directly related to participation in the conflict might also be erased once ex-combatants have demonstrated their commitment to the agreement.

In addition, former combatants need to feel some control over their own reintegration. Many participated in combat from a very young age, and possess few skills beyond those learned in situations of violence. Peace can be very difficult for them to navigate. This needs to be recognised and incorporated into the thinking of the Colombian peace process as it develops under the new government.

On the last day of our visit to Agua Bonita, we asked Olmedo Vega what his biggest wish for the future is. “From the bottom of our hearts,” he said, “it is not to leave us alone. We have suffered war, and [since then] we have grown in hope and love. We carry on our backs the historical responsibility of generating reconciliation. We are dreaming of peace.”

*Some interviewees asked only to be identified by their first names

Bruce Kent: ‘a true man of peace’

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An article by Ellen Teague in the Independent Catholic News

I wonder how many people hearing Bruce Kent speak about peace activism in a Tablet webinar on 12 May and then seeing him attend the annual Conscientious Objectors service in Tavistock Square on 15 May marvelled at his continuing inspirational commitment to peacemaking in his 93rd year. Of course, he was partly able to manage it with his wife of 34 years – companion peace campaigner, Valerie Flessati – alongside him. But by the end of May Bruce was struck down by illness and died on 8 June. The strongest Catholic voice for peace and nonviolence in the UK was silenced. Or was it?

Bruce Kent with his hero Franz Jägerstätter

He was a great orator and his words at Pax Christi AGMs, Justice and Peace events, protests at places from Trafalgar Square to Faslane and literally thousands of events over the years will continue to inspire the millions who heard him speak live. Indeed, many talks and interviews can be accessed on the internet. He reached one million people at just one event – the Hyde Park march and rally in London against the Iraq War on 15 February 2003. “Wave your banners” he said, “what a beautiful sight you are” and engaged the crowd probably better than anyone else that day.

But speaking out was never linked to the size of an event. In early March he felt compelled to join a small CND delegation delivering a letter to the Russian Embassy in London, which said: “For the sake of Ukrainian children taking shelter from Russian missiles; for the sake of all those who will die if the situation escalates and for the sake of the millions of us who will perish if the heightened risk of nuclear war turns into a nuclear conflict, we urge your government to halt the attacks, withdraw the troops and withdraw the nuclear threats.”

He lent support to many campaigns. Earlier this year when Campaign against the Arms Trade highlighted the seventh anniversary of the Saudi-led coalition’s entry into the war in Yemen, where the Coalition’s bombing campaign caused around 9,000 civilian deaths with many more injured, he said, “I am so glad that you have drawn attention to the barbarism of the war in Yemen in which Britain, as an arms supplier, is very responsible.” His last blog for the National Justice and Peace Network called for Catholics to support the Peace agenda of Pope Francis – eight years younger than himself. And in it he deplored that at COP26, the recent UN meeting on Climate Change held in Glasgow, the massive contribution to CO2 output by the world’s military hardly got a mention despite all the efforts of peace activists outside the official meeting.

The most prominent Catholic peace activist in Britain for more than half a century, Bruce Kent has served in management of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), the International Peace Bureau, the Movement for the Abolition of War, as well as Pax Christi, the Catholic Movement for Peace. He has been vice president of both CND and Pax Christi UK.

But where did his focus on peace come from? Much is told in his autobiography ‘Undiscovered Ends’ which was produced in 1992 with only two-thirds of his life lived!

His compassion for people facing hardship or trouble, and victims of conflict, goes back to his youth. During schooldays at the Jesuit’s Stonyhurst College “where I became an orthodox, right wing young Catholic” he remembers making a fuss about the situation of a cleaner who had a two mile walk to work and he thought transport should be provided. All his life he was quietly attentive to people on the margins. After a period of national service in the British Army, where he served in Northern Ireland, and reading law at Oxford University, he entered a seminary to train as a Catholic priest. The seminary encouraged outreach and he paid weekly visits to a TB sanatorium. He reflected that, “being a Catholic was more than reciting prayers and saying Mass.”

In 1969 he was in Biafra during the Nigerian Civil War and saw the victims of the embargo imposed there. He used to point out that one and a half million people starved to death and the blockade was made possible by British weapons. “Biafra taught me the importance of fighting injustice’s causes – not just its symptoms” he said, and he has felt the same about the many wars since that time. To ignore the causes of injustice and war “is to short-change the poor of this world”. He felt that war and militarism could not be treated as separate issues by any aid agency dealing seriously with poverty.

Bruce was first introduced to the Catholic peace movement in the 1960s. He had met and greatly admired US Archbishop Thomas Roberts SJ at that time, who played a significant role in promoting recognition of conscientious objection to war, using the example of Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian Catholic who was beheaded in 1943 for his refusal to serve in Hitler’s army. People like Jägerstätter, Roberts argued, should know they have the clear support of Church teaching. He also took the view that nuclear weapons involve immoral actions: the destruction of innocent people and a willingness to perform such acts in given circumstances. Bruce had witnessed ‘Ban the Bomb’ demonstrations in London and developed an affinity with peace campaigners and conscientious objectors. It was a decade that saw him working for Cardinal John Heenan in Archbishop’s House, being made a ‘monsignor’, and clearly being earmarked as a rising star in the Church. He heard remarks about damaging his career if he remained active with CND, but peacemaking had become his primary vocation.

In the 1970s Bruce was juggling chaplaincy work, parish work and peace commitments, including working in the CND office. He was inspired by the great encyclical Peace on Earth in 1963 and in 1971 by the “remarkable” document on the Church and Justice produced by the Bishops’ Synod in Rome. Called Our World and You it focused on poverty, peace, education for justice and the Church’s duty to practice what it preaches. In 1980 he became the General Secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, at a time when Britain announced it would be hosting American cruise missiles and build new Trident nuclear submarines with American missiles and British warheads. Membership of CND mushroomed throughout the 1980s. Bruce spoke at huge rallies, wrote articles, did interviews, debates, and visited local groups. He often returned on a late-night train from meetings round the country and rose to say early Mass in his parish before heading to the office for another hectic day. There was also a growth in heated attacks on himself and on CND. On 6 August 1986, for example, as he completed a long walk from the nuclear submarine base at Faslane in Scotland to Burghfield, the nuclear bomb factory in Berkshire, the minutes’ silence for the dead of Hiroshima and all wars was drowned out by the loud music of opponents.

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His greatest sadness was that the Catholic Church “kept the peace movement at arm’s length,” although a CND survey in the early 1980s found that 25 percent of members were also Christians active in their churches. However, there were exceptions – the late Bishop Victor Guazzelli, former President of Pax Christi, and Bishop Thomas McMahon of Brentwood who broke ranks to call for Britain to take first steps to de-escalate nuclear build up. Bruce praised Cardinal Basil Hume “who gave me generous support” despite mounting personal criticism of Bruce’s role in CND by prominent Catholics. These were years when nuclear disarmament was a hot political issue, constantly in the news. For Bruce, things came to a head with the prospect of a 1987 general election promising another bitter contest over the nuclear issue, and further personal attacks on his leadership role in CND.

He felt he was in an impossible position. “Many of my fellow Catholics, and other Christians, told me that what I was doing as a priest gave them hope”, he says, “though I knew that most of my bishops did not think my work was priestly”. In February 1987 he took the decision to retire from active ministry, saying “I no longer find it possible to cope with the strain resulting from the tension between my pastoral role which means so much to me and what is thought to be an unacceptable political role”. In the 30 years since that time Bruce has continued his peace activism. Since 1988, his wife and peace activist Valerie Flessati has been by his side.

Bruce felt an affinity with all peacemakers and all would testify to his generosity and kindness in affirming others. At the 60th anniversary of Christian CND last year, Bruce and Valerie gave highlights of CCND campaigning. One participant said, “I will never forget Bruce turning up at Greenham Common – the site of cruise missiles – to bring chocolates and some warming Scottish ‘water of life’ during the biblical 40 days of rain after the caravans were evicted in September 1982, and many times after that!” He loved social gatherings and at his birthday parties he would have an array of party games ready for young nieces and nephews and others. My own family received cards from him regularly, whether praising articles or encouraging artistic endeavours. He gave time to sitting for son Luke and the resulting painting is today in the Bradford Peace Museum.

Bruce had endless positive energy, creativity and insight into important issues. The National Justice and Peace Network has called him a “modern prophet” and praised him for understanding “that all justice issues are connected, although his own focus was on ending war and building a culture of peace”. He was behind the DVD, Conflict and Climate Change, produced in 2009 which made links between militarism and human-induced global warming. In his speech at Coventry University last November, where he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate, he urged the student audience: “Please think for yourselves. Don’t be swept along by whatever happens to be the propaganda of the day. Ask your own critical questions. For example, why are people risking their lives trying to cross the Channel in small boats?” It was interesting when Pax Christi friends had occasional outings to the cinema to view some worthy film, that Bruce would loudly lament the adverts for violent films which preceeded it and which he felt should not masquerade as entertainment. He had an allergy to violence of any kind.

Bruce was an outspoken opponent of the British Government planning to spend more than £200 million on building and maintaining another generation of nuclear weapons to replace Britain’s current Trident system. He felt it makes nonsense of any British commitment to rid ourselves and the world of nuclear weapons. “If you have these weapons, you intend to use them” he would say, “and that is immoral”. He urged support of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Bruce educated young people about citizenship and the work of the United Nations. “I go into schools of all sorts” he said, “and ignorance of the good work of United Nations and of its sub agencies, of the International Court of Justice, or the International Criminal Court is massive”. It grieved him that, “the miracle which brought the UN to life in on 26 June 1945 remains so small a priority in the Church, and in public life generally”.

Bruce admired Pope Francis and supported his work on any action related to peace, justice, equality and the global trusteeship of our world. Bruce felt that peace on Earth is going to depend on joined up education and campaigning on overcoming poverty, militarism and climate chaos, and that Pope Francis understands these connections. “I believe in nonviolent solutions to problems” he said and was delighted that Pope Francis chose to focus on ‘nonviolence as a political choice’ for his World Peace Day message for 1 January 2017. He was full of admiration for people like Pat Gaffney, former general secretary of Pax Christi, who work quietly and constantly for the common good.

In fact, he was always anxious to recognise women. He applauded his own mother for the strong influence of her Catholic faith in his early years growing up in Hampstead, London, and also being “very generous and outgoing”, and Valerie for her peace publications and wisdom on strategising for peacework. Bruce and Valerie knew Franzisza, the widow of Franz Jägerstätter, personally and admired her support of her husband’s stance despite being left to raise their three children on her own, harassment from the local community and widowhood of seven decades. He commended Jo Siedlecka of Independent Catholic News for her interest in publishing peace events and stories, and women religious for their loyal support of Pax Christi.

Bruce engaged with groups outside church circles, wherever he found kindred spirits. In 1988 he walked 1000 miles from Warsaw to Brussels (NATO) calling for a united peaceful nuclear-free Europe. In 1999 he was British co-ordinator for the Hague Appeal for Peace, a 10,000-strong international conference in The Hague, which initiated some major campaigns (e.g. against small arms, the use of child soldiers, and to promote peace education). It was this, along with his friend, Professor Joseph Rotblat’s Nobel acceptance speech calling for an end to war itself, that inspired Bruce to establish in the UK the Movement for the Abolition of War. In 2019 the International Peace Bureau awarded Bruce the Sean MacBride Prize in recognition of his life’s work for peace and disarmament. Bruce also engaged with refugees, visited prisoners and campaigned for prison reform. He was a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

Bruce said once: “I have always been a glass half full not half empty person and in terms of peace and social justice the Catholic glass is very much half full”. He felt it was amongst groups of visionary people such as Justice and Peace groups and Pax Christi, “that I find my own sources of life and inspiration”. He was, “a comfortable member of my own parish but it is with its Justice and Peace Group that I am really at home and of one mind.”

I was always surprised that Bruce was sometimes seen as a contentious figure by some Catholics. He spoke such good sense with eloquence and vast background knowledge, always ready to listen to others and to engage with differing opinions. In private, the hospitality of Bruce and Valerie was legendary, surrounded in their flat by books, posters and memorabilia testifying to their faithfulness to their vocation as Catholic peacemakers. They were strongly ecumenical too. Just over a year ago, Bruce and Valerie were jointly awarded the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lambeth Cross for Ecumenism, “for exceptional, tireless and lifelong dedication to the Christian ecumenical search for peace, both individually and together.” He was widely admired. At the London service for conscientious objectors in Central London five years ago, there was great excitement that Sir Mark Rylance was speaking, but the award-winning actor himself said his highlight of the day was meeting his “hero”, Bruce Kent.

The media was buzzing with tributes as soon as his death was announced. From around the UK and internationally Bruce was described as “a true man of peace”, “one of the greatest peace campaigners the world has ever known” and “a great human being and a prophet”. I found particularly moving, “our society is weakened by his passing”.

Bruce’s favourite quote from Catholic Social Teaching was from Pope Paul VI’s 1967 encyclical Populorum Progressio: ‘Peace is the fruit of anxious daily care to see that each person lives in justice as God intends’. He gave faithful “anxious daily care” to his mission for peace for as long his health permitted and he will long continue to inspire.

The arduous path that Petro’s left must travel to reach power in Colombia

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An article from France24 (translation by CPNN)

Colombians voted May 29 and set up a second round between the leftist Gustavo Petro, who promises generous social programs, and Rodolfo Hernández, an eccentric business magnate. In its history as a democratic republic, Colombia has never been governed by a leftist executive. This is the year it is possible, but with Hernández in the ballot, who will receive the support of the majority of the votes of the other candidates, the path becomes difficult.

Gustavo Petro, head of the Historical Pact, won this Sunday, May 29, in the first round of the presidential elections and will face a surprising candidate in the second round, on June 19: businessman Rodolfo Hernández.


In the first election, the vote of the youth was key, of which a large part participated in the protests that shook the country last year. © Juan Barreto / AFP

Petro, an active politician and former member of the M-19 guerrilla movement, obtained 40.3% of the votes according to the pre-count of the National Registry. Rodolfo Hernández, for his part, former mayor of the city of Bucaramanga, obtained 28.1% of the vote, leaving the right-wing candidate, Federico Gutiérrez, who for weeks remained as the second option in the polls, outside the final contest.

A historical milestone for Colombia

A definitive victory for Petro would be a paradigm shift: the possible arrival of the left to power in Colombia as an a historical fact.

In the Andean nation, the majority governments of the right and even the extreme right succeeded each other for decades. “The left has always been marginal, unlike other countries in the Southern Cone, which have a leftist tradition with more electoral success,” explains Miguel García, professor of Political Science at the Universidad de los Andes, to France 24.

However, the left has gained strength in the country in recent years. Petro’s candidature was supported, above all, by Colombian youth, who demand changes and an improvement in living conditions. In fact, that request was shouted for months last year in the streets of Colombia, during an unprecedented National Strike.

Young people are a key demographic for Gustavo Petro, who has close to 50% support among voters in that age group. The leftist systematically led the opinion polls for his promises to redistribute pensions, offer a free public university and change what, according to him, are centuries of deep inequality, but he was about 10% away from dodging a run-off ballot, far from the most optimistic forecasts, which were as high as 46%.

The advantage in the first round will not compensate for the difficulties ahead for the candidate on the left

The victory of Petro, who is running for the third time in an election, would mean, according to Miguel García, “the triumph of a highly critical discourse towards the structures that have traditionally governed Colombia. It would be the rejection of a society based on inequality and symbolic hierarchies”.

However, the results of the first round do not mean that the game is won for Petro because the radical past of Petro weighs heavily in the debates and public opinion, and furthermore, his electoral rival prevents him from making a speech as polarizing as he would like.

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(Click here for the original Spanish version of this article.)

Questions related to this article:

What is happening in Colombia, Is peace possible?

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The other strong criticism of the candidate is the supposed future collapse that his victory would mean for the Colombian economy. His main opponent, Federico Gutiérrez, warned, for example, that the leftist’s economic plans, which include a ban on new oil and gas projects, would, according to him, ruin the country.

A “Chavista Colombia” unlikely if Petro wins

For his part, Petro has rejected repeated accusations that he will imitate the policies of the late former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and his successor Nicolás Maduro.

Regarding this repeated comparison between the current Venezuela and a Colombia governed by the left, the expert Miguel García maintains: “I think that the possibility exists. But with what probability? There is also the probability that an asteroid will fall and the earth will disappear … However, I think those fears are a bit unfounded. Petro represents a lot of uncertainty, to be sure, but not of this kind.”

Throughout an electoral campaign plagued by controversy and accusations, many analysts agreed on one point: the most difficult scenario for Petro would be a second round against the populist Rodolfo Hernández.

The Hernandez Phenomenon

And it turns out that the construction tycoon obtained this Sunday 28.1% of the votes. The septuagenarian has surged in the polls in the past two weeks, buoyed by his colorful social media presence and anti-corruption promises.

Hernández himself, 77, is facing an ongoing investigation into his alleged intervention when he was mayor of Bucaramanga that benefited a company for which his son was lobbying, something he has repeatedly denied..

In the second round, Hernández could count on the support of a broad ‘anti-petrista’ front: “He represents that conservative modernization so particular to Colombia, which does not question the status quo, but rather the political class and corruption. He is the perfect incarnation of the outsider Latin American who says what he thinks. He has a confrontational and authoritative discourse, willing to put an end to the great evils of the country. A mixture of Trump and Bolsonoro.”

But if he wins, the septuagenarian will not have an easy way to govern. Professor Garcia describes a possible scenario of confrontations with the entire Congress: “Hernández does not have a single legislator! In the legislative chambers the left has unprecedented terrain. He would have to approach the center-right sectors, which are precisely the object of his criticism”.

And he adds: “Trying to govern without Congress in Colombia is not easy. We have a very effective coalition tradition, and we have never seen that type of dispute.” On Petro’s side, the analyst speaks of a more feasible way to form a coalition, in addition to having a large part of Congress on his own political side.

Some results that reflect the fall of the right and “the defeat of a mediocre government”

The big loser of the day was Federico Gutiérrez. The former mayor of Medellín, from the right and the candidate most enlisted in official politics, obtained 5,054,993 votes, equivalent to 23.91% of the total votes. Although the opinion polls had predicted him as a candidate for the presidency in the second round, the conservative candidate did not detach himself from the accusations of being an ideological successor to the unpopular president Iván Duque and former president Álvaro Uribe, something that he wanted to distance himself from, without success. .

“His defeat reflects the defeat of a mediocre government, which was never linked to the citizenry, which always took the opposite side. The example of last year’s protests is enough: Faced with clear violations of human rights, the president preferred to wear a police jacket,” says Miguel García. And indeed, President Iván Duque is finishing his term with a disapproval that exceeds 67%.

Between these two candidates who claim a break, the next three weeks, until June 19, both will offer a tug-of-war between two proposals for change. The final decision will be made by the Colombians, who this Sunday said yes to the change, but it is not known exactly which one and in what direction.