Growing cacao in Colombia
(MCC Photo/Nina Linton)

Yorleidia Granado, Aida Marino, and Yenifer Caceres Moreno, 9, (left to right) fill small bags with organic material at the San Antonio Nursery, where staff plant and grow cacao seedlings before distribution. The Cacao not Coca project is run by the Mennonite Brethren Church of Chocó in Colombia, an MCC partner, to encourage the production of legal crops instead of coca.

For many in the United States, the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions Colombia is likely violence. However, after decades of conflict, Colombia is entering a second year of peace talks between the government and FARC-EP, the largest and most active guerilla group in the country. Using a six-point negotiating agenda agreed to in August 2012, the talks have thus far settled questions of land and rural development and political participation for the former armed movements. The latest round, which resumed in late February in Havana, Cuba, focuses on the problem of illegal drugs.

 Peace looks at what comes next and how to work towards healing and justice for all.

Many observers are hopeful that the talks will finally lead to peace, and the government has pledged itself to seeing the process through to completion. In addition, ELN, another one of the larger armed groups in the country, is also asking to be part of the peace process and have negotiations with the government of their own. In fact, the leader of ELN wrote in a letter to academics last month, “the year 2014 must be definitive for peace."

Human rights observers and some civil society actors are more cautiously optimistic. Even as the talks have been ongoing, Colombians have continued to suffer a number of human rights violations and abuses in the absence of a finalized signed agreement.

Government forces have continued to conduct military operations against the FARC and other guerrilla groups. In return, these groups have continued to wage campaigns of violence. Both sides are helping to perpetuate an overall climate of violence and disregard for human life and property. U.S. aid to Colombia sometimes perpetuates this cycle by continuing to fund the Colombian military and to neglect any meaningful funding for humanitarian aid or reconciliation efforts.

It is important to think of peace in Colombia as more than just an end to violence and conflict between the government and FARC. Peace looks at what comes next and how to work toward healing and justice for all.

In addition, it involves everyone and likely looks different for different people within Colombia. For some it might include justice for victims of violence, while for others it might be reparations for crops that have been fumigated or land or property that has been lost.

MCC is joining with other faith-based organizations to call for peace and social justice in Colombia on April 6 and 7 as part of the Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia. This year’s theme is ¡Adelante! Peace with Justice for ALL Colombians. It reflects the need to call for a voice for ALL Colombians in the peace talks, not just the government and primary paramilitary group. The word adelante is Spanish, and means “forward”. It was chosen because it symbolizes the imperative need to keep the peace talks moving forward toward peace and justice.

Psalm 34:14 says, “Turn from evil and do good. Seek peace and pursue it.” Scripture calls us to pray and work for peace. In Colombia, we pray that all actors will embrace peace rather than violence, and work together to end the conflict. We also call for an end to the United States' funding for military action, and pray that these monies may be dedicated to useful aid instead.

Printed with permission from Third Way Café.