Cuban Concert for Victims in Colombia

Havana, Cuba

December 15, 2015

I arrived in Havana on Sunday, having heard that an agreement on victims was imminent at Colombia´s peace table. On Monday evening, the Cuban government, which serves as one of the guarantor nations of the peace process here, organized a concert to honor the victims in Colombia, ten of whom have come to Havana to witness the announcement of the agreement, expected this morning.  I rode in a bus with some of them to the event, which was held at the Museum of Sacred Art in the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi in old Havana near the Plaza de Armas.

On the ride, I sat next to Debora Barros, a 38-year old leader from the organization, Wayuumunsurat, Women Weaving Peace, in La Guajira, where the massacre of the Bahía Portete took place. Debora had participated in the first victims’ delegation to the peace talks last year and was now back a second time as one of ten victims hand-picked by the Catholic Bishops Conference, the United Nations, and the Centro de Pensamiento of the National University. This time, like the first, she was surprised to be invited to Havana, but after thinking about it, she agreed to go. She noted that she had resisted the violence as an indigenous person, as a woman, and as a victim, and thought it appropriate that she be present. “Our Wayuu community has a long tradition of conflict resolution,” she told me. “We understand that war leads nowhere. We have to understand problems and listen to each other.”

I asked Debora about the role of the victims in this process and whether she thought they had had any impact on the outcomes. “The victims were fundamental to the peace process. Without them, there would be no progress on the theme of victims. We made concrete petitions and provided analysis,” she told me. “The victims retained their dignity, their aspirations and their demands. We are the overseers (veedores) of this process.”

I asked Debora about the differences among the victims’ delegations. Every delegation contributed something different, she said but we were “united in a single shared pain.” More specifically, she told me that all of the victims’ delegations had demanded that the parties stay at the table until a final agreement is reached, and that the peace delegations develop mechanisms for resolving their differences.

Debora noted that the process also had both positive and negative impacts on the victims. The delegates returned to Colombia following their visits to Havana with an even higher level of commitment to peace and to seeing the process through to the end of the conflict. Furthermore, the delegates’ participation and visibility increased at a regional and national level as they were invited to participate in new scenarios for peace. On the negative side, victims returning from Cuba were the target of threats and stigmatization that generated fear and uncertainty. “It is all very risky,” Debora told me. “We have suffered and have undergone tremendous losses, but I do it for my family and my three children so that they might have a better life. If the victims don’t fight for peace, who else will? “

We spoke of children, of the future generations.   “In our communities, children of paramilitaries, children of the FARC, and children of the victims live together,” Debora observed. She told me there is much urgent work to be done with the younger generation and a tremendous need for psycho-social support, soccer, and other activities so that these children don’t grow up in the midst of hate and vengeance.“Working with these children can help break the cycle of violence,” she underscored. While youth have not yet been brought into the process in Havana, they are key stakeholders in this process, and their voices need to be heard.

A Concert for Peace

We entered the old colonial church and were surrounded by priceless religious paintings, statues, and relics of the Spanish colonial period. A crucified Jesus hung suspended from the rafters on a cross in the main apse at the front of the church.The faint scent of incense wafted through the cooling air of the evening, fanned by Caribbean breezes off the water just a block away.

It was as much ceremony as concert. Seated in the front row of the church to the right of the main aisle were the members of the Secretariat of the FARC—Timochenko, IvánMárquez, Joaquín Gómez, Carlos Lozano, Pastor Alape and Pablo Catatumbo. The government delegation—including Humberto de la Calle, Sergio Jaramillo, Oscar Naranjo, and Frank Pearl–arrived next. They shook hands with each of the FARC leaders and then took their seats to the left of their counterparts.

A church bell rang to initiate the program, and a woman clad in white stepped up to the podium to welcome the crowd. She greeted the delegation of victims, the delegations of the government and FARC-EP, representatives of the guarantors (Cuba and Norway) and nations accompanying the talks (Venezuela and Chile), members of the diplomatic corps, the jurists commission, the Historical Commission on the Conflict and its Victims, the United Nations, the Colombian Bishops Conference, and the National University. She then introduced the Cuban pianist, Juan Fernández.

An accomplished pianist of more than 50 years, Fernández stepped up to the main altar, which was dominated by an enormous grand piano. After a few introductory remarks, he sat down at the piano. He set the keys jumping for his first number, then rendered a masterful version of “Ave María” before a packed church. His fingers were strongand nimble. Eyes closed in absolute concentration, his entire body explored a variety of moods and styles, alternating playfulness and gravity, always in complete control of his art. He drew from religious classics, African and Spanish dance music, Andean milongas, piano suites, waltzes, congas, and the much beloved “Gracias a la Vida” by Violeta Parra. He finished off with the Christmas tune, “Silent Night”, and left his final notes twinkling like stars in the night.

It seemed fitting that we were in a church. Heavy arches of stone creating a vaulted echo chamber and exquisite acoustics that gave a resonance to the music. The space was sacred for another reason as well, as it prepared the crowd for today’s anticipated announcement of an agreement on justice at the peace talks.









About Ginny Bouvier

Love reading, writing, thinking, and working with people to make the world a better place. Family and friends, yoga, travel, photography, perusing dessert menus keep me sane. Latin American enthusiast. Peace practitioner yearning for justice. Heading up the Colombia program at the U.S. Institute of Peace, but tweets and posts are my own.
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