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Correa’s Latin legacy of peace

Guillermo Gaviria Correa’s story could easily serve as a testimony for the challenges of practising non-violence. As governor of the state of Antioquia in Colombia Correa he promoted non-violence. He knew this was the only solution to the protracted conflicts of that region, and this effort cost him his life.

In April 2002, Governor Correa was leading a march for non-violence and solidarity when he and various other officials were kidnapped by the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—People’s Army), a left-wing guerrilla group. After over a year of being held in captivity Correa was killed by the FARC during a failed military rescue attempt.

The grief and pain of this loss could easily fuel cynicism about non-violence. Why then has Correa’s legacy strengthened the votaries of non-violence? How and why does faith in non-violence not merely survive but thrive and bloom in societies where violence permeates the everyday lives of millions of people?

Some of the most moving and inspiring answers to these questions can be found in an extensive diary written by Correa while in captivity. He concentrated on listening to the stories of his captors, of ‘how the hard circumstances of the rural areas are contributing to the fact that they find no other solution’ but to become fighters.

Correa went on to describe how the status quo of Colombian society fosters a vicious circle of violence which diminishes people with such force ‘…and every day gives them more reasons to favour violence.’

This is standard knowledge that applies to situations across the world. What gave power to Correa’s narrative was his capacity for hearing out his captors with empathy. This deep listening led him to write: ‘with more conviction I see that only the will of God and non-violence can help, so together we can build a way of reconciliation and peace.’

Are we all capable of such generosity and hope in the midst of life-threatening danger? Most proponents of non-violence would say yes everyone has this capacity, even if it is latent. Those who do not share this faith might nevertheless be moved by the Colombian poet William Ospina’s conviction that the generosity of Correa’s example may ‘accompany us’ – carrying future generations across ‘this horizon of spiteful wars… beyond this insane idea that violence can be a solution’.

This faith is manifest in the on-going efforts of the Gandhi Foundation in Medellin.  Colombia. Correa was one of the first trustees of this civic group set up by Harivadan Shah, an Indian businessman who has lived in that city for 40 years.

Like many people in this city Shah has been robbed at gun point. His staff was once held at gunpoint while various machines and goods in his factory were stolen – the assailants came with a large truck. Nevertheless, when Shah wanted to give back to the city where he became prosperous – promoting non-violence and Gandhi’s ideals was the natural course of action.

Over the last 12 years since it was established, the Gandhi Foundation has annually supported the living expenses of 12 to 15 students at various universities in Medellin  . In return the students have to attend the Foundation’s workshop on non-violence and undertake some project that helps to spread the values of non-violence.

Luis Javier Botero, one of the current trustees of the Gandhi Foundation, is a veteran trainer of non-violence as a method and a way of life. He is a student of Bernard Lafayette, who worked closely with Martin Luther King.

Botero  was worked closely with Correa, helping the governor to invest in social processes that opened ways for non-violent solutions to intractable conflicts. When Correa was killed Botero lost both a political leader and a friend. That loss strengthened rather than weakened his confidence in the workability of non-violence as a way of life and as a method.

This is not a feel-good conviction that skims the surface of grim realities. The confidence is rooted in intensive work, spiritually, within himself as well as programs anchored in communities. These efforts reaffirm the lines in a poem by the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda: “Light came despite the daggers.”

Rajni Bakshi is the Gandhi Peace Fellow at Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations.

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