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Promoting Peace in Regions of Conflict

In recent years, Colombia has made a growing international effort to be considered a safe country in which to live and invest. The nation's capital, Bogota, even exudes a festive, relaxed air on weekends. However, the reality on the ground, and in certain parts of the country, is still quite different. For one thing, the country is still in the middle of a now 50-year-old civil war with its indigenous leftist FARC rebels, and although peace talks are in process, violence can still erupt. In addition, narcotics traffickers are violently driving primarily poor and black Colombian residents from their coastal homes while forcibly conscripting young men to their ranks. Government forces are also guilty of repressive practices and perpetrating random violence on non-combatants. In a particularly troubled area, the Pacific Coast town of Buenaventura, "about 12,000 people have been driven from their homes in each of the past several years," and "dozens if not hundreds have disappeared or been murdered" according to correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro, in a 7-minute news video prepared for Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, a source for cutting edge reporting at the intersection of faith and politics. 

To help promote peace and establish justice on the ground, the Colombian government has set up a reparations agency with the mission to provide affected civilians "education and health benefits and housing, [and] where possible a return of their original properties," De Sam Lazaro noted. It's working in some regions, but not so well in others, according to program head Paula Gaviria. "We're doing this in the middle of conflict," she noted, "and we are hopeful that this will have a good end," but there are regions of the country where narcotics, gun-running, land-owner funded private militaries, and overzealous government forces make it difficult to right past wrongs. One new force to help those who are trying to bring peace to the country and promote reparations is the Catholic Church. Father Jesus Geraldo notes that the Catholic Church has historically tended to keep a distance from specific programs, but Pope Francis, the first Latin American pope, has spoken in favor of such efforts, providing "a breath of renewal." Also see our feature article, "10 Years of War and Hopes for Peace," a reflection on the ambiguities of seeking peace in the midst of conflict in the Middle East.

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