Church's Role in the Colombian Quagmire

Interview With Archbishop Castro Quiroga of Tunja

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BOGOTA, Colombia, JULY 10, 2003 (Zenit.org).- In a land torn by violence, drug trafficking and social upheaval, the Catholic Church is helping to mediate between the government and Marxist-inspired guerrilla groups.

To help out, the bishops’ conference established the National Reconciliation Commission, while Colombian President Álvaro Uribe for his part called representatives of the clergy to join a government-sponsored committee that negotiates with the guerrillas.

One of the members of that committee, Archbishop Luis Augusto Castro Quiroga, vice president of the episcopal conference, spoke recently with Vatican Radio about the status of the peace talks.

Q: What are the reasons that impel the Church to play this role in the negotiations?

Archbishop Castro Quiroga: There are different reasons. Above all, the Catholic Church has always tried to be open to all the groups, for reasons of evangelization. The Church cannot say, “We are interested in one sector and not in the other.” It has not identified with one side in opposition to the other, but has tried to remain in the middle.

This is how it has been able to keep the door open to all. A second reason is the moral authority that the Church has in Colombia. In the third place, the Church is present everywhere. Therefore, it has the possibility of contacts in any area of the country.

Q: However, the dialogue has now ceased. Why?

Archbishop Castro Quiroga: During the dialogue process, there were debates about how it could lead to peace. On the other hand, the actions of the guerrillas, in terms of violence, continued to be terrible. So we arrived at a point where the dialogue was not accepted in those conditions, given that one thing was said at the table, but another was done later.

Q: Can the United Nations carry out its role to achieve peace?

Archbishop Castro Quiroga: The Colombian president made specific requests for the United Nations to help in this process. However, evidently there are difficulties. Above all, the president wanted the United Nations to take the place of the state, of the government itself, and to dialogue directly with the guerrillas.

For its part, the U.N. responded: “No, we cannot take the place of the state. We can be witnesses of an ongoing process. But the negotiators must always be the groups at war and the state.”

The guerrillas also rejected the United Nation if its role was to be that of the state, but were not opposed to its presence as a special witness.

Q: How important is the narcotics traffic in what is happening in Colombia?

Archbishop Castro Quiroga: All the groups at war have chosen cocaine as the principal means to sustain their forces. This is the reason why the State, which knows this fact, fights so vigorously against this drug substance. Without cocaine, there would be no war, at least in the proportions seen at present.

Q: How does the Church help the numerous refugees that this conflict is causing?

Archbishop Castro Quiroga: With special programs for them. Through the national and diocesan social pastoral care plans, programs are under way to receive these people so that they can begin to be autonomous.

The second point is to help people to return to their places of origin, which means that the place from where they come must give guarantees of security. I think that at present, the social sector is the greatest challenge for the Church in Colombia. We are talking about 3 million to 4 million people. It could be said that 50% of them are children, youths and women.

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