The Common Good

A Colombian Peacemaker's 'Option for Civil Resistance'

We are deeply concerned. Attempts are being made to link Héctor Mondragón to the FARC guerilla movement in Colombia's paper of record, El Tiempo, which has reported on alleged e-mails to Héctor found on the computer of assassinated FARC leader Raul Reyes. Héctor, a Mennonite economist dedicated to the cause of the poor, is a good personal friend. He works closely with Colombia's indigenous and small-scale farmers (campesinos). He speaks passionately and writes prolifically on connecting the dots between the social political violence suffered and multi-national economic interests underlying the current armed conflict. In Colombia, good work does not go unnoticed. He is a survivor; he was being tortured around the time I entered the world.

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Colombian Mennonite Church President Alix Lozano writes:

Héctor H. Mondragón has been a member of our church since 1994, that is, 14 years. We have known him as a Christian not only committed to the cause of Jesus Christ, but also to Jesus' teaching and example of nonviolent love. ... His positions towards the government as well as toward the insurgent groups have been clear. ... The Colombian Mennonite Church rejects any attempt to link one of its members -- and in this particular case Héctor H. Mondragón -- to any armed group or any violent practice or to slander his/her name, which as we all know, is also extremely dangerous for the life and security of any person in this context. (Click here for the full statement; aquí para español.)

You can also read Héctor's response in his own powerful words in an essay called "My choice for civil resistance" (aquí para español):

Those who know me know very clearly that I am not part of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), because I disagree with their strategy, their political line, and their methods.

For 18 years, I have publicly and privately differed from the FARC's strategy. That strategy is centered on the role of the guerrilla converted into a revolutionary army, through which the people can seize power and transform society. ... It has become a tragedy for popular struggles. It has permitted the strengthening of the extreme right, which today is running the country. Not only has it failed to stop the displacement of hundreds of thousands of peasants and Afro-Colombians, but it has actually exacerbated that process, and even provoked the forced displacement of indigenous peoples in various parts of the country. ...

Since 1994 I have opted for a personal commitment to nonviolence as the way to contribute to radical social change. I renounced the use of arms in self defense under any circumstance. I got rid of two revolvers that I had legally carried since I had been threatened with assassination ... I stopped working with bodyguards because I did not want to save my life at the expense of another. I ended up abandoning all routines, and thus the possibility of a stable job, in order to avoid being assassinated. I believe in the struggle for radical social change, but I believe it must be accompanied with a radical change of method, the abandonment of armed struggle and the abandonment of the notion that the end justifies the means. The radical means of nonviolence can help us reach the objective of truly radical social change. ...

It is not about replacing one corrupt, right wing government with another. It is not about exchanging one set of gangsters for another, so that our friends can rule instead of our enemies. It is not about demonstrating "governability" without meeting the basic needs of the 80% of Colombians who live in poverty. Colombia needs deep changes, especially on the land and in its relationship to the transnationals. And the only way to win these changes is to deploy the widest civil resistance, to construct alternatives from the base, and to have massive and committed civil mobilization. Absolutely everything I have done in these years, every single day, has been to work towards this with all my strength and all my experience.

Today, I still carry wounds from the torture that I suffered in 1977 and also from 20 years of being threatened with death, pursued by the paramilitaries. Sometimes I lose hope, especially when I know that some of my friends have been killed. I ask myself why continue in this struggle with indigenous people and peasants, why not give up. But then I am struck again with the passion for the people I love and the certainty that they deserve lives with dignity, and solidarity. They failed to kill my body but today they are threatening to kill my words, and I feel it like a re-opening of my old wounds. But the word is a seed and it grows, whatever happens, in the peasant on the land, in an indigenous person in her territory, in Afro-Colombians returning to their communities, in those who live in the popular neighborhoods of the cities who will eat better after the land reform that we will win, in every working family that will get a just wage for work, there the word will live. They won't be able to kill it.

A call to action may be forthcoming. For the time being we invite you to share this concerning turn of events and pray. Héctor writes, "I remain firm in prayer and many have prayed for me as well. They sustain me. (Me he aferrado a la oracin y muchos han orado por m. Me llegan muchos apoyos y me sostienen. )"

Janna Hunter-BowmanJanna Hunter-Bowman works for Mennonite Central Committee in Bogotá, Colombia, as the coordinator of the Documentation and Advocacy Program for Justapaz.

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