The last time I was at Plaza Simon Bolívar in Bogotá there were protest camps. After a “No” vote in the peace referendum (50.2% vs 49,8% , with 27% turnout), both “No” and “Yes” camps continued to apply pressure regarding the Peace Treaty with FARC, the most notorious guerrilla group. While a free salsa festival took place, the camps remained on the square. That day the plaza was not only used for leisure, it remained the square most close to the parliament. Youth mobilised themselves after the referendum. Over eighty-thousand protested in the capital Bogotá and fifty-thousand in Medellín. Cali, Cartagena and other cities around Colombia followed suit.
In the time between my visit in November 2016 and now – 11 months later- Colombian President Santos altered a few things about the peace treaty. He continued to advocate for it and in November the treaty went straight to Congress and got signed. Moreover, in Quito the other remaining Colombian guerrilla group, ELN declared a ceasefire with the Government in September; a prosperous step in another peace negotiation.
Now, at One Young World 2017, Santos was not criticized for his Peace Treaty. At the opening at Plaza Simon Bolívar, Santos was celebrated as a great Latin American leader, able to end the civil war after 50 years. The civil war that caused many deaths, kidnappings and displacements for generations
On the way home from the One Young World opening at Plaza Simon Bolívar, many roads were blocked. More police than ever made sure Nobel Peace prize winners like President Santos, Kofi Annan, Tawakkol Karman and Muhammad Yunus and all the other leaders and delegates could get home safe and sound.
This time I’m in Bogotá to spread the word that One Young World will be hosted in The Hague next year, the international city of peace and justice. These two terms from my home city elucidate for me the juxtaposition of the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ camps in Colombia.
It might evoke a sense of justice, not to sign the peace treaty and thus continue the fight the battle for victory over FARC. Signing, however, would be saying yes to peace. The young Colombian delegates at One Young World think 50 years of conflict is enough. And they demand it is enough. To stop the long fight, it is time for forgiveness. Something the peace advocates could teach the world about: victims, ex-guerrilla and old military took the stage together. Their message: the only way forward is forgiveness.