I have been back in the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó for a couple of weeks now, but in some ways it seems like I never left. The stresses of life in the city were effortlessly exchanged for those in the jungle: rather than read about combat in reports sent to me in my Bogota office, I am hearing them in the night. There are physical stresses, too; I fell on muddy rocks and have a bruise on my hip the size of a dollar bill. My legs are scraped up from thorny plants. My body is vigorously trying to get back into shape for the hikes through the tropics that we take regularly.
Elements of the Colombian peace process that begins October 8 in Oslo indisputably distinguish these negotiations from prior attempts to put an end to Colombia’s five decade-long conflict. The insistence on learning from past mistakes is cause for optimism, and both parties seem to be taking the process seriously. The fact that negotiations are taking place abroad with international support, that the first phase has already been completed, that the agenda is limited, focused and has the clear objective of ending the war, that the FARC are militarily weakened and that they will be granted space to be involved in politics, are all factors which lead many to believe that this time could and should be different.
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The symbolic start of the Fellowship of Reconciliation was in 1914, on the eve of the First World War. Henry Hodgkin, a British member of the Religious Society of Friends and a former missionary doctor to China, and Friedrich Siegmund-Schultz, German Lutheran pastor at Potsdam and a chaplain to the Kaiser, having participated in Constance [Konstanz], Germany [on the border of Switzerland] in a conference of the World Alliance for Promoting International Friendship through the Churches, parted saying, “We are one in Christ and can never be at war.”
Hodgkins started organizing British Quakers for peace and reconciliation work, and in 1915 Hodgkin went to the United States to start the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), drawing especially on his Quaker contacts. While Quakers have always been active in FOR, they have also created specifically Quaker institutions working for peace such as the two Quaker U.N.Offices — the New York office being the responsibility of theAmerican Friends Service Committee and the Geneva U.N.Office that of the Quaker Peace and Social Witness of the Britain Yearly Meeting.