EL ESPECTADOR

How FARC Deal Could Change The Way Colombians Treat Each Other

Decades of war between FARC guerrillas and the government seem to have made aggression a widespread social trait in Colombia that's reflected in cases of domestic violence, bullying at school and a tendency to talk tough. The peace deal could help

Celebrating the peace deal with balloons in Bogota on Aug. 24
Celebrating the peace deal with balloons in Bogota on Aug. 24
Cristina de la Torre

-OpEd-

BOGOTÁ Has the prospect of peace in Colombia, a country that has seen five decades of fighting between communist guerrillas and government troops, changed the way Colombians speak to one another?

Tired of war, Colombians may be starting to shed the aggressive discourse that has been prevalent in our society.

People's tone and words are changing as we approach the moment when we decide whether to continue this war or end it. On Oct. 2, we will be voting in a referendum that decides the fate of a peace deal struck between the communist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the government. By voting, we would also be deciding whether to stop or continue the language of hate and vengeance that has been pervasive in Colombia thanks to the prevalence of drug trafficking and crime.

This is no small feat. The public debate about the peace deal has protagonists who have faced each other in battle. Yet, both sides are changing their talk.

President Juan Manuel Santos has said he recognizes the state's responsibility in the murder of scores of members of the Patriotic Union, a leftist party, in the 1980s and 90s by right-wing paramilitaries and gangsters. General Alberto Mejía, the army chief, has been telling his troops that peace is victory. Rodrigo Londoño, FARC's supreme leader better known by the nom de guerre Timochenko, recently declared that his greatest satisfaction is to have "won peace."

Drenched in tears, Pablo Catatumbo, another FARC commander, apologized "with sincere humility" to the families of 12 kidnapped lawmakers that FARC shot dead in 2007. The response of victims who have faced FARC's violence may seem to indicate a willingness to forgive if the culprits show they are sorry. Are these signs that Colombia may become a nation whose people have reconciled?

That would be a different country from the one we've had so far, which the sociologist Medófilo Medina describes as one of "pervasive violence" that has engulfed mainstream social culture. Colombia has had an "anything goes" mentality where there's amorality, violence in personal relations, veneration of a militaristic state, and celebration of paramilitaries and guerrillas. In this society, vindictive speech and deceit are the daily currency of political debate, and double standards are a virtue.

Strangely enough, in such a warped society, it was drug money that brought a semblance of order to the chaos, and offered disenfranchised people a chance to rise up the social ladder in remote abandoned districts.

One recalls comments made by a former student of the painter Daniel Segura Bonnett, who jumped out of a New York apartment in 2011. Segura, who suffered from psychiatric problems, had been viciously bullied by his students at a private school for boys in Bogotá, apparently for his effeminate voice. On hearing about Segura's death, the former student merely said, "We just decided to keep laughing."

If this is the behavior decades of conflict has fueled in our society, then Oct. 2 is the day to take that first step to change it — by voting "yes" to the peace deal.

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China

Peng Shuai, A Reckoning China's Communist Party Can't Afford To Face

The mysterious disappearance – and brief reappearance – of the Chinese tennis star after her #metoo accusation against a party leader shows Beijing is prepared to do whatever is necessary to quash any challenge from its absolute rule.

Fears are growing about the safety and whereabouts of Peng Shuai

Yan Bennett and John Garrick

Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai's apparent disappearance may have ended with a smattering of public events, which were carefully curated by state-run media and circulated in online clips. But many questions remain about the three weeks in which she was missing, and concerns linger over her well-being.

Peng, a former Wimbledon and French Open doubles champion, had been out of the public eye since Nov. 2. 2021 when she penned a since-deleted social media post accusing former Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual misconduct.

In the U.S. and Europe, such moments of courage from high-profile women have built momentum to out perpetrators of sexual harassment and assault and give a voice to those wronged. But in the political context of today's People's Republic of China (PRC) – a country that tightly controls political narratives within and outside its borders – something else happened. Peng was seemingly silenced; her #MeToo allegation was censored almost as soon as it was made.

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We are grateful for reader support to continue our unique mission of delivering in English the best international journalism, regardless of language or geography. Click here to contribute whatever you can. Merci!
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