Cuba, the unifier, promotes peace in Colombia

The world is wracked by divisions. The United Nations does manifest unity, but otherwise jostling nations fill the landscape, oppressed peoples migrate toward oppression, racial groupings are at each other’s throats, religious rivalries are legion, and social classes are divided.

Is there another way? Or, more precisely, do nations or peoples exist that, moving beyond local realities, create unity in the cause of peace?

Pope Francis thinks there’s at least one. On his way to Mexico for a five-day visit in February, 2016, he stopped at the Jose Marti Airport in Havana. There, Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church, about to visit Latin American countries, was waiting. The two prelates talked and signed a 30 – point statement on common purposes. This was the first high-level contact between these two great denominations since the “Great Schism of 1054.”

The meeting was over, and Pope Francis sought out Cuban President Raul Castro. “I don’t want to leave,” he said, “without expressing a sense of gratitude to Cuba, to the great Cuban People, and to their President, who is here.” And, “If Cuba keeps on being so really available like this, it could become the capital of unity.” President Castro assured Pope Francis that, “Cuba will continue supporting peace. And now the matter of Colombia remains.”

52 years of civil war

In November 2012, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government began negotiations to end 52 years of war. The war has caused more than 200,000 Colombians to be killed and six million to be displaced from their land. Dissenting civilians often face violent repression, and 9000 political prisoners have accumulated.

The two sides looked to Cuba; by mid-2012 the government there had arrangements in place to host the talks. Cuba provided facilities, hospitality, transportation, communications, and general support for the negotiating teams. Cuba, with Norway, served as a “guarantor country” for the negotiations.

June 23 this year in Havana was the big day. The mood was both celebratory and serious as Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, FARC leader Timoleón Jiménez, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the presidents of six other nations, assorted diplomats, and “special envoys” all gathered for the signing of an important document.

Negotiators had been dealing with a pre-determined five-point agenda. Agreements on all five were necessary so that a final accord could be signed. They had already reached agreement on the first four items, and on June 22 they announced they had agreed on point five, “End of Conflict.” The signing of that agreement the next day established the certainty of a final accord. Peace was on the way.

“End of Conflict” was about how to monitor and verify the giving up of arms by FARC combatants, how they’d prepare for civilian life, and how attacks against them from paramilitaries would be prevented.

The signing was a watershed moment. Dignitaries on hand speaking to the gathering lavished praise on Cuba for its role in advancing the peace process. President Castro spoke of unity and peace.

“Peace will be victory for all Colombia, but also for all of ‘Our America,'” he said. “The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) achieved, in its young history, the great milestone of proclaiming this region to be a Zone of Peace. The end of armed conflict in Colombia will be one more demonstration of the firm commitment of our peoples against the use of and threat of force and in favor of the peaceful resolution of controversies – Before differences, dialogue; before challenges, coordination.”

Cuba’s history as a unifier

Cuba’s record speaks of bringing people together: from participation in Colombia’s peace process, to the fostering of alliances and cooperation in Latin America and the Caribbean, to the work overseas of Cuban doctors, to Cuba’s teaching of vast numbers of the world’s young people.

Veteran Cuba watcher Andres Gomez explained recently that Cubans are confident: “Life in the country plays out ‘calmly’… [and Cubans] uniquely, are the owners of their destiny and that’s because, against wind and tide, they are the absolute owners of their homeland.”

Cubans, he seems to be implying, know more about solidarity and collaboration than about the jostling and isolation so pervasive in the commercialized, industrialized world.  

Meanwhile, in a Colombia without armed conflict, the watchword will be unity, says Carlos Lozano, editor of the Communist Party’s Voz weekly newspaper.  “The future of the left,” he told an interviewer, “has to be unity that overcomes narrow-mindedness, sectarianism, power-plays, and parochialism. There won’t be ideological unity because not all leftists think alike, but a common program that unifies for the sake of taking power is necessary. It’s the challenge forced on us by political reality.”

Photo: Cuba’s President Raul Castro, center, encourages Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, left, and Commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC, Timoleon Jimenez to shake hands, in Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015.   |  Desmond Boylan/AP


W. T. Whitney Jr.
W. T. Whitney Jr.

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine.