March for Peace Floods Streets of Bogota

News from Colombia | on: Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Marchers gather in Bolivar Square, Bogota

Marchers gather in Bolivar Square, Bogota

9th of April is a highly significant date in Colombian history, since on this day in 1948 the immensely popular Liberal leader Jorge Gaitan was assassinated in Bogota, sparking a ten year dirty war of vast proportions that morphed into today’s civil war.

On Tuesday April 9th took on yet more symbolic meaning when over a million Colombians marched in the capital Bogota in support of the peace talks between the government and FARC guerrillas that are now taking place in the Cuban capital, Havana.

The March for Peace for Peace with Social Justice was organised by social organisations and left-wing groups, with the Patriotic March alone mobilising some 150 thousand people from across every region of Colombia. According to Colombian analysts, the march has proved the Patriotic March movement to be an important political actor with substantial mobilisational capacity.

The leadership of the Patriotic March called the march a ‘demonstration of pluralism in support of peace’, and said that it was a message from the people of Colombia that they will not allow either the government of the guerrillas to halt the negotiations without achieving a stable and lasting peace settlement.

The march was the result of months of painstaking community level organisation by the Patriotic March and other groups, where the regional delegations were financed by the communities themselves. The march was backed by the Mayor of Bogota, Gustavo Pietro, as well as other political organisations. With such broad social support it became impossible for the government not to support the march, and on the 8th of April, in a speech in which he reiterated that there would be no ceasefire in the war, Santos called for all Colombians to support the campaign for peace, stating that he would carry out a march of his own from the Ministry of Defence to a nearby Memorial.

The march was also warmly greeted by the FARC whose statement called for ‘an end to this tragic night of violence’ and stated: ‘We long for a peace with democracy, participation, dignity, with national production, with land, culture, education, with equality. A peace that allows the men and women born in this country, and those yet to come, to achieve their full realisation.’

On the day of the demonstration vast columns of marchers converged on the city centre from parks and university campuses. Meanwhile in the centre President Santos, amid heavy security and followed by members of his government, pushed a wheelchair-bound soldier to the site of a tree planting ceremony. For nearly a million other Colombians the day was just beginning. Carrying banners representing their social organisations and political groups they walked through the streets unmolested by police. The result was the first peaceful demonstration in many years.

At the rally leading peace campaigner Piedad Cordoba, read an ardent ‘Second Prayer for Peace’, echoing a ‘Prayer for Peace’ read by Jorge Gaitan 65 years ago, in which she said ‘For 65 years we have been asking for peace, hoping for peace. Today we can no longer ask for it, nor beg for it, nor wait for it,’ Ms Cordoba said. She called for the country to recognise that while the military conflict had created many victims, the social and political conflict was also the root of much violence. Because of this, she demanded, peace needed to be accompanied by social, political and economic reforms to provide peace, justice and real democracy.

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