Violence – When Will It End?

Living in a country like Colombia I constantly worry about how much “real life” my kids are being exposed to. Plus, what is real life? Real life is different in the US, Europe, Africa or Colombia.

Although it’s easy to forget because things appear so calm here living in a small town in the Andes and people are so incredibly polite, Colombian society has been living with violence for about seventy years. Political violence, drug fueled violence, family violence – Colombians have seen it all.

“We have to end this nightmare of 65 years,” said Colombian president Santos yesterday (according to various newspaper sources), referring to the 1948 assassination of liberal leader Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, which ignited a long period of political unrest known as “La Violencia”. It is as if the Democrats and the Republicans took up arms against each other instead of paying millions of dollars for nasty TV ads against their opponents.

Santos has opened peace talks with the FARC (Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces), a leftist guerrilla group founded in 1964 that grew out of the lawlessness and ideological divisions that also spawned right-wing paramilitary groups and drug trafficking organizations. Over the past half a century of armed conflict in Colombia is estimated to have left 600,000 dead, 15,000 missing and 3, 7 million people displaced by fighting and people are tired of the violence.

Why am I writing about all this? Because as I said, it’s easy to forget this reality living in what appears to be a peaceful town yet it is important to remember because the repercussions of this violence reverberate throughout Colombian society. I personally think that this one of the main reasons people are ultra-polite and hesitant to disclose what they really think. Historically, expressing yourself could get you killed.

Yet back to the point of this blog, yesterday was the anniversary of the killing of Jorge Eliecer Gaitan and there was a peace march in Bogota and throughout Colombia. Reports of how many people actually attended this rally vary widely, from 150,000 to over 1 million, but one thing is for sure, Colombians want peace.

Jade, our ten year old, learned all about Gaitan and the violence that followed his assassination yesterday in school. The school held an hour-long assembly to talk about the peace process. The brother of one of Jade’s classmates is actually working with the government on the peace process and the children in Jade’s class were all asked to write a letter to president Santos urging him to work towards peace.

“What are you going to write?” I asked Jade.

“I don’t know,” she replied. “It’s a big responsibility to write to the President.”

I wonder, are my kids learning about “real life” (Jade of course came home and told her younger sisters all about it) or are they becoming jaded (no pun intended) way before their time? Is this going to make them more sensitive to the struggles of others even after they return back to their “sheltered” lives in the US or is this going to harden them and accept that things like killings and kidnappings are just something that happens?

I guess only time will tell but I wonder. And worry.

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