REMARKS BY THE AMBASSADOR OF THE REPUBLIC OF COLOMBIA, MR. ANDRÉS PASTRANA
Yours is a new generation which live in a technology world but also in a dangerous environment, and your challenge is to put everything of you to build a better world.
How will you make it? In your families and in the American tradition you have learned the values that will guide you in this pledge: Responsibility, tolerance, charity, respect towards the other ones and towards the planet that we inhabit.
This day, in which I can share my ideas and point of views with you, is a very special moment for me, worthy of memorable stories. For this reason, now I would like to give your a “source of thoughts”, a tale by the Argentinian author Jorge Bucay. This short story has moved me deeply. It is a story about “Sadness and Fury”:
“Once upon a time there was an enchanted kingdom in which there was a magical pond. Sadness and Fury went together to the pond to take a swim. They both undressed and entered the water, naked.
Fury was in a hurry (as she always is). Without knowing why, she felt the urge to leave the place at once, without knowing why, and so took her bath in a rush and went swiftly out of the water. But Fury is blind, or at least she is not able to see reality as it is, and so in great haste she put on the first clothes she found at the side of the pond. The clothes happened to be those of Sadness, and thus Fury went away just like that, dressed as Sadness.
Meanwhile Sadness went on taking her bath with deliberate ease, until she finally decided, very slowly, to get out of the water. When she reached the shore she found that her clothes were no longer there. But as it is well known, Sadness cannot stand to be naked so she put on the only clothes at hand: the garments of Fury.
It is believed by some that since this incidence, we sometimes run into Fury, and she appears duly blind, cruel, terrible and angry. However, if we look more carefully, we see that Fury is nothing but a disguise, and just beneath her clothes we find Sadness hiding out”.
What a beautiful story this is, and how compelling is the paradox it reveals! Perhaps it moves me so much because I see here a reflection of an idea that has always driven my quest for peace and my unshakeable faith in dialogue as the most adequate means to reach peace.
I believe in peace and in dialogue because I am convinced that behind all the madness, the cruelty and the insensitivity displayed by violent people through their evil actions, sadness is always lurking.
I firmly believe in the intrinsically positive and good nature of human beings. After all, we were created from divine essence, and it is my deepest belief that behind every person that takes sides against society there is pain, resentment, frustration and – many times – an unnamed fear.
“God fights the Devil, and their battlefield is man’s heart”, said Dostoievski. I have always felt that it is in our hands to help God beat the Devil in the conflict waged within every human being; to help the sadness disguised as fury, to acknowledge the sources of her pain and eliminate them; to help the eyes and the minds blinded by hate to become compassionate and wise.
Seventeen years ago, in 1988, when I ran for mayor of Bogota, Colombia’s capital and my home town, some men broke very violently into my campaign’s headquarters and pushed me out in the midst of a rain of slaps and menaces. Blindfolded and locked in the trunk of a car I faced fear and uncertainty, and then I had to face for another seven endless days the humiliation of kidnapping, when one’s life is at the mercy of strangers that are ready to perform any atrocity.
The group that organized my kidnapping used to identify themselves as “the extraditables”. They operated under the orders of Pablo Escobar, the famous drug lord, who had his reasons to go after me. My position as a journalist had always been very strong against the drug traffic. I had been awarded the journalism prize “King of Spain” for a special report I made for television about the route of the drugs, from their production in Peru and Bolivia, through their processing in Colombia, to their distribution and consumption in the United States and Europe. “The Route of the Gods” was the title I gave to that report that gained me the heinous attention of the mafia.
But my story comes to this: the men who watched over me during my captivity until the moment I was liberated through a courageous and effective operation by the army, were all young lads from the lowest levels of society, poor and violent at once, almost unaware of the immense pain they were causing me and my family. They were proceeding out of fear from their patron more than out of their own will. It is very likely that behind their masks of hatred, sadness and fear were lurking.
Ten years after, in 1998, I had the supreme honor of being elected President of the Republic of Colombia, through the highest number of votes in the history of my country. It was not an easy task. My nation was facing – and is still facing – a problem of huge complexity: In the midst of the honest and tough working life led by more than 40 million of Colombians, two illegal armed rival groups were growing and pervading every corner like an oil spill across the territory. Their membership does not even reach 0.1 per cent of Colombian population; but they have on their side the destabilizing power of violence.
There are the guerrilla’s – mainly represented by the FARC and the ELN – and there are also the illegal self defense groups. The worse thing is that both sides share a common denominator: they thrive mainly on the money produced by the drug traffic as well as by kidnapping and extortion. More than a fight for power, they are waging a war for the control of territories they can use to conduct their illegal activities.
It is a very old conflict whose origins go back further than five decades in the past, but that has been degrading day by day with the help of drug money and the use of terrorism against civilians. This is why I have always said to the world: In Colombia there is no civil war. What we have is a war waged by a few against civil society!
As soon as I won the elections, my first aim, in front of my conscience and in front of my fellow Colombians, was to do everything possible, and even go beyond what was possible, to reach peace through dialog and political negotiation.
I have always believed this is the only way to do it. Gandhi was right when he said: “There are no roads to peace, peace is the way“. And he was right because we have to ask ourselves: How can we pretend to reach peace in a country over the corpses of the dead and the misery of the maimed? How can we build true peace over foundations of hate, resentment and humiliation? Dear friends, I do not believe in the peace of the victors and the vanquished. I do believe, nonetheless, in a peace built through dialog, because only the peace born of a peaceful instrument is destined to survive.
With these ideal riveted to my heart I confronted all the risks that were to be overcome in order to pursue this objective which is the greatest aspiration of my people. As President elected, but before I was inaugurated, I met the chief commander of the FARC, a man known by his nom de guerre Manuel Marulanda or “Tirofijo” in a remote place in the mountains of Colombia. I did it without being given any assurance, putting at risk my life and my freedom, but being convinced that it was necessary to talk face to face in order to set the right perspectives to open the road towards peace.
Four years have elapsed since then. I met another two times the leader of the guerrillas – I was already President by then – but unfortunately, the objective was not reached. It was a profound, daring and sincere attempt. It was supported by the International Community as well as by the whole country. In this process we invested a lot in order to build-up confidence but we got back only actions of death and destruction.
I must say with sorrow that the warlords did not listen to the clamour of the people; they did not meet the offers made to incorporate them to the peaceful life of the nation; they still prefer the ways of the weapons to the ways of democracy.
The dress of fury is still today more powerful than the reality of sadness and the belligerent minority is still set to committing heinous acts of terrorism against their own people. It’s absurd. It’s painful; but I do not let down my beliefs.
I know that some day, possibly soon, those individuals who have opted for violence and terror will shed their disguise and they will plunge in the waters of the magic pond where they mixed up their clothes. They will once again become what we were all born to become: human beings intent on evolving, loving and being loved.
Herein lies the reason that I strongly believe in dialogue, dear friends. It is the credo of my whole life and my indestructible belief. I have epitomized it symbolically today through the story about “Sadness and Fury”.
My absolute faith in the human being and in the means of peace as the sole alternative to set the foundations of a commonwealth is the most profound treasure I can share with you today.
Tolerance, as Víctor Hugo said, “is the best religion”. In a world with more than six thousand million people the best advice you can give to anyone is: be tolerant, which means: learn from others, show respect to others and appreciate our differences. If we all just learned and practiced this little lesson, our life and life in the world would be peaceful and harmonic.
We are in the middle of the fifth year of the third millennium. This twenty-first century has scarcely begun and you are already asking yourselves how to face its challenges, how to overcome its difficulties and, furthermore, how to steer your existence through the path of your dreams.
But personal dreams cannot be separated from collective dreams. You must not forget that you are members of a global community named Earth and that you have a special responsibility to fulfill towards her and towards your neighbors.
By the way, as we talk about the world seen as a global community or a global village, there is a famous statistical exercise that has been circulating for years in the Internet – maybe many of you already know it – that gives us an idea about the composition of the planet’s population if it were reduced, proportionally, to just a hundred people. I think this exercise will give you something to ponder on this special day of your life. Let me share it with you:
“If our planet was inhabited by just 100 people… There would be:
57 Asians, 21 Europeans, 14 from the Western Hemisphere – both north and south -, 8 Africans;
52 would be female, 48 would be male;
30 would be white, 70 would be non-white;
30 would be Christian, 70 would be non-Christian;
89 would be heterosexual, 11 would be homosexual;
6 people would possess 59% of the entire world’s wealth and all 6 would be from the United States;
80 would live in substandard housing;
70 would be unable to read;
50 would suffer from malnutrition;
1 would be near death, 1 would be near birth;
1 (yes, only 1) would have a college education;
1 would own a computer.”
The message goes on with the following considerations:
“When you consider our world from such a compressed perspective, the need to accept, to be tolerant, in order to understand and educate people, becomes glaringly apparent.
“And I, who have a computer, who know how to read and write, who have an education, who am not poorly nourished, who have an adequate place to call home, who am alive… What am I complaining about?”
Today, dear friends, let’s go further than this last question:
You, who have not just education, technology and a good quality of life, but who have also had access to the highest levels of academic knowledge, what can you do in order to make this world, this huge global village, a more humane place, a place with more justice and peace?
The challenge is here, in the figures that I just shared with you: 80 per cent of the world population has inadequate housing, 70 per cent shows some degree of illiteracy, 50 per cent suffers from malnutrition, 99 per cent does not have university education or a computer, and 94 per cent has to manage with only 41 per cent of the world’s wealth.
This is the world that you have to cope with, but it is definitely not the world in which you want to live. You have many tools in your hands to bring it closer to a horizon of greater social justice.
If this planet were inhabited by only 100 people, how many of them would be leaders or would have the power to influence, for better or for worse, the destiny of their group? Certainly, only one. Just one.
Today I am surrounded by many of these “ones”, many young people who have the future of mankind in their hands. This is not to be the cause of pride or vanity. This is, above all, a reason for reflection and commitment. A significant responsibility.
What shall you do in order to improve the destiny of the other 99 inhabitants? I believe this day is an excellent moment to ask yourselves this question to which you all somehow know the answer: to serve! To serve your neighbors and your world!
The future, dear friends, will be as good as the future we, ourselves, build. You have the power of youth and the tools to create the best possible tomorrow. Don’t miss your chance!