Speech by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the conference on the role of the business sector on the path to peace in Colombia

22.11.2018 - Speech

One sunny Sunday in August 1984, over 10,000 people took part in a demonstration at Plaza de Bolívar in Bogotá. They were demonstrating for peace in Colombia. Many of them drew pictures of doves as a symbol of peace.

One of the demonstrators was Gabriel García Márquez, who had already been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature and was one of the most famous authors in the world.

He, too, drew a dove, but as a man of letters, he naturally added a sentence: “¡Viva la paz con los ojos abiertos!”, which roughly translates as “Long live peace with open eyes!”

The main reason why this sentence is not so easy to translate is because it can mean more than one thing. But perhaps the nature of peace itself also makes it a challenge to translate.

Peace can open people’s eyes. It can change how Colombians see each other and how their country is seen by the rest of the world.

However, the path to peace is always paved with painful compromises. At a meeting with victims of the conflict in Colombia during his visit to the country last September, Pope Francis said: “Every act of violence committed against a human being is a wound in humanity’s flesh.”

  • “Peace with open eyes” thus does not mean being naive.
  • It means following the path of peace with open eyes, despite all the risks involved.
  • It means daring to accept an “imperfect peace”, as the President of Colombia’s Truth Commission constantly says.

Colombia set off on this path when it concluded the historic peace agreement with the FARC guerilla movement in 2016. All around the world, and particularly here in Germany, there was great admiration for the courage shown in taking this step. It creates hope – hope at a time when conflicts are on the rise worldwide, commitment to the international order is declining and, above all, ideological rifts threaten to sow ever‑greater division among us.

We are extremely happy and also relieved that President Duque has firmly pledged his commitment to continuing the path towards reconciliation in Colombia and to fulfilling the peace agreement with FARC.

We explicitly welcome the fact that he wants to focus his policies on stabilising parts of the country that are particularly at risk, as it poses a great threat to peace if areas formerly under FARC control now fall into the hands of criminal groups.

This focus on “peace in the territories” also provides opportunities for Germany and Colombia to work even more closely together. After all, stabilisation is one of the main features of our peace policy.

For example, we support a United Nations project that offers guidance on stabilising the country. However, we also provide Colombia with very practical support as regards integrating internally displaced persons, carrying out conflict management projects or clearing landmines.

Germany stands shoulder to shoulder with Colombia as a friend and partner, and thus also on the side of peace. In order to underline this, the Federal Foreign Office will provide a further ten million euros for the United Nations Post‑Conflict Multi-Partner Trust Fund for Colombia.

The aim is to implement stabilisation measures in parts of the country that are most affected, especially the Pacific provinces. And coincidentally, our intergovernmental negotiations on development policy are taking place in Bogotá today. Stabilisation and peacekeeping will also play a very important role in these talks.

We firmly believe that our projects and programmes strengthen and support the peace process. They can help wounds to heal faster and to bring former opponents together around a table. However, our projects cannot take the place of a political process and reconciliation in society.

That is why Germany will continue to provide political support for the peace process. And this support is personified by Tom Koenigs, whom I would like to thank once again for his great commitment and many years of hard work.

As a member of the Group of Countries for the Support, Accompaniment and Cooperation of the Negotiating Table (GPAAC), Germany also stands ready to support the Colombian Government’s endeavours to end the violence in the conflict with the ELN guerilla, should talks be resumed in Havana.

And as a member of the United Nations Security Council from January 2019, one of our aims will be to help ensure that the United Nations continues to do its utmost to support your country in safeguarding lasting peace.

In a press statement in October, the Security Council described the peace process in Colombia as “a source of inspiration for efforts in many parts of the world to end conflicts and build peace”.

Yes, it said Colombia is an inspiration for the rest of the world! Those who are familiar with the usual style of UN resolutions will realise that this was almost poetic for the Security Council! Ladies and gentlemen, this statement expresses remarkable unity and support, which we want to preserve and strengthen as a future Security Council member.

However, peace will only win through if Colombians are able to forgive one another. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting the past or refraining from seeking redress and justice. The President of the Colombian Truth Commission writes that “forgiveness means laying down hatred”.

That demands a great deal of the victims in particular. There can be no illusions about that. This makes it all the more important that Colombia has set up a system that puts the focus on the victims and their right to truth, justice and compensation through its Special Jurisdiction for Peace, Truth Commission and Missing Persons Search Unit.

In order for these institutions to be credible, it is vital that they can work freely and independently and receive the necessary political and financial support.

This will create trust in the reconciliation process and ensure peace guaranteed by law. In other words, there can be no peace without justice and no justice without the law.

There are no blueprints for the Colombian peace process. The country must find its own path to peace. I am very confident that the new Government will succeed in this. But we Germans would be happy to share the experiences of our own history with you.

One element here is CAPAZ, the German-Colombian Peace Institute. Through its academic work, not only is this institute continuing the German-Colombian academic collaboration and groundbreaking research of the past 50 years, but also primarily serving as a forum for discussion and understanding.

Outside the big cities in particular, it brings people together who would not normally meet one another in their day‑to‑day lives, such as former FARC fighters and members of the military or civil society.

It provides political guidance on dealing with violence and conducts research on the economic prerequisites for the peace process, which is of course the topic of today’s conference.

There is no doubt that Colombia’s geography and natural resources, but most importantly its people, offer enormous potential. Lasting peace provides an opportunity to finally use this potential for the benefit of all Colombians.

There are grounds for optimism, as the facts and figures are good.

  • Colombia is one of the largest economies in Latin America.
  • Its economy has been growing constantly for years.
  • There have been German companies in Colombia for many years.
  • Over 150 German firms already have offices in your country and often set benchmarks as regards sustainable development and meeting social standards.

We can build on that and want to do so.

That is why I am happy that you have come here to Berlin today to discuss with us how we can also promote economic development in the crisis‑stricken parts of your country, how companies can foster peace and stability, and how our economic cooperation can become even closer.

I would like to thank you all very much for coming here, but most of all for your interest in German-Colombian relations. We need your support.

I am particularly grateful to my Colombian counterpart. Thank you very much, Carlos! We see your visit to Berlin so soon after your inauguration as a symbol of our close partnership and friendship. And we are particularly pleased that an expert on Germany is now in charge of the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

We are also happy that you have not come alone, but have brought the new Colombian Ambassador with the typical Colombian name of Hans Peter Knudsen with you.

Ambassador Knudsen,

Not only your name, but also your family background makes you something of an embodiment of German-Colombian relations. Welcome to Berlin! We look forward to working with you.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I began my speech with a story about Gabriel García Márquez. In his magical realist novel, “One Hundred Years of Solitude”, he describes the village of Macondo, which perishes tragically at the end. García Márquez wrote that “races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth”.

But Colombia is not Macondo. In the peace process, Colombia has seized a second opportunity.

As a representative of Germany, a country that needed a second opportunity several times in the past, I can only encourage you to make use of the prospects for peace – with open eyes! And I can assure you that Germany is willing to do whatever it can to help.

Thank you very much.


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