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Colombia’s dilemma

07 October 2016

ANOTHER finely balanced popular vote, another country plunged into uncertainty and confusion. The financial chaos that looms for post-Brexit Britain is as nothing compared with the political chaos that threatens Colombia after the rejection this week of a peace agreement to end more than 50 years of fighting. Although the deal had already been signed by the Colombian President, Juan Manuel Santos, and the FARC leader, Timochenko, 50.2 per cent of the Colombian people voted against acceptance. The reason given by those who voted no was anger at a deal that would allow rebel leaders to escape prison if they confessed their part in the murderous events of the war, enable them to stand for election as part of a legitimate political party, and allow them to keep most of the wealth gained from a programme of land-grabs (the ideology for which is in the distant past), drug-trafficking, and extortion.

There are obvious parallels with Northern Ireland, but by the time the Good Friday Agreement was signed, there was a well-established divide between the politicians and the paramilitaries among both the Republicans and the Nationalists. The public, with a few exceptions, was not expected to vote for men directly responsible for the deaths of members of their families or communities. The same cannot be said for Colombia, where No campaigners argued that the terrorists would be literally getting away with murder.

Forgiveness is an intensely complex, personal process. On occasions, confession and restitution are not necessary before a victim can forgive. But when the process has been assumed by politicians, and the perpetrators are seen to be negotiating their way out of responsibility for their crimes, it is no wonder that many voters chose to withhold their blessing. Peace after conflict generally perpetuates injustice. But voters need to bear in mind that a renewal of the conflict will undoubtedly create further injustice.


HIV breakthrough?


IT IS wildly too early to talk of a cure for HIV/AIDS, after a single individual in clinical trials appears to be clear of the virus. Scientists described the use of a new drug that tricks the virus out of hiding so that it can be destroyed by the body’s immune system. Natural immunity is known to exist, but this is the first time that scientists have been able to reproduce its effects in an HIV patient. The advantage of press reports, however optimistic, is that they remind the public about the continuing fight against the virus. The success of anti-retroviral treatment means that HIV/AIDS has a semblance of control in the developed world. It is not so in developing countries, where medical advances are still too expensive and reliant on good medical care to help many sufferers. Roughly 37 million are living with the virus; in 2014, more than one million died, cheifly in sub-Saharan Africa. In the battle against the virus, any signs of victory are to be welcomed.

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