A Historic Opportunity: A Conversation with Father Francisco de Roux

By Anna Landre (SFS ‘21)

On November 16th, the Center for Latin American Studies welcomed Father Francisco de Roux, S.J., for a conversation about the Commission of Truth, Coexistence and No Repetition in Colombia. Fr. de Roux is a priest and the president of the Commission, which seeks to help Colombia recover from decades of violent conflict in a model of transitional justice that he hopes will serve as a model for peace in other countries as well.

Amid Colombia’s deep divides, Fr. de Roux described the challenges and, at times, opposition that the Commission has faced in its search for the truth. The lack of trust throughout society, caused by constant violence, has created what he calls a “profound spiritual crisis” in Colombia. “I myself, in front of you, am a part of this cultural trauma,” he explained, noting that victimization has gone beyond violence, affecting the very identity that enables a nation to exist and unite. Because suffering and fear has been so universal, he said, it has created a deep wound in the fabric of Colombian society.

Still, Fr. de Roux expressed his faith and optimism in the abilities of the Commission of Truth, Coexistence and No Repetition to help bring peace and healing. Through it, he has seen victims and perpetrators talking to one another about reconciliation and structural changes in the country, working together to make Colombian society work better for all. He has particularly seen strength and progress in the Commission’s use of a gendered approach, involving women in negotiations and peacebuilding. Indigenous groups, too, have been active participants in the process. Though issues of economic inequality and uneven land distribution continue to plague Colombia, its citizens are working through the Commission to foment change.

The mission to ascertain the truth about deaths and forced disappearances is one of the Commission’s greatest challenges and most important tasks. Fr. de Roux explained to the audience that in Colombia, as in many armed conflicts, truth is the first casualty of war. In answering a concern of a student in the audience, he agreed that the Commission will never be able to reveal every piece of every truth. Still, any truth is a step closer to healing, and the Commission has the potential to create more than just a report with its findings, but also a fundamental change in Colombian society.