Ahead of the second round of Presidential Elections in Colombia on 17 June, CAFOD partner Mgr Hector Fabio Henao, Director of Caritas Colombia (SNPS), and President of Colombia's National Peace Council, and CAFOD's Andes Country Representative, Barbara Davies, say that Colombia has reached a cross-road in pursuing a chance to achieve a sustainable peace in the country. Both call on the international community to continue to work with Colombia's new government on the implementation of the peace agreement with the FARC and support the efforts of the peace negotiation with the ELN.
Mgr Hector Fabio, director of Caritas Colombia, said: "If we want stability and prosperity in our country, we need peace. And, I believe there is hope for peace in our lifetime. But to achieve peace, the State must take seriously the root causes of the conflict - inequality, poverty and a lack of opportunities.
"It is not easy to overcome a situation like we've had in Colombia; five decades of internal conflict, destroyed communities, while others are bitterly divided.
"After the peace agreement, so many steps have been taken, but we have a long way to go. Negotiations with the National Liberation Army (ELN) move slowly. New armed groups try to control the rural areas. And, last year, 121 human rights defenders were murdered - the deadliest year on record.
"This is an opportunity for the new government to help society move forward. To show their commitment to the security of the country and their willingness to invest in the implementation of the peace agreement."
CAFOD's Andes Country Representative, Barbara Davies, commented: "As Colombians head to the polls 17 June, to vote in the second round of Presidential elections, the country is at beginning a long process of establishing sustainable peace, putting an end to more than 50 years of conflict.
"However, in the event of an opponent to the peace agreement being elected, the country could potentially find itself dealing with a new spiral of violence. Of particular concern is the sharp increase of killings of community leaders and other human rights defenders, who are vital for the peace-building process."
"Colombian society remains polarised over the peace process, especially those in remote areas who have been the most affected by the armed conflict and have yet to see the presence of State institutions.
"The Catholic Church has played a key role as an advocate for peace, reconciliation and respect for human rights. But, we need to see a real change on the ground to address the causes of the armed conflict.
"Now is a perfect opportunity for which ever government is elected, to act and accompany the people of Colombia towards peace."