Where and how forgiveness could be a means for coming together. Marta Benavides—El Salvador. Joan B Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice Peace Maker Women 2009, University of San Diego, Ca., USA, and 1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize 2005
I am going to use El Salvador 1992 negotiated settlement of the armed conflict under UN auspices as a frame of reference.
I think the questions posed are most important… We really need to discern well, honestly and sincerely, to be able to make a real contribution to peace. I am making a commitment to work on this discernment
I will look and discern from historical, socio-economic and spiritual reflections..
From –marta benavides—el Salvador, c.a. –SIGLO XXIII—CULTURE OF PEACE
We are very glad that you have started this process, it is very needed, in light of what is going on today in the world, the proliferation of wars and violence. We must, intentionally discern on these aspects, and we must be willing to take risks, and talk our truths with power, not truth to power. As I understand it, only when those who have suffered the injustices, the oppression, repression and discrimination are able to discern how these experiences have affected the quality of their lives as persons and as families, communities and nations, and thus how they need and want to proceed with this knowledge and awareness, that real and effective steps for forgiveness and reconciliation can come about.
For me, forgiveness is a very important word. It is active, it is the act of giving, before, as in giving before--- (be) forgiving. Giving, actively, before what? Before the one-s we forgive come to understand their action-s, and thus come into consciousness that they must ask for forgiveness. The one who for-gives must come to an understanding of the situation, to make sense of it, to find the meaning for herself/himself, and for the community s/he represents. This person and/or community must re-concile with the experienced situation, that is not putting up with it, ignoring it so one can continue on, but make sense of it. This is a transcendence, but not coping with it. Then one can see the experience with some detachment, not to forget it, but to work it in a constructive, proactive ways, for one's own inner peace, so one can move to work for restitution and justice, for restorative justice, so that one can contribute to create conditions to prevent such experiences from happening again. This applies both at the individual level in a relation of injustice or mistreatment, as well as well as to in the case of situations that involves death squads, acts of terrorism, and in the case of those of us from the Global South who have suffered as nations slavery, conquest, colonialism, armed invasions, imposed dictatorships, coup détats, forced massive rapes and disappearances.
For re—conciliation to be a reality we must understand the word itself.. conciliation is the result of holding council, understanding and coming into an agreement, a consensus, then we both, the one who has suffered the aggravation and the one that has perpetrated it, can come together again, that is re-concile, be in the oneness again.
Thus there is no need for the one who commits the aggravation to ask for it for one to for-give, as long as the one who suffered it understand and comes to terms with it, there can be for-give-ness, this is an act of grace of its own, but the re- conciliation will only come from the acknowledgment of the transgressor, and only then s/he can enjoy forgiveness, for it is an act of grace to give it and to receive it as well.
1) Peace negotiations are, for the most part, focused on the political and economic dimensions. What is your perception of the necessity of touching deeper and more genuine aspects of reconciliation and how can this be achieved?
The political and economic dimensions are very important. That often has to do with the power held for decades or even centuries by a small group of people, such as the oligarchs or the financial powers, who by force, coup détats, alliance with the armed and security forces, and most often with the support or imposition of a foreign power, govern and legislate, and act with impunity, and by murdering, disappearance, imprisonment and exile, keep the over all decision making power. This political power and force is used to control and hold the economic power, deciding what is produced in a country, and who and how is benefited. In El Salvador—the conquerors and colonizers of the 1500s became the oligarchy the landowners, by forcibly imposing laws to take the land of the people, to use in monocultures, that destroyed the land, and the social fiber. The indigenous people were forced into slavery, forced to forget their native language, their spirituality, their cosmo-vision, and to go from living in harmony with the planet, to a western way of consumerism, this was and is the way to the impoverishment of our nations, and now we are forced to work for nothing, and we have the situation of billions of people who live with a dollar per day and even less, and the destruction by exploitation of the social and natural environment. This is considered a scandal by the United Nations, and thus the need for the Millennium Development Goals/ MDGs, affirmed in Sept 2000. These are the open veins of Latin America, and of the peoples of the South.. this truth must be acknowledged for the reconciliation to be a possibility for all those who have brought the bleeding, the suffering, the pillage, the destruction of Mother Earth. Those who have suffered the oppression had to come to some kind of understanding to be able to go on with life. It is centuries of this reality. But it is not based on forgiveness, nor on re—conciliation- as discerned above.. thus only when ways are created by the people, for the government to acknowledge the history and herstory, publicly, so steps are taken for a program and a process to work on these aspects, so that real forgiveness, so needed to experience liberation can be a reality, and then re-conciliation can be a reality too.
In El Salvador these situations resulted in the 12 yr civil war, which ended by the UN sponsored negotiation of the Peace Accords. The negotiation was to bring democratization, stop inequalities, respect for all human rights, political, economic, social and cultural rights, the reunification of the Salvadorian peoples. This has not happen, as we continue to live in poverty, a violence, a destroyed natural environment. We need to enact the Peace Accords, educate all peoples of all ages on non violence, on culture of peace, which is involves all the aspects listed and history too. A law for culture of peace must be enacted to bring this about, develop schools of forgiveness and reconciliation, of conflict transformation, in this way we could one day have Department of Peace as a key part of the national government.
2) What are the conditions in which, beyond securing the interests of parties to conflict, a process that is centered on a sense of fairness and dignity can be established?
Respect for the Truth Commission which resulted from the Peace Accords, bring those cases that are violations to human rights to trial, no granting of an amnesty as a means to wipe out responsibilities, by aggressors or government, acknowledgment of history for reconciliation, government and church publicly, officially requesting forgiveness… in the case of El Salvador, this is in process as part of the newly elected government on key aspects and cases, it has happened last November in the case of the murdered Jesuits by the military in 1989, and we are working for the case of massacres such as El Mozote, and the murder of Mgr Romero. Education, education not to compete but to develop as a person is basic to such processes.
3) To what degree is forgiveness an essential dimension of reconciliation? In the wisdom of life and the Spirit, it is up side down. For-giveness is essential and it comes from the one who has been affected negatively, thus it depends on his or her growth, this is an essential step as it open s the possibility to extend the hand and accept the aggressor.
At the root of your political culture and religious faith, what are the principles that either imply or exclude forgiveness? Imply forgiveness, is in all principles of the Christian faith, forgive 70 times 7, put the other chic, love your neighbor as yourself, love your enemy, peace on earth to those people of good will, walk the extra mile, forgive them for they do not know what they do.
In my cultural background there is no principle to exclude forgiveness. Politically speaking if one accepts the concept of enmity, that there are enemies, that someone is one's enemy, that creates a condition adverse to reconciliation, of separateness, thus of forgiveness.
Which verses or sayings that are part of your personal spiritual heritage could in your opinion have a universal significance? I think the idea of vengeance, revenge, victory, are almost universal, though not too wise, nor affirming of the oneness of humanity.
4) Does forgiveness require some form of repentance on the side of those to whom forgiveness is offered? Does forgiveness have conditions or is it unconditional?
Based on your experience on working with reconciliation and forgiveness what are the structure and activities you would suggest for a universal council on reconciliation?
For-giveness does nor require repentance on the side of those to whom forgiveness is offered, it is unconditional, it is a manifestation of a gift of the Spirit, thus is an act of grace and of transcendence from the giver. It results from an expansion of the consciousness, a maturing of the soul, a coming of age of a person. All this is applicable also to a nation. Thus we must work at creating conditions for each citizen to develop this consciousness, and work at the same time, the possibilities for the communities, the nation to develop it too.
I think for the purpose of contributing effectively to peace on earth, we must be intentional about it. To create a Universal Council to serve as permanent forum as a laboratory for action and reflection on work on re-conciliation is good, important and urgently needed, and it must work to this effect, in ways that are measurable, and recognizable.
It will be important to make an inventory of places which are already about these practices, working on culture of peace, departments of peace, both in governments, as well as noon government processes. We must build and enrich what is already going, and help to bring them together. Example.. in El Salvador, the justice of peace, part of the justice system, is a municipal level to resolve disputes, but it needs to be enriched, better used, training the communities on conflict transformation, resolution and mediation, and the judges of peace on all the possible dimensions and initiatives for effective incidence, these work could be carried out by those NGOs already working on the concern, and in coordination with the network of houses of culture, which exist in each municipality, the corresponding entity in the municipal government, the same with the national civil police, the youth, and older adults organizations, and the various educational levels in each community. The knowledge of the Peace Accords, and the implications for daily living is a must, as well as the integrality of this with the already existing Plan for the Development of the Nation, which must include work on caring for the planet. History and anthropology are key here too. Reconciliation will result of the programs of Culture of Peace, Culture of Peace depends on the intentionality of the programs listed above, for it has become the second nature of a person to for-give, too understand, to listen, to extend a hand. And as this second nature is lived daily, it will be the first nature of the person and the nation.
The Universal Council for Reconciliation will be intentionally promoting these processes, as identified by and with its partners in each nation, and it will look for ways to bring them together.
Jan 13, is the date of the terrible quake that affected almost the totality of the Salvadorian territory, in a very destructive way.
Once the situation was studied, it was clear that the earthquake was very strong, but that the major cause of the destruction and suffering had to do with the centuries of impoverishment of the country, with the destruction and exploitation of the natural environment for the benefit of the few, exploitation, oppression, repression of the large majorities of peoples, the lack of investment on education, of preventive and correct practices as per the care of the environment, measures to mitigate disasters, laws to protect life in general, the maintenance of ignorance, the carelessness of governments which prioritize arms, profits, and not the well being of peoples and the planet. This is the result of centuries of colonial and neo colonial practices…
Today, we are witnessing the suffering of the Haitian people, due to a strong quake. The news stories talk about the terrible situation of poverty, of sufferings due to hurricanes, civil unrest, and how hard it must be for the great number of people who have been hurt. The presidential Palace has collapsed, so are hospitals, all buildings of more than two floors, and the majority of homes.
Same story and reasons than those in El Salvador. The same history, the same causes, with the added situation of the suffering, exploitation, oppression, repression by decades by the Duvalier dynasty as a dictatorship, while foreign countries benefited from this unjust state of affairs in Haiti.
So, now, the corrections must be made, the nations of the world, should not only support the survival of the Haitian peoples, or make shift responses, this is the time to do the right thing. Support the real reconstruction of Haiti, by supporting the construction of well built homes, and other infrastructures, the educational, health systems, the creation of prevention and mitigation practices, the adaptation measures due to climate change.
It is time that the people of Haiti are paid back, for it is only for the international debts owed to them that they are and have been suffering as they do.
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