And what if it was because of this drama that I found meaning in my life?

19.12.2009 - paso fronterizo Colombia-Ecuador - Isabelle Bourgeois

It took my breath away and I was immediately overcome by strong emotion. I approached Navarro, who looked almost as distinguished as my father had been: he had his aristocratic style. Rafa introduced me to him. He didn’t seem to realise who I was at first, and said: “Nice to meet you!” But he became troubled when he saw the tears welling up in my eyes and Rafa explained to him that I was the daughter of the former Swiss ambassador that had been taken hostage by his then guerrilla comrades at the Embassy of the Dominican Republic in Bogota in 1980. Navarro wasn’t directly involved in the attack on the embassy, but he had been one of the “brains” behind it and monitored operations minute by minute from his jungle hideout.

Despite my shyness, and the personal nature of this moment, we decided to film the meeting and offer this account to peace and reconciliation. Navarro was tense at first and slightly on the defensive. Then this former guerrilla capitulated when confronted by my sincerity and deep desire to transform the sufferings of the past into a force for peace and hope. He offered his apologies to me and to my family. He seemed quite moved himself. After numerous tragedies, including the taking of more than 300 hostages on the premises of Colombia’s Supreme Court in 1985, an event that resulted in some 100 deaths, the M-19 movement ended up laying down its arms and renouncing violence in order to turn itself into a political party. “We realised that violence doesn’t lead anywhere,” he said during our conversation.

We hugged each other. Time stood still. In this moment, there was neither a victim nor an aggressor, neither good nor bad, only the energy of love that heals all wounds. And what if it was because of this drama that I am marching today, that I found meaning in my life?

I would like to dedicate this meeting first and foremost to my elder sister Diane, who, like me, was forced to suffer this episode in our lives. We were 14 and 18 years old at the time and every day we feared for the life of our father who had been separated from the other hostages in order to be the first to be killed if the Colombian authorities didn’t respond to the commando’s demands. In the end, the hostage taking ended with the liberation of the hostages in Cuba, on my birthday, April 28th, 1980.

I would then like to offer this account to all those Colombian families who have suffered and are still affected by the abduction and illegal detention of a member of their family. David Nassar, co-ordinator of the World March in Colombia, said that a “spontaneous” meeting between the family member of a hostage and the hostage taker has never been possible in living memory. Tomy Hirsch, spokesman for the March in Latin America, still stunned by what he had just witnessed, said to me: “Your reconciliation gives everyone immense hope.”

Life has given me one of the most beautiful Christmas gifts. I am delighted to share it with my big sister, my family and my Colombian friends.

Antonio Navarro finished our meeting with the following words: “There isn’t a day when we don’t talk about the latest acts of violence in our country. There isn’t a day when violence doesn’t come knocking on my door. But today is a great day for me because, for the first time, it is peace that has come to visit me”

Categories: Culture and Media, International, Opinions, South America

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