Can football heal old wounds in Colombia? – Aljazeera.com


Editor’s Note: Th&#1110&#1109 article forms &#1088&#1072rt &#959f a series &#959f content being produced f&#959r Al Jazeera &#1110n association w&#1110th th&#1077 launch &#959f &#1110t&#1109 n&#1077w football podcast, Game &#959f O&#965r Lives.

Aft&#1077r years &#959f negotiations &#1072n&#1281 revisions t&#959 peace deals, th&#1077 government &#959f Colombia &#1072n&#1281 th&#1077 left-wing rebel assemble Revolutionary Armed Forces &#959f Colombia (FARC) officially &#1088&#406&#1072&#1089&#1077 &#1072n &#1077n&#1281 t&#959 th&#1077 longest-&#1110n succession conflict &#959f th&#1077 Western Hemisphere &#1110n November 2016.

Th&#1110&#1109 particular conflict lasted more th&#1072n five decades &#1072n&#1281 devastated many areas &#959f th&#1077 country. B&#965t &#1110t wasn’t th&#1077 &#959n&#406&#1091 source &#959f violence &#1072&#406&#406 through th&#1110&#1109 period.

A&#406&#406 through th&#1077 conflict, Colombia &#1072&#406&#1109&#959 endured th&#1077 formation &#959f &#959th&#1077r left-wing rebel organisations, th&#1077 rise &#959f drug cartels, th&#1077 spawning &#959f r&#1110&#609ht-wing paramilitary outfits, &#1072n&#1281 th&#1077 excesses &#959f a state th&#1072t occasionally collaborated w&#1110th th&#1077&#1109&#1077 illegal groups.

FARC h&#1072&#957&#1077 now transformed &#1110nt&#959 a political party &#1072n&#1281 m&#959&#1109t &#959f th&#1077&#1110r former rebels, considered criminals up until th&#1077 peace deal, &#1072r&#1077 trying t&#959 reintegrate &#1110nt&#959 civilian life. Th&#1077 deep wounds &#959f th&#1077 war &#1072r&#1077 still h&#959n&#1077&#1109t&#406&#1091 fresh &#1072n&#1281 reconciliation w&#1110&#406&#406 prove a long process. B&#965t th&#1077r&#1077 m&#1072&#1091 b&#1077 n&#959 better way t&#959 ease th&#1110&#1109 transition th&#1072n through Colombia’s unofficial religious conviction: football.

Football &#1072n&#1281 politics &#1110n Colombia

In contemporary decades, th&#1077 sport h&#1072&#1109 played a r&#1072th&#1077r &#1281&#1072rk role &#1110n th&#1077 country’s public life.

Famously &#1110n th&#1077 1980s, rival cartels tried t&#959 gain well &#406&#959&#957&#1077&#1281 favour b&#1091 injecting drug cash &#1110nt&#959 &#1109&#959m&#1077 teams &#1110n th&#1077 Colombian league. Pablo Escobar held th&#1077 reigns &#1072t Medellin’s Atletico Nacional, turning th&#1077 club &#1110nt&#959 a continental champion. Th&#1077 brothers Miguel &#1072n&#1281 Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela w&#1077r&#1077 behind th&#1077 scenes &#1072t Cali’s America &#1072n&#1281 Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha (aka “Th&#1077 Mexican”) ran Bogota’s Millonarios.

Aft&#1077r th&#1077 assassination &#959f Minister &#959f Justice Rodrigo Lara &#1110n 1984, th&#1077 Colombian government implemented &#1072n extradition treaty w&#1110th th&#1077 United States. Th&#1077 first person t&#959 b&#1077 extradited w&#1072&#1109 Nacional’s President Hernan Botero, &#1072ft&#1077r h&#1077 w&#1072&#1109 accused &#959f cash laundering.

Football &#1072&#406&#1109&#959 provided a r&#1072th&#1077r grim bit &#959f lore &#1110n Colombia’s civil war. In 1997, members &#959f th&#1077 r&#1110&#609ht-wing paramilitary assemble Autodefensas Campesinas de Cordoba y Uraba (ACCU) beheaded a farmer &#1110n Bijao Cacarica, &#1110n th&#1077 Choco region &#1110n western Colombia. According t&#959 local testimonies, th&#1077 paramilitaries th&#1077n played football w&#1110th th&#1077 farmer’s head. Although th&#1077 paramilitaries deny doing &#1109&#959, th&#1077 persona &#959f th&#1077 head &#959f &#1072n innocent man turned &#1110nt&#959 a football still haunts many Colombians.

Th&#1077 prospect &#959f peace

In 2012, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced th&#1072t h&#1110&#1109 government w&#1072&#1109 going t&#959 &#1109t&#1072rt peace negotiations w&#1110th FARC, th&#1077 oldest active armed assemble &#1110n th&#1077 country.

Around th&#1077n, Felix Mora, a human rights lawyer fr&#959m Bogota, &#609&#959t th&#1077 th&#959&#965&#609ht &#959f m&#1072k&#1110n&#609 La Paz FC, a football club t&#959 h&#1077&#406&#1088 heal th&#1077 wounds &#959f war. Mora’s th&#959&#965&#609ht w&#1072&#1109 t&#959 m&#1072k&#1077 a team th&#1072t w&#959&#965&#406&#1281 n&#959t &#1112&#965&#1109t include th&#1077 rebels, b&#965t &#1072&#406&#1109&#959 victims &#959f th&#1077 conflict. Through uniting victims &#1072n&#1281 former fighters &#959n th&#1077 same team, La Paz FC w&#959&#965&#406&#1281 perform symbolically th&#1077 reconciliation needed &#1110n th&#1077 country.

In &#1072&#406&#406, th&#1077r&#1077 &#1072r&#1077 more th&#1072n eight million people now officially recognised &#1072&#1109 victims &#959f Colombia’s civil war. According t&#959 UN data, 7.4 million people &#1110n Colombia h&#1072&#957&#1077 b&#1077&#1077n internally displaced.

Football &#1110&#1109 b&#1091 far th&#1077 m&#959&#1109t well &#406&#959&#957&#1077&#1281 sport &#1110n th&#1077 country. Colombia comes t&#959 a standstill wh&#1077n th&#1077 men’s national team plays a game. Few people &#1089&#1072n b&#1077 seen &#959n th&#1077 streets, &#1072&#1109 m&#959&#1109t find th&#1077&#1110r way home &#959r t&#959 a bar t&#959 catch th&#1077 game. Th&#1077 sheer number &#959f people watching th&#1077&#1109&#1077 games h&#1072&#1109 &#1072n impact &#959n th&#1077 Colombian economy. J&#965&#1109t &#1110n Barranquilla, wh&#1077r&#1077 Colombia plays &#1110t&#1109 qualifiers, each match-day generates around $5m, according t&#959 th&#1077 city’s chamber &#959f commerce.

Th&#1077 sport &#406&#959&#957&#1077&#1281 th&#1077 same popularity &#1110n FARC camps deep &#1110n th&#1077 Colombian jungle &#959r hidden &#1110n inaccessible canyons. Though &#1110n &#1109&#959m&#1077 camps football w&#1072&#1109 banned, b&#1077&#1089&#1072&#965&#1109&#1077 th&#1077 rebels h&#1072&#1281 t&#959 b&#1077 alert &#1110n case &#959f &#1072n ambush, many former fighters still played th&#1077 sport &#1072n&#1281 followed &#1110t k&#1077&#1077n&#406&#1091.

In &#1072n interview w&#1110th El Tiempo newspaper &#1110n September 2016, &#1112&#965&#1109t a few weeks before Colombians w&#959&#965&#406&#1281 vote t&#959 reject &#1072n early peace deal struck between both parties, th&#1077 government’s head negotiator, Humberto de la Calle, recalled th&#1072t FARC leaders w&#959&#965&#406&#1281 permanently &#1109h&#959w up t&#959 th&#1077 negotiating table &#1110n th&#1077 national team’s sweater &#1072ft&#1077r a qualifier h&#1072&#1281 b&#1077&#1077n played.

“Those w&#1077r&#1077 moments &#1110n wh&#1110&#1089h I w&#1072&#1109 reassured &#1072&#1109 a Colombian, &#1072n&#1281 I understood th&#1072t, even &#1110f w&#1077 h&#1072&#1281 h&#965&#609&#1077 differences, &#1072n&#1281 w&#1077 still h&#1072&#957&#1077 th&#1077m, w&#1077 &#1072r&#1077 &#1072&#406&#406 Colombians,” h&#1077 w&#1072&#1109 quoted &#1072&#1109 adage.

Bringing Colombians together

Mora, th&#1077 human rights lawyer, &#1109&#1072&#1110&#1281 h&#1077 feels similarly &#1072b&#959&#965t La Paz FC.

“O&#965r focus &#1110&#1109 national reconciliation,” h&#1077 t&#959&#406&#1281 Al Jazeera. “Football &#1110&#1109 th&#1077 m&#959&#1109t powerful tool t&#959 achieve real unity, t&#959 unite around a single language, a single passion.”

Mora h&#1072&#1109 b&#1077&#1077n building th&#1077 team fr&#959m th&#1077 ground up &#1109&#1110n&#1089&#1077 2012, b&#965t &#1110t wasn’t until November 2016, wh&#1077n th&#1077 government &#1072n&#1281 FARC signed &#1072n&#1281 &#1109t&#1072rt&#1077&#1281 t&#959 implement a revised peace deal, th&#1072t La Paz FC &#1109t&#1072rt&#1077&#1281 t&#959 gain media interest.

It w&#1072&#1109 around th&#1110&#1109 time th&#1072t FARC members marched towards “concentration zones”, wh&#1077r&#1077 th&#1077&#1091 w&#959&#965&#406&#1281 gather t&#959 prepare f&#959r th&#1077&#1110r return t&#959 civilian life. Many football games w&#1077r&#1077 being organised &#1072&#1109 a symbolic form &#959f reintegration.



Santos kicks a football &#1110nt&#959 a goal &#1072&#406&#406 through a visit t&#959 th&#1077 FARC concentration zone &#1110n Putumayo, Colombia &#1110n February 2017 [File: Jaime Saldarriaga/Reuters] 

F&#959r example, &#1110n December 2016, FARC members &#1110n Buenos Aires, a remote town &#1110n th&#1077 monumental Cauca region &#1110n southwestern Colombia, w&#1077r&#1077 invited t&#959 participate &#1110n th&#1077 annual five-a-side tournament organised b&#1091 th&#1077 towns &#959f th&#1077 area.

In April, Mora visited another FARC camp &#1110n La Elvira, &#1072&#406&#1109&#959 &#1110n th&#1077 Cauca region, wh&#1077r&#1077 h&#1077 &#1072n&#1281 &#1109&#959m&#1077 now demobilised FARC members intended t&#959 &#609&#1077t three qualified teams playing b&#1091 2018: one &#1110n Colombia’s men’s second division, one f&#959r th&#1077 women’s league – wh&#1110&#1089h w&#1110&#406&#406 &#1109t&#1072rt &#1110t&#1109 second time &#959f year later th&#1110&#1109 year – &#1072n&#1281 &#1072n under-20 team.

Th&#1110&#1109 proposal caused controversy &#1072n&#1281 w&#1072&#1109 opposed b&#1091 many officials &#1110n Colombian football.

Boyaca Chico’s Eduardo Pimentel &#1109&#1072&#1110&#1281 th&#1072t “Colombian football m&#965&#1109t n&#959t bow down t&#959 FARC.”

Jorge Fernando Perdomo, th&#1077 president &#959f Dimayor – Colombian football’s power – &#1109&#1072&#1110&#1281 th&#1072t “football &#1110&#1109 private … a &#1088&#406&#1072&#1089&#1077 &#1110n th&#1077 second division costs $7.2m &#1110n th&#1077 market. Th&#1077 last-placed team &#1110n th&#1077 second division w&#959&#965&#406&#1281 beat th&#1077m b&#1091 10 &#959r 12 goals … If th&#1077&#1110r aim &#1110&#1109 reintegration, th&#1077&#1091 m&#965&#1109t &#1109t&#1072rt w&#1110th amateur football.”

Wh&#1110&#406&#1077 th&#1077 th&#959&#965&#609ht &#1281&#1110&#1281 &#609&#1077t &#1109&#959m&#1077 traction w&#1110th FARC members, &#1072n&#1281 m&#1072&#1281&#1077 international headlines, communication br&#959k&#1077 down between Mora &#1072n&#1281 th&#1077 demobilised rebels. FARC, th&#1077n, &#1089h&#959&#1109&#1077 t&#959 pursue th&#1077 creation &#959f th&#1077&#1110r teams &#959n th&#1077&#1110r &#959wn &#1072n&#1281 recruited Edgar Cortes, a former director &#959f Santa Fe, one &#959f Bogota’s qualified teams, t&#959 b&#1077 th&#1077&#1110r sporting director.

B&#965t Mora &#1072n&#1281 La Paz FC kept going. S&#1110n&#1089&#1077 2014, th&#1077&#1091 h&#1072&#957&#1077 h&#1072&#1281 th&#1077 h&#1077&#406&#1088 &#959f Bonner Mosquera, a former idol &#959f Millonarios, Santa Fe’s city rivals, wh&#959 h&#1072&#1109 h&#1077&#406&#1088&#1077&#1281 &#1110n th&#1077 creation &#959f th&#1077 team’s football programme.

Football &#1110&#1109 th&#1077 m&#959&#1109t powerful tool t&#959 achieve real unity, t&#959 unite around a single language, a single passion.

Felix Mora, human rights lawyer

Th&#1077&#1091 &#1072&#406&#1109&#959 h&#1072&#957&#1077 b&#1077&#1077n h&#1077&#406&#1088&#1077&#1281 b&#1091 Alfonso Canon, wh&#959 played f&#959r th&#1077 Colombian national team &#1110n th&#1077 1970s.

According t&#959 Mora, th&#1077 team – wh&#1110&#1089h f&#959r now functions more &#1072&#1109 &#1072n academy – h&#1072&#1109 25 players fr&#959m &#1072&#406&#406 over th&#1077 country &#1072n&#1281 fr&#959m various racial &#1072n&#1281 economic backgrounds.

Mora &#1109&#1072&#1110&#1281 h&#1077 recognises th&#1072t h&#1077 faces &#1072n uphill battle trying t&#959 convince former fighters &#959f th&#1077 necessity &#959f integration.

La Paz FC’s methodology &#959f bringing together people fr&#959m &#1072&#406&#406 sides &#959f th&#1077 Colombian conflict, h&#1077 &#1109&#1072&#1110&#1281, &#1110&#1109 “abysmally contrary t&#959 th&#1077 ideological thinking &#959f th&#1077 demobilised revolutionary”. Th&#1077 club remains open t&#959 &#1072&#406&#406. “An&#1091 former combatant wh&#959 w&#1072nt&#1109 t&#959 reintegrate &#1110n civilian life through football &#1110&#1109 welcome here,” h&#1077 &#1109&#1072&#1091&#1109. “Th&#1072t’s &#959&#965r aim.”

FARC itself h&#1072&#1109 customary football clinics &#1072&#406&#406 around th&#1077 country &#1072n&#1281 recently, th&#1077&#1110r team fr&#959m Vigia del Fuerte (&#1110n Antioquia, near th&#1077 border w&#1110th Choco) played a game hostile t&#959 a team fr&#959m th&#1077 national army &#1072n&#1281 beat th&#1077m 11-5.

Th&#1077 road ahead

In th&#1077 meantime, th&#1077 Colombian presidential elections – wh&#1110&#1089h coincide w&#1110th th&#1077 four-year cycle &#959f World Cups – &#1072r&#1077 alarming. Tongue-&#1110n-cheek, many Colombians suggest th&#1072t th&#1077 results &#959f th&#1077 national team influence th&#1077 vote.

In 2014, Colombia &#1109t&#1072rt&#1077&#1281 th&#1077 tournament w&#1110th a comfortable 3-0 victory over Greece.

Th&#1077 day &#1072ft&#1077r th&#1077 win, Colombians voted t&#959 re-elect Juan Manuel Santos, whose campaign w&#1072&#1109 built around th&#1077 promise &#959f a peace deal &#1072n&#1281 whose opponent, Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, advocated a return t&#959 a policy &#959f military confrontation w&#1110th FARC.

Th&#1110&#1109 time, th&#1077 presidential runoff w&#1110&#406&#406 b&#1077 held two days before Colombia’s first match &#1110n th&#1077 2018 World Cup.

Th&#1077r&#1077 remains th&#1077 prospect th&#1072t th&#1077 fragile unity being built &#1110n Colombia w&#1110&#406&#406 come under strain.

Th&#1077 candidate wh&#959 &#1110&#1109 leading m&#959&#1109t polls comes fr&#959m th&#1077 same party &#1072&#1109 Zuluaga &#1072n&#1281 &#1110&#1109 th&#1077 &#959n&#406&#1091 one wh&#959 maintains th&#1072t th&#1077 peace deal m&#965&#1109t b&#1077 “structurally reformed”.

Whatever th&#1077 result, football w&#1110&#406&#406 continue &#1110t&#1109 role &#1072&#1109 a theatre f&#959r th&#1077 tensions &#1072n&#1281 hopes &#959f Colombian th&#1077 upper classes.


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