URI nonviolence guru, detained by Colombian guerillas, returns
LaFayette coordinating worldwide efforts
to gain Colombian governors release
KINGSTON, R.I. -- May 1, 2002 -- Bernard LaFayette Jr., distinguished scholar-in-residence and director of the Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies at the University of Rhode Island, returned safely to Rhode Island today from Colombia after co-leading a 120-mile peace march to an embattled mountain village where he was captured and detained by guerillas.
Although LaFayette and a priest have been released, Antioquia state Gov. Guillermo Gaviria and former defense minister Gilberto Echeverri, who serves as the governors peace advisor, are still being held by guerillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC.
"Governor Gaviria is to Colombia as Gandhi was to India as Martin Luther King Jr. was to America," said LaFayette, whose first order of business is to gain the release of the two men. Asked why he and others would put themselves in harms way organizing a peace march, LaFayette replied: "Most people think of nonviolence as passive. Nonviolence is just the opposite. It is very active. We cant simply be concerned about what would happen to us if we went to Colombia. We have to be concerned about what would happen to the Colombian people if we didnt go."
"Sometimes it takes more courage to be nonviolent," continued the URI nonviolence strategist and trainer who noted that the governor embraces the nonviolent philosophy and methods. "He knew that there was a risk in organizing the march, but the greater risk was not ending the violence. He is more concerned with what will happen to his country than in his personal safety. He personally asked that the (Colombian) Army not intervene during the march."
"Prison appears to be the safest place to be in Colombia," said LaFayette who has introduced Kingian nonviolence to incarcerated FARC members and other guerilla groups and gang leaders for the past two years. Only one murder has been committed in Bellavista prison (located just outside Medellin) during that time."
LaFayette noted that Colombia is the murder capital of the world. In the state of Antioquia alone, 500 murders are committed each month. It could also be called the kidnapping capital. So far this year, FARC and another associated guerilla group, ELN, have kidnapped approximately 560 individuals. Within the last three weeks, the two groups have kidnapped and are holding approximately 30 people.
"Violence is never a solution. It is merely a symptom," said LaFayette. "Governor Gaviria wants to talk to FARC leaders and hasnt been able to achieve that. He is known by FARC. Although he doesnt agree with their methods, he does agree with some of their social programs for the poor."
LaFayette said that a Global Nonviolence Committee, lead by Nobel Prize Laureate Mairead Maguire, has been formed to help curb violence in the Latin American country. They have solicited the aid of the United Nations and Amnesty International to help secure the release of the two men.
The committee is also supporting the efforts of the Mothers Day Campaign in Antioquia to reduce the number of murders. (More murders are committed on that day than any other during the year.) Governor Gaviria has been appointed president of the campaign. Until his release, his wife, Yolanda, is acting president.
After the URI scholar was released by FARC, LaFayette continued his schedule by chairing a four-day international nonviolence conference in Medellin with daily crowds exceeding 3500 with long lines of people waiting to get inside. Another 2000, all children, attended a nonviolence camp. URI President Robert L. Carothers, four URI students, a traffic security officer, and a URI psychology professor and members of the Rhode Island Colombian community participated in the conference.
"It is clear that the people of Colombia want peace and are anxious to try a nonviolent approach," said LaFayette during a phone interview.
"I would like to go back and be given the opportunity to speak to the FARC leadership," said LaFayette. "I am volunteering to train them in nonviolent methods."
The URI scholar noted that a proclamation by Governor Lincoln Almond was read at the conference declaring Rhode Island and Antioquia as sister nonviolent states. LaFayette is looking to mobilize some Rhode Islanders to help with peaceful efforts.
"As Colombia goes, so goes the next century," said LaFayette.
For Information: Jan Wenzel, 401-874-2116