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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI's 'Doc' LaFayette to complete march in Colombia 2002 peace march ended with kidnappings

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KINGSTON, R.I. -- May 4, 2004 -- Bernard LaFayette, distinguished scholar-in-residence at the University of Rhode Island and director of its Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies, doesnít just talk the talk. He walks the walk.

On May 8, "Doc," as he is affectionately called, will be walking in Antioquia, Colombia to commemorate the first anniversary of the death of Guillermo Gaviria Correa, the former governor of Antioquia.

LaFayette will help complete the April 2002 peace march that he, Gaviria, and several Colombian priests led in support of the peace efforts of a mountain village of Caicedo, embattled by rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC.

The FARC rebels stopped the march just short of the village and kidnapped LaFayette, the governor and his former defense minister Giberto Echeverri who served as his peace advisor and a priest. LaFayette and the priest were later released. However, the rebels held the governor and his aide until last May when they were slain during a failed rescue attempt by the Colombian military.

Kidnappings are common in Colombia where some 3,000 people are abducted each year.

The late governorís brother, Anibal Gaviria Correa, now governor of Antioquia, asked LaFayette to join him and others in the march:
" I know how deeply you worked with Guillermo to bring peace and nonviolence to our country and it would be very special if you could be present at our ceremony memorializing their work and lives as well as the nonviolent transformation that is taking place here"

Plans call for the group, which includes the former governorís widow, Yolanda, to pause at the El Baho bridge on the edge of Caicedo and then walk approximately 3 kilometers into the town. LaFayette plans to give the town a plaque from URI's nonviolence center recognizing the townís exemplary nonviolence efforts.

LaFayette is aware of the risk and is no stranger to danger. He marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and was arrested 27 times during civil rights protests.

"Itís not what happens to me, but what might happen to many more people if I donít go," he says.

For the past five years, LaFayette has traveled frequently to Colombia to teach Kingian nonviolence practices and methods there. "Hundreds of lives have already been saved because we have been able to transform 5,000 to 6,000 inmates at Bella Vista Prison in Medillin. Many of the inmates come from paramilitary groups or are FARC members who have committed violent crimes. They are now preaching and promoting nonviolence. Young people from neighboring barrios are brought to the prison to be taught by the inmates.

The Bella Vista Prison is now a permanent nonviolence institute, according to LaFayette whose stated goal is to establish institutes and nonviolence centers around the globe. Work continues there on a daily basis.

"Only 15 percent of the homicides in Colombia are related to FARC and guerilla activities. The rest of the violence is people engaged in disputes."
"Medillin has been called the homicide capital of the world," says LaFayette. "If we can show the power of nonviolence over violence there, it would show the world what can be accomplished."