The killing of Antioquia state Governor Guillermo Gaviria Correa on May 5, 2003, among ten hostages massacred by FARC guerrillas in reaction to a military rescue attempt, deprived Colombia and the world of a nonviolent political leader whose legacy is no less significant than those of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.
He was born in Medellín in 1962, eldest son of a family prominent in politics, publishing and business. A mining management specialist by training at the Colorado School of Mines, after a decade of innovative public service including as Antioquian Secretary of Mines and General Director of the Colombian Roads Institute he campaigned for "A New Antioquia" in 2000 and was overwhelmingly elected Governor by 600,000 of six million people in Colombia's most populous state.
Gaviria's brief but dynamic governorship was profoundly rooted in the principles and practices of nonviolence derived from his Christian faith and serious study of the legacies of Gandhi and King. He explained, "Nonviolence was born with Jesus Christ; it was followed in the past century by Gandhi and Martin Luther King, and in this century it will be the light to guide the people of Antioquia."
He understood Colombia's violence to be the result of "imbalanced" political and socioeconomic conditions and saw participatory nonviolence as a way to bring about needed structural change. "Nonviolence is more than simply no aggression and is more than putting an end to terrorist attacks, kidnappings, threats, and blackmail. Nonviolence aims to break silence and rise up out of passiveness to build a balanced society of justice and social well-being." He wanted all Antioquians to be educated in nonviolence and trained in skills of putting it into practice.
Unlike Gandhi and King, Gaviria as Governor was able to combine the powers of government with those of popular political leadership. He engaged more than 5,000 leaders in a process to clarify Antioquia's priority problems and to suggest solutions for them. This produced a Strategic Plan of Action and a Congruent Peace Plan. Personally leading marches and caravans, together with First Lady Dr. Yolanda Pinto de Gaviria, he awakened citizen participation for implementing action.
The most dramatic of these was the thousand person March of Reconciliation and Solidarity to Caicedo, a mountain coffee growing town 85 miles from the capital Medellín, undertaken over five days from April 17 to 21, 2002. The March was intended to express solidarity with the FARC-threatened people of Caicedo who had declared themselves a nonviolent community and to seek reconciliation with the guerrillas. The Governor had ordered the police and army not to protect the March and not to rescue him or retaliate if he were kidnapped or killed. He had disagreed with Colombian President Andrés Pastrana's February 23 decision to terminate peace talks with the FARC.
On April 21, just short of Caicedo, the March was stopped by the FARC. The Governor embraced his wife, both knowing he might be kidnapped or killed, and went forward with three companions to talk with the guerrillas. Six hours later two returned with the news that the Governor and his Peace Commissioner, former defense minister Gilberto Echeverri Mejia, had been kidnapped. During his year in captivity, the Governor expressed in messages to his wife even greater commitment to nonviolence and said that when free he intended to resume the March to Caicedo.
Gaviria's tragic death on May 5, together with his Peace Commissioner and eight captive soldiers, resulted from the clash of two lethal ideologies. Righteous state violence and righteous revolutionary violence. If either side had understood his nonviolent message all ten would be alive.
Guillermo Gaviria's unique legacy is that a democratically elected political leader can courageously work for nonviolent social justice from the "top down." It is no less important than the courageous legacies of Gandhi and King seeking freedom and justice from the "bottom up." The convergence of these legacies offers the best hope for the survival and well-being of humanity. Transcending death, Gaviria's legacy continues to challenge Colombia and the world in the slogan of the March to Caicedo. " Sí…Hay un camino: la Noviolencia." Yes. . . There is a way: Nonviolence.
Glenn D. Paige is the author of Nonkilling Global Political Science (Xlibris 2002) and president of the Center for Global Nonviolence in Honolulu www.globalnonviolence.org For more on Gaviria's nonviolence see http://www.colombia-noviolencia.gov.co