Nonkilling Leadership Lessons from Guillermo Gaviria
- This Course is based mainly on Professor Glenn D. Paige's introductory text on Guillermo Gaviria for the University of Peace (06/23/2003) and Luis Javier Botero's (Government of Antioquia Advisor on Nonviolence) paper Lessons from the Nonviolent Political Leadership of Governor Guillermo Gaviria prepared for the First Global Nonkilling Leadership Forum, Mu Ryang Sa Buddhist Temple, Honolulu, Hawai‛i, November 1-4, 2007. The Course is part of the Program on Nonkilling Leadership Development at the School of Nonkilling Studies.
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.
What to do? 
Let Guillermo Gaviria himself, in his own words, answer this question. To do that, let us go through his most important written legacy: the Letter to the Antioquian People, written just before the beginning of the March to Caicedo; Letter to the FARC-EP, April 20, 2002 (during the march); Letter to his Father, January 2, 2003 (while in captivity); and his diary, written during the captivity and then published as Diario de un gobernador secuestrado: Gui-llermo Gaviria Correa (Revista Número Ediciones, 2005, 339 pages) [English translation to be published by Cascadia Publishing House as Diary of a Kidnapped Colombian Governor.]
Excerpts from “Letter to the Antioquian people” 
“Dear Antioquian People: The trust you have put on me when I was elected as your Governor, obliges me to search, without rest, the roads to overcome the pain that the use of violence and injus-tice cause to our people. This search has moved me to the task of undertaking the ‘Nonviolent March of Reconciliation and Solidarity with the people of Caicedo’. With this pilgrimage I want to invite you to apply the strategy of Nonviolence. The philosophy of nonviolence gets spirits closer, gets souls closer, gets human beings closer and will allow us, together, to build true roads to social transformation. Nonviolence is not simply saying ‘No,’ to violence because it would end being con-fused with passively accepting suffering, injustice and abuse. Nonviolence is a way to overcome violence, investigating and discovering just means to oppose injustice. Nonviolence is not only about neutralizing all forms of direct violence, but also all manifestations of structural violence, because it builds peace through justice and soli-darity and helps to prevent future forms of violence, by offering arguments and models of peaceful struggle to those social groups left out and sacrificed by unbalanced power and systemic maladjustment. If you are reading this letter it is surely because the FARC were not able to listen or understand my message. If I have been murdered, my spirit will be praying for peace in Colombia. In this case I hope that Anibal, my brother, will take the flag I have been carrying on to build a new Antioquia. God bless the Antioquian people.”
Excerpts from “Letter to the FARC-EP” 
“Very good day dear countrymen: I have decided, in the midst of this March, to send you this message to try to make clear to you the motivations and purpose of this March.” “First of all, this is a march of reconciliation and solidarity. This is a march to look for reconciliation and forgiveness between the Antioquian people, particularly between the people of Caicedo and those who have in the past used violence in this region.” “I think that that you, my countrymen, and I, share many purposes of social trans-formation and we want to talk to you about them, peacefully.” “Our country, after the breakdown of the negotiations, is getting closer to a war that, like any other war, will only bring more people killed, more poverty and more so-cial underdevelopment.” “We want to talk to you about nonviolence. We want to propose to you this alter-native to be adopted by all citizens of Antioquia, but very especially by its government, so that we do not continue increasing military power to solve the problem, as mistak-enly it is believed. We have done that for 40 years and we have accomplished nothing. This is a different choice.” “If you allow this march to continue we will be sending all over the world a mes-sage different from war.” “I have no political interest other than try to stop a hecatombe [tragic bloodshed] that seems impossible to stop.” “I believe in Nonviolence. I am sure that we, together, are able to build peaceful solu-tions. My will is so determined, my commitment is so big, that I have asked the military forces not to intervene to demonstrate respect to the peaceful spirit of this March. I am putting my security and my physical integrity, and that of all of the marchers at risk.” “This alternative is now in your hands; is in God’s hands and is in your conscience.”
Excerpts from “Letter to his Father” 
“Very dear Father: I remember that when I first began to think about the March to Caicedo, I consciously avoided talking to you about it. I knew you did not share my proposal.” “As far as my wellbeing, and that of our family and our loved ones; as far as the possibility to continue my efforts to correct the course of Antioquia; as far as the low probability that the FARC could understand the great opportunity that the March of-fered to them; as far as those three issues, you were right.” “Despite all the limitations that this captivity is imposing on us, I believe that some-thing of my initial purpose has been preserved and even has surpassed my own expec-tations. I am talking about the diffusion of the Nonviolence philosophy among the An-tioquian people. Sometimes we want to accomplish social transformation in a few months when they require several generations.” “I know Father that sowing and promoting a way so demanding to understand our role in society is a challenge that will demand the commitment of a lifetime. I also know that many people in Colombia, many of our ‘leaders,’ believe that ‘we are too violent’ to accept this way of thinking and acting. It may be called stubbornness but I prefer to think of it as perseverance, because I still think that earlier than later the Antioquian people, and why not Colombia, are going to look for the strength of Nonviolence.” “In the midst of captivity I get comfort in thinking that I have contributed to mak-ing Nonviolence an alternative route, a complementary one if you wish, to get our peo-ple to think about the urgent necessity of changing our attitude.” “I am conscious that my acts have consequences that affect others: very harsh and sad for you, my Mother, all members of our family and my Wife; and very serious ones for my children Mateo and Dany.” “On the other hand, what is the right action of a government official in Colombia if his convictions lead him towards Nonviolence? Should he always avoid any danger to escape from his own suffering and that of his family? How can he reach equilibrium be-tween his own safety and the risk that public tasks carry for any government official in Colombia today? Can you govern, using Nonviolence as your philosophy, without ex-posing yourself to the violence that in diverse forms is all over our territory? How can we face injustice, to overcome it, if we are always trying to stay safe? Is not that small fortress that we have built around any government official, to grant his safety, which is preventing us of seeing the reality in which our people live?” “My convictions about the benefit of diffusing and promoting Nonviolence in An-tioquia have been strengthened. It is not about using it as the tool to transform the FARC´s attitude. Before that, it is necessary that the people of Antioquia know and ac-cept it. We really need Nonviolence as a society to overcome our failures and to trans-form the reality that overwhelms so many people in Antioquia.” “Here in captivity I have thought about the kind of leadership that I can offer to my countrymen. The message that I can and want to give them is that of the transform-ing power of Nonviolence—its capacity to extract the best of a human being even un-der the worst circumstances—and that we have to start working towards a more just and inclusive country without reverting to violent actions.” “I feel that today in politics it seems to be accepted that ‘the ends justify the means.’ To me, that sentence is not acceptable anymore. If we want a just end we better start taking care of the means.” “Our task, if we want a new Antioquia, is to open the door to the possibilities that Nonviolence offers in all aspects of life: family, education, interpersonal relations, communities and nations; war on poverty and construction of the progress of our na-tion with human criteria.” “I feel that we can not longer accept the ‘inevitability’ of violence and the ‘sponta-neity’ with which we revert to it.” “Nonviolence allows us to think of humans as being able and not unable in their nature. We are able to pursue the highest ideals and the best solutions.” “Now is my turn to share these ideas with the Antioquian people by giving an ex-ample. That is what I have done by suffering in my own flesh the most unjust torture that torments the Colombian people: kidnapping.” “I am totally convinced that democracy cannot exist without Nonviolence.”
Note by Luis Botero 
Governor Gaviria was kidnapped by the FARC on April 21, 2002 at the end of the 1,000-persons March to Caicedo seeking dialogue with FARC leaders. He was killed by FARC captors with nine others during an abortive military rescue attempt on May 5, 2003. As Advisor on Nonviolence (Asesor en Noviolencia) to the Governor, my judgment on lessons learned from the March and its tragic aftermath can be summed up briefly as follows.
- We did not have enough training.
- We did not make a detailed plan in advance.
- We did not have a “B plan” in case our leaders were kidnapped.
- We abandoned nonviolence as the strategy to follow to obtain their release.
The Role of Nonviolence Advisor to the Governor of Antioquia 
The goal is to create a nonviolent culture in Antioquia. Through gubernatorial leader-ship we work to: Promote and diffuse the philosophy of nonviolence all over the state. This has been done through two-day workshops, lectures, radio programs, TV programs, forums, magazines, newspapers, peace-days and peace-weeks in universities, schools and towns. According to the General Manager of Teleantioquia, the most important state-owned channel in the country, nonviolence is accepted and recognized as one of the two most important programs in the state in the last 10 years. She thinks that a new way to solve problems has been introduced to the Antioquian people.
Support training of nonviolent leaders 
Training of nonviolence leaders is supported. Over 10,000 leaders have attended a two-day workshop; 100 leaders have been trained as trainer-of-trainers (TOT) by LaFayette and Associates; 35 leaders from different towns all over the state have been trained as “leaders for nonviolence and peaceful living”; a group of inmates (20 to 30 people) has been trained in eight different jails all over the state. These inmates have been leaders and teachers of the “Crime Does Not Pay” program which has reached more than 5,000 teenagers and 500 teachers throughout the state. School principals report reduc-tion of fights in the schools and better behavior of students in classrooms. Only two killings in the last five years have been reported in all of those jails. The program has been expanded nationwide by the National Institute of Prisons and Jails.
Both programs, “Crime Does Not Pay” and “Training for Nonviolence and Peaceful Living” have been included in the “Bank of Good Practices to Overcome Conflict” created by the United Nations Development Plan (UNDP) to share good practices with everyone concerned. Many inmates trained in prison are now free and have begun an association called the “Dreams of Freedom Corporation.” They commit themselves not to break the law again. They study, and provide social support and education through contracts with public entities to teach youth that crime does not pay. They also act as an employment agency. The organization has 238 ex-inmates. Only one has broken the law and has been sent back to jail. This is a very low recidivism rate for any group of law breakers anywhere.
Domestic violence is a high priority since it has been proven to kill twice as many people as the internal war. Research shows that domestic violence is the basic reason to join armed groups in 80% of the cases. The “Working Table for the Prevention and Holistic Attention to Domestic Violence” was created in 2005. Several private and pub-lic entities work together permanently on three main issues confronting the Table:
- Construction of an effective system to detect, respond to and follow up on all reported events of domestic violence. The main problem so far is that there is not a unified way to classify domestic violence. Not even UNICEF has one. Because of that, institutions cannot share information.
- Strengthening and articulation of all institutions that are working on domestic violence.
- Promoting and teaching positive, nurturing and nonviolent relations in families.
Teaching advisors to future nonkilling leaders 
Since “Example is not the best way to teach but the only one,” any advisor must focus on being a truly nonviolent person. Then the leader has to be taught to behave in a nonviolent way whenever he/she speaks or acts. “Make in yourself the change you want to see in the world.” This only can be accomplished if the leader is truly commit-ted, like former Governor Guillermo Gaviria.
Teaching nonkilling leaders how to use advisors 
The way to do this is based on the foregoing. The leader, if truly committed, should understand that he/she has to be as nonviolent as possible. Leaders should have deep nonviolence training and keep permanent contact with their nonviolent advisors, asking them to preview all public speeches, requesting feedback and opinion on most issues. Coherence is essential.