[Iván Garzón, Rebeldes, Románticos y Profetas. La responsabilidad de sacerdotes, políticos e intelectuales en el conflicto armado colombiano ( Bogotá: Ariel, 2020) 330 pp].

review / Paola Rosenberg

Rebels, Romantics and ProphetsThe book "Rebeldes, románticos y profetas" written by Iván Garzón sample the role played by priests, politicians and intellectuals in the internal armed conflict in Colombia and the responsibility they had in it. A war that marked the country politically, economically, socially and ideologically. Revolutionary movements in Latin America were characterised by the use of violence and the employment use of arms to come to power; more or less strong depending on the country, guerrilla groups had a great influence on the course of events in the region during the second half of the 20th century. The essay by Garzón, professor of Political Theory at the Universidad de La Sabana, focuses especially on the role of the Catholic Church in the different movements and on the contradictory ideas and actions that sustained the conflict over time [this is how he sums up his purpose in this article video].

"Rebels, Romantics and Prophets" questions and criticises the responsibility of these groups for the resource of violence and the use of arms to achieve social change in Colombia. Iván Garzón challenges the participants of the armed conflict in Colombia to reflect on their role in the conflict and to assume their responsibility to build a better society. In addition, the book aims to open a discussion on the past, present and future of the role and influence of the Catholic Church and intellectuals in society.

The revolutionary waves in Latin America in those years were strengthened by the Marxist ideas of the time. Those ideas defended that the economic development of the Third World countries was not possible without a break-up of the capitalist market; due to social inequality and class struggle. Therefore, the use of violence had to be advocated in order to come to power. After the triumph of the Cuban revolution in 1959, guerrilla ideas spread rapidly throughout Latin America. Cuba proved that revolution was possible: through armed struggle and Marxist ideas a social development could be achieved. This is how strong revolutionary movements began to emerge in these countries. Colombia was definitely no exception.

One of the young and main protagonists mentioned in the book is Camilo Torres, who was swept up in the revolutionary waves in Colombia. Also known as "the guerrilla priest" or the "Che Guevara of the Christians", Torres was a very influential leader in Colombia in the second half of the 20th century. A guerrilla priest, a hero to some, but a villain to others. Aged just 37, he died in a troop clash on 15 February 1966, a year after joining the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas. Willing to sacrifice his life and take up arms for his country and social change, Torres asserted that revolution was inevitable and had to be contributed to. Different intellectuals assess his figure in the book: some criticise the priest for his "failure" and his incorrect decision to take up arms, others justify him by pointing out that he submitted to a "just war".

Camilo Torres represents the group of the rebels, whom the author describes as the "warriors of a failed revolution". They used arms out of an often religious commitment. They justified violence and saw it as a representation of honour, bravery and submission. The rebels decided to take up arms, go out into the bush and join the guerrilla in order to make the Christian faith effective and help the poor. Many of these rebels like Torres focused on Christianity's primary mandate to love one's neighbour. They felt an obligation to help bring about radical change in the political, economic and social Structures of the country. They wanted a more just society and sacrificed their lives to achieve it, no matter what the means. Many came to the conclusion that the only way to achieve this change was through violent struggle. Their actions sample how the dominant ideas of the time justified the use of violence, going against purely Christian ideas.

In the conflict there was also the group of the "romantics", those who approved of the cause, respected it, but did not get their hands dirty. They were priests, politicians and intellectuals who intervened in the moral and intellectual discussion to justify the reasons for the revolution. They were the passionate ones, the minds behind the acts that directly influenced the warriors who went into the bush to fight.

Finally, there were the "prophets": the priests, politicians and intellectuals who were completely opposed to armed struggle and the use of violence to bring about change in society. The prophets refused to make a pact with the devil and betray the moral values of the Church. They believed that there were other means to achieve social justice; peaceful and bloodless means. In the end, these were the ones who were right; it was a futile, costly and unwinnable struggle.   

In conclusion, both the rebels and the Romantics found in their moral and political visions a full justification for the use of violence. The prophets never approved of this cause, but criticised it by emphasising its secularised and contradictory character. Iván Garzón aims to open a discussion on the legitimacy or illegitimacy of the use of violence as a political means to achieve justice.

Today, the word revolution is still linked to violence because of the many traumatic conflicts experienced by many Latin American nations. In Colombia, as in many other countries, the revolutionaries won ideologically, but not in practice. For this reason, it can be concluded that in general, violent internal conflicts only lead to the destabilisation of countries and the loss of innocent lives. The book attempts to make religious and intellectual participants in armed conflict reflect on their responsibility or guilt in the armed conflict. This discussion between criticism or justification of the armed struggle is still necessary today because of the constant threat to democratic institutions in Latin America.

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