What is the “social forgiveness” that Gustavo Petro, president-elect of Colombia, speaks of?

(CNN Spanish) — Gustavo Petro, Colombia’s president-elect, has spoken many times about “social forgiveness,” an amnesty proposal that has generated controversy and surprises, and his attempts to explain it have been criticized by his opponents. The issue became relevant during the presidential campaign when it was revealed that Petro’s brother met with politicians convicted of corruption in prison and the candidate referred to the concept again.

But what exactly is this “social forgiveness” that Petro has proposed, and why is it already generating controversy?

In front of the Colombian Senate, in August 2021, Petro explained that his proposal comes from the concept of forgiveness put forward by the French philosopher Jaques Derrida (1930-2004).

What does this “social forgiveness” consist of?

“(Derrida) says that in certain historical epochs, very occasionally, a society can have the imaginary, creative and virtuous act of a great social forgiveness for its members”, said Petro, adding that this act has the same “generation of social creation” as revolutions.

“Could we think that it is possible that Colombia, after two centuries of perpetual wars, has reached a moment of generalized social forgiveness? I think so,” he added.

Who is affected by this widespread forgiveness? To the perpetrators, “regardless of whether they committed amnestiable and pardonable political crimes or committed crimes against humanity,” Petro maintains, adding that the specific name of this pardon, whether or not it is amnesty, will depend on the laws.

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What are the conditions?

“Social forgiveness is an expression of society in search of reconciliation. It has a motor: to end a conflict in Colombia. And therefore the prison is not the fundamental piece, (it) is the heart of the human being,” he told him. Petro to CNN’s Fernando Ramos in May.

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“If we are able to forgive a series of events that we would say are unforgivable in recent Colombian history, then we will be able to reconcile them.”

But in order to grant this social forgiveness “which is not divine, it is human”, Petro pointed out, there must be certain “historical conditions”, based on a prior process of “truth and reparation for the victims, through specific mechanisms”.

On this issue, Petro already had pointed out in August 2021 that “before an amnesty there must be a return of all the property to the dispossessed and the complete truth”.

The controversy visit

In early April, Colombian media revealed that Juan Fernando Petro, brother of then-candidate Petro, visited former senator Iván Moreno, convicted of corruption, at the Bogotá Metropolitan Prison and Penitentiary Complex “La Picota”.

The revelation caused a controversy in Colombia, and Petro assured that his brother is not part of his campaign and that the meeting took place independently. “I did not send anyone to speak with Iván Moreno. They are the prisoners who asked to speak with the inter-ecclesial commission for Justice and Peace. That didn’t even cross my mind, ”he said on his account. Twitter.

On April 11, referring to the visit in an interview on W RadioPetro again mentioned the concept of social forgiveness, pointing out that Iván Moreno “has suggested that we be the builder of something that I have proposed called ‘social forgiveness’. And that is being discussed inside the prisons.”

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Moreno was sentenced in 2015 to 14 years in prison for his involvement in the “hiring carousel” corruption scandal, according to the Efe news agency. Meanwhile, his brother Samuel Moreno, former mayor of Bogotá, was sentenced to 18 years in prison for delivering bribes in the district health network contract for 67,000 million pesos (about 22 million dollars), within the same operation.

The controversy opens

The “social pardon” proposal has generated criticism against Petro, especially from his rivals and after learning of the meeting between Petro’s brother and Moreno.

“Your former partners and political bosses (who are in jail today x corrupt [sic]), they have a pact with you that you yourself put in evidence to give them such a “social pardon” in exchange for votes. The country already knows it,” he said in your twitter account Federico Gutiérrez, when he was still a candidate for the presidency of Colombia for the Equipo por Colombia coalition.

“Social forgiveness? Zero tolerance with those who seek votes with corruption”, said Sergio Fajardo, now a former presidential candidate.

But Petro says to raise the discussion from the field of social reconciliation and not from a government action. “Social forgiveness has nothing to do with legal matters, it is born from society,” he told Fernando Ramos. “It has nothing to do with the government, which is the one that creates laws such as pardons or reduced sentences.”

In mid-April, Petro denied that he was using “social forgiveness” to obtain political gains, assuring that he will go to court to defend himselfand offered more details about his project from his Twitter account.

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“Does social forgiveness mean that the corrupt get out of jail or have their sentences reduced? Not at all. On the contrary. Social forgiveness implies that all the corrupt go to jail without exception, and pay their sentences. Corruption is the breaking of forgiveness”, said.

“Social forgiveness is not granted by a president, it is society that grants it and I believe that, in exchange for truth and reparation, the greatest beneficiaries of that forgiveness would be [el expresidente Álvaro] Uribe Vélez and his friends and thousands of soldiers of all ranks,” he expressed in another Tweet.

An old idea from Petro

But beyond these controversies, Petro has been working on this idea of ​​”social forgiveness” for a long time.

In his essay “Forgiveness is Solidarity”, included in 2002 in the book “Political Culture and Forgiveness”, published by the Universidad del Rosario, the former mayor of Bogotá argues that “in a country where, unfortunately, the unforgivable is already part of that daily life, it occurs to me that every day, at every moment, we should have a daily forgiveness that would annul the unforgivable”.

And he adds: “The minimum pardon coincides with the minimum of a pact of solidarity to build a nation without exclusions that we could finally call, unequivocally, democratic.”

With information from Fernando Ramos of CNN