How an L.A. actor is using theater to foster peace in his native Colombia

How an L.A. actor is using theater to foster peace in his native Colombia

by A Martínez and Dorian Merina | Take Two

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Hector Aristizábal, grew up in Colombia and was detained and tortured by paramilitary groups during his time as a student near Medellín. Now based in Los Angeles as an actor, he uses acting and theater in reconciliation efforts in his native Colombia. Dorian Merina/KPCC

In Colombia, voters narrowly defeated a peace deal that would have ended the longest-running armed conflict in Latin America. The rebels, known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, already agreed to the pact with Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos, but it still had to be approved by a vote.

That vote Sunday showed 50.2 percent of Colombians rejecting the deal, a razor thin margin that now casts the process into uncertainty. The conflict has gone on for more than half a century, devastating tens of thousands of families with killings, kidnappings and a violent drug trade.

“I was speechless,” said Hector Aristizábal, an actor who grew up in Medellín and now lives in LA. and supported the peace deal. “We really felt that the country was moving in a different direction.”

Like many Colombians, his own life and family were shaped in profound ways by the war. His brother was killed by paramilitary forces and he himself was detained and tortured while a student, he said.

Aristizábal has taken these experiences and led reconciliation efforts, producing a play about his life. Last month, during a visit to Colombia, he invited people from all sides of the conflict to sit together and share their stories. They included former guerilla fighters, military soldiers and victims of the war.

“It was a very intense process, it was incredibly emotional,” said Aristizábal. “But what you notice is when you hear the story of ‘the other,’ you don’t justify what they have done, but you start understanding that for many people, they thought that there was no other option.”

Colombian President Santos and FARC leaders have vowed to continue the peace process, though the next steps are still not clear. For Aristizábal, his efforts to end the conflict will continue and he hopes his work in theater and reconciliation will aid the process – and, eventually, lead to a peace deal that Colombians will accept.

“It’s not perfect,” he said. “There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done.”