The Fondation Chirac Prize seeks to reward the efforts of the men and women who work to prevent conflicts, often at the risk of their lives. Father Francisco de Roux, a Colombian Jesuit priest, is one of the figures to whom the jury wished to pay tribute.
Father Francisco de Roux started an ambitious program of development in the Magdalena Medio region of Colombia, where 70% of the population still lives below the poverty line. This largely rural area is heavily dependent on the oil industry, which is its main economic asset.
Though guerrilla forces were pushed out of the region during the 1990s, a self-defense paramilitary militia is currently trying to control the population – the Magdalena Medio Regional Commando. In addition, human rights activists continue to be victims of militias.
Father Francisco de Roux and the “Peace and Development Program (PDP)” aim to improve the lives and safety of the local populations. When the latter achieve economic and political independence from the paramilitary, they will be less prey to violence. This program is based on the direct involvement of local communities, from decisionary phases to field programs. By offering more than simply financial support, by training the populations, the program enables them to continue their development without outside help.
It is on the basis of population meetings, exchanges and participation that over 340 projects involving roughly 30,000 people have been launched. They include educational, agricultural, mining, or environmental projects. They range from agricultural cooperatives that represent an alternative to growing coca to the creation of a radio news station.
This model has received much financial support, including from the World Bank. It has been widely replicated in other regions of Colombia, thereby participating in the development of the entire country.
The Prize for Conflict Prevention Jury members wanted to acknowledge Father Francisco de Roux’s innovative methods as well as the personal risks he has taken and continues to take, with this approach.