Julia Suarez-Krabbe



“From transitional justice to love and common-unity. Contributions to the development of alternative bases for peace”

The conceptual outset of this paper lies in the convergence between historical analyses on the emergence and evolution of practices around human rights and development on the one hand, and critical elaborations in relation to the ontological, epistemological and temporal assumptions that accompany them on the other. Among these assumptions is the ontological division between human being and nature, which also sustains the western separation between the material order and the metaphysical order, between secularized and spiritual or religious thought. Thus arise, for example, the critical positions of indigenous peoples in Latin America to western knowledge production and its political order. These positions emphasize how the western form of knowledge and political organization deny the existence of Mother World, or Pachamama, and inhibit her participation in that same political and knowledge field. The diverse practices linked to the ideas of human rights and development are then also criticized for working to imprison the future: they ‘naturalize’ and universalize a western ontological, epistemological and temporal order, and thereby they authorize only some forms of and initiatives for change, while disavowing others. This does not mean that the struggles or mobilizations around human rights are obsolete. Rather, these criticisms point to the fact that the construction of alternatives can fall short if only framed from within the logic of rights (Suárez-Krabbe 2016).

In socio-historical terms, the paper is concerned with the construction of alternatives in Colombia. I read the peace agreement between the Colombian government and FARC as an expression of interest for social transformation of the signing parties, which in no way guarantees that the deep social, economic, racial, gender, political and legal problems in the country are solved. However, the peace agreement has also in a political sense widened the possibility of working towards construction of a strong societal basis that sustains—rather than attacks—life and difference. The signed agreement contains more than 300 pages of social analysis carried out by the government and the FARC regarding some of the most serious problems we face in Colombia, and on the basis of that analysis the agreement sketches out its version of how these problems can be solved. These problems include the distribution of lands, social, economic, gender and cultural inequalities, drug production and trade, paramilitarism, political participation, and justice and transitional justice.

In the paper, I explore some alternative ways of understanding justice as a way of contributing to the construction of alternative and strong bases upon which peace can be built. Indeed, as with human rights and development, the problem with transitional justice lies in the ways it may foreclose the good future of most Colombians. Therefore, the need to think through the possibilities of fundamental change that may be found outside of the dominant frameworks of thinking and political change, and inhibit our imagining alternative shared futures together. The paper explores a combination of Cornell West’s notion of justice as the public expression of love and the notion of freedom as the public expression of common-unity that I have learnt with the Mamos, indigenous spiritual/political leaders in Colombia. If justice is “what love looks like in public”, that which inhibits love has to die. I defend that, in terms of transitional justice, the impediment to the public expression of love lies in six presuppositions, which briefly mentioned are the following: First, transition implies a teleological movement from an aberrant social condition to its normalization, which presupposes a sort of social healing that puts an end to the aberration that gave way to war or violence. Second, the telos that underpins the previously referred normalization is shaped by a notion of justice understood as the absence of the aberrant violence. Third, the aberration, as well as that which is or is not violence, that which is or is not relevant in the transitional process, is defined from within the dominant epistemic and ontological frameworks, that is, the aberration is defined in relation to the dominant normativity and it is understood as being external to it. Fourth, justice is linked to the international and state institutions that monopolize its definitions and how it is to be exercised. Fifth, the transition implies the activation of those international and state institutions so that they fulfill their function: that of guaranteeing and defending justice. Finally the idea of transitional justice implies restricted notions about what we understand as the material, the historical, the symbolic and psycho-social.

On love and common-unity

As the old folk used to say, if justice is what love looks like in public, and tenderness is what love feels like in private, then deep democracy is what justice looks like in practice and that’s love of wisdom as a practice, philosophy as a set of practices, but knowing that you’ve got your limitations and constraints no matter where you end up. And that’s the tragicomic conclusion. (West & Mendieta 2017: 169, emphasis in original).

In this interview with Eduardo Mendieta, West highlights the connection between justice in public, in private, and in relation to democracy and philosophy. Here, the community is simultaneously the condition of possibility, the source, and the space for the expression of justice. It is worth noting that the love of wisdom, that is, philosophy, is also part of justice. One could say that this set of practices that is philosophy are also practices of justice (love), which actually deepen democracy. West emphasizes the importance of including knowledge of one’s own limitations and restrictions in that love for wisdom: it is in that very same recognition that there is a space for interlocution with others, and that is also where the possibility of critical analysis resides. As Sullivan argues, critical analysis is essential for visionary creation, but at the same time being able to see a different future is often necessary to carry out an effective critique of the past (Sullivan 2009: 192). West’s prophetic pragmatism implies that philosophy can formulate a better future where experiences of evil, such as racism, capitalism and patriarchy, are neither inevitable nor necessary (Sullivan 2009: 190).

As mentioned, I would argue that a substantial part of what prevents the public expression of love in Colombia lies precisely in the previously mentioned assumptions in transitional justice, which are closely related to the death project (Suárez-Krabbe 2016). The death project refers to the impetus and the political, economic, legal and social practices that we see dominating globally. The concept takes into account how the so-called justice and the legality of modern law have been part of the forms of domination, exploitation and violence of coloniality. It also considers that these processes of exploitation also must be understood in their relationship to spirituality and nature.

Cornel West thinks from a very powerful Afro-Christian spirituality, and to him, religion is a fundamental element of the cultures of the oppressed all over the planet (Sullivan 2009: 197-198). This brings me to Mamo Saúl Martínez’s understanding of religion. When explaining the close relationship of the Mamos with the Mother, Saúl Martínez said that the Mamos’ practice can be understood as religion if we understand it in its etymological sense: the word religion comes from Latin, and its root is re-ligare. The Mamos are then religious because they engage in constant act of re-connection with the Mother. The Mother is not simply to be understood as nature. The Mother includes the processes of life and of becoming, and the difference is fundamental to Her: reconnection includes re-linking with the ancestors, the elements, the stones, but it also includes the forms of interrelation that exist between all these beings. The Mamos re-link, or re-connect, constantly to see, read, how the balance of these interrelationships is doing. That connection occurs in the sphere of aluna which is, as Mamo Martinez has said, the dream of thought, it is a spiritual place which is intimately linked to the material. In it are the unconscious, premonitions, intuitions, etc.

It is important here to note that the reconnection that the Mamos master involves dialogue and consultation with all beings, not only with human beings. This means that these beings are also part of the political field, of the social sphere, of the ‘public’ realm – justice as the public expression of love is then no longer understood anthropocentrically, but from the condition of ​​common-unity. It also means that the thought of the Mamos is also the love of wisdom: it is constructed, revised and re-generated through dialogue with other beings, an interlocution that is only possible because it recognizes and takes seriously its own limitations and restrictions. Common-unity highlights that we are all different beings but we all live in common-unity, among others because we share the air, the sun, the water, the earth. The problem is that a few of us are dominating in this common-unity relationship through violence, exploitation and appropriation, both in relation to other groups of human beings, and in relation to that common-unity as a whole. For example, we corral the water, and we do not share the land. We inhibit the freedom of what is, and of that which may become. This is an imbalance of common-unity. From the perspective of Mamo Martínez, freedom is of everything that inhabits, and of everything that is. That means that to take a stone and move it from one place to another, one must have already thought if doing that will be interrupting the stone’s freedom to give shelter to a seed that is perhaps growing there. We cannot interrupt those processes without having previously analyzed and consulted with the Mother, because it would be restricting the freedom of a plant, of a stone, and who knows how many humans that may need the tree that is about to take root. This is a very simplified sketch of some complex ideas, of a philosophy and ontology of which I know only very little. But that bit allows me to illustrate the point I want to explore further:

Understood as the public expression of common-unity, freedom implies that we are free to the extent that we live in common-unity, respecting the spaces of all beings, considering well, and in depth, each situation (love of wisdom), to ensure that my freedom does not at the cost of the other. For this reason, freedom as the public expression of common unity requires respect and love. That love, in its public expression, is justice. These exercises of love and common-unity can only be forged outside of the tools that we have inherited from the processes of the death project. The rupture with transitional justice may, on the basis of these ideas, itself be the condition of possibility of justice, and it may be thought of as an act of freedom, at least to the extent it can only take place from within common-unity.


Suárez-Krabbe, Julia. 2016. Race, Rights and Rebels. Alternatives to Human Rights and

            Development from the Global South. Rowman & Littlefield International.

Sullivan, Shannon. 2009. Prophetic Vision and Trash Talkin’: Pragmatism, Feminism, and Racial Privilege. En: Chad Kautzer, Eduardo Mendieta (eds): Pragmatism, Nation, and Race. Community in the Age of Empire. Indiana University Press. 186-205.

West Cornel & Eduardo Mendieta 2017. “What it means to be human!” Critical Philosophy of Race, 5(2). 137-170


Compelling intellectual interest, theme, or question:

To make contributions so that contemporary and future generations can continue strengthening the process of decolonization without falling into the multiple traps of coloniality and racism. More concretely, I am compelled to explore, conceptualize and practice pluriversalization: how do we take social, historical, economic, philosophical (etc) difference seriously without thereby trivializing past and present coloniality and racism?

Provisional sketch of essay:

It would be interesting to write a co-authored paper exploring how coloniality has simultaneously generated problems and creative visions based on the resistance and rebellion to it. In any case, coloniality is fundamental to understand difference. I am particularly interested in difference and the multiplicity of creative visions, utopias, alternatives as these are the possibility of existence of pluriversality. In this context, one could perhaps engage the following question inspired in Audre Lorde: if difference is a “fund of necessary polarities between which our creativity can spark like a dialectic”, then what does that creativity look like?  What kind of lessons may one take from those past (or present) experiences?