Participants in the recent Encounter of the Mesa Ecuménica por la Paz

Participants in the recent Encounter of the Mesa Ecuménica por la Paz

The thing about peace-making is that you always have to talk with your enemies. The road ahead for Colombians will not be an easy one.

Let’s say the FARC guerrilla army and the government reach an accord. There will almost certainly be a referendum, and the failure of the peace referendum in Guatemala two decades ago is on the minds of many. The peace accords will require strong support from within and outside Colombia. Proposals for civilian observation (veedurías) of implementation of the accords help to build that support.

But then let’s say the referendum succeeds, the transitional justice arrangement has credibility, the FARC fighters demobilize successfully, agreement is reached with the other rebel army, the ELN, and land reform is successfully initiated….

Colombia still has the problems of:

  • the paramilitaries (who, depending on your perspective, are the same as or strongly connected to, the bandas criminales, of which there are said to be 338 different groups);
  • the five-million-plus internally-displaced people, many of whom want their land back;
  • "Homage to our martyrs"

    “Homage to our martyrs”

    the massive gap between the wealth of a tiny minority and the poverty of the majority (Thomas Piketty (Capital, p.327) says the richest one-per-cent received 20 per cent of national income from 1990 to 2010), a gap that translates into a difference in power that has always limited the practice of democracy in Colombia where 630 people have fortunes greater than US$30 million;

  • the likelihood that President Juan Manuel Santos will be succeeded in 2018 by his vice-president, Germán Vargas Lleras, who has never favoured the peace process; and
  • and, to be realistic, someone will still be in control of the coca and the gold and the oil.

I asked a journalist friend what the elite would be willing to pay to have peace in the land. “They want cheap peace,” was the reply. If Santos can get some sort of peace deal without really changing anything, they’ll go for it.

Otherwise, history shows that the rich would rather continue to make everyone pay for endless war: 500,000 soldiers; a military budget of $12.1 billion (equivalent to 3.5% of GDP, compared to Brazil’s 1.7% or Mexico’s 0.7%). The pressure on the elite, from within and outside, has to become enormous, but so far, the elite have been rewarded with free trade deals and foreign investment.

What to do?

I have shared my recommendations related to the peace process with other Canadian NGOs and with Global Affairs Canada:

"Where are the disappeared?"

“Where are the disappeared?”

To the international community:

  • Support the peace process energetically
  • Launch an international campaign for a bilateral (or multilateral, so as to include the ELN) ceasefire

To the Canadian government:

  • Support the peace process: engage with the dialogue table in Havana; engage with civil society organizations in Colombia (including with ODA funds); look for ways to support the civilian veedurías so that their activities may be carried out in ways that are both secure and effective.
  • Make effective the annual human rights reporting process that is mandated by the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.
  • Regulate activities of Canadian resource extraction companies operating in Colombia.

To international civil society and NGOs:

  • Support the creation of the civilian observation processes (veedurías)
  • Continue to support the call for participation of Colombian civil society and popular movements in the peace process, through tables of peace called “Mesa Social para la Paz.”
  • Call for release of political prisoners
  • Question how aid funds are prioritized in Colombia. There has been a tendency to shift aid away from NGOs and social movements in favour of larger multilateral institutions. Someone said to me that the UN Development Program is not the best expression of Colombian civil society, and it’s not likely to be of much assistance in Sucre or Cauca…

One Response to Peace in Colombia (Part 2): the road ahead

  1. Insightful article Jim. Thanks for sharing. I learned a lot reading it. Will also share with our program Officer for Colombia. Peace!


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