People Believe the Armed Conflict Has Nothing To Do With Bogotá

(Translated by Brooke Rozenboom, a CSN Volunteer Translator, Edited by David Van Den Brandt)


February 26, 2014

From the center to the north of the city, people believe that armed conflict has nothing to do with Bogotá: Ana Teresa Bernal

In the year 2013 alone, around 13,000 victims of armed conflict arrived in Bogotá. La Alta Consejería Distrital para los Derechos de las Víctimas (The High Commissioner for Victim Rights in the city of Bogotá) offered them immediate help, but the government’s slowness in recognizing their situation, the difficulties of labor insertion, and the lack of social conscious over the severity of their reality, put these people at risk of revictimization. A greater harmonization with national politics is required for Bogotá to be able to continue to attend to the integral reparation of these citizens.

The tenured lecturer of la Alta Consejería Distrital para los Derechos de las Víctimas, Peace and Reconciliation, Ana Teresa Bernal, spoke with Pedro Medellín, director of Let’s talk about Peace and Human Rights from Capital Channel, about the challenges posed for the city to accommodate the people affected by the conflict and the attitude of the citizens facing the victims.

According to Bernal, who has an extensive background in these subjects, Bogotá has received 428,000 victims of armed conflict that are registered in the last census from la Unidad de Víctimas (Victim’s Unit). In 2013 alone there were 13,000.

When a person who flees from violence and displacement arrives in Bogotá, they usually become another resident of the city’s marginalized areas, where the experience of victimization can be worsened due to unemployment, lack of opportunities, hunger, misery, contempt, and a misunderstanding of the society.

It was this reality that, according to Bernal, caused the mayor of Bogotá, Gustavo Petro, to create la Alta Consejería para las Víctimas, insisting, of course, in also overcoming monetary assistance: “We want to do everything possible to restore the dignity of the victims. Attention centers have been set up where immediate help is given with housing, food stamps, and psychosocial assistance, as well as legal accompaniment to demand their rights”, he assured.

These aids are provided for three months, after which the care of the victims is no longer an obligation of the District and begins to be a responsibility of the government, on the national agenda, offering them humanitarian assistance. This is where Bernal and her team have detected problems.

Delays in the recognition process of the victims, such as the lack of guarantees of a return, the difficult labor and social insertion of people that find themselves in a totally different place than the one they are familiar with, and the lack of coherence between some of the implemented policies and the reality of the victims are the major issues of concern for Bernal.

There is a serious problem in relation to returning: the majority of the almost 6 million displaced people in the country are day laborers and peasants that were not owners of the land they inhabited, and therefore, they have nowhere to return to, and furthermore they do not have adequate safety conditions, Bernal emphasized.

The Capital District is moving forward negotiations with the Colombian Institute of Rural Development to try to find solutions to this problem, but it seems alarming to Bernal that there is no available land to which to relocate the displaced people who are not landowners, because this situation was not considered in the Restitution of Land Act.

The labor and social insertion of these victims poses another difficulty. Job offers in Bogotá do not coincide with the preparation, experience, or lifestyles of the recently arrived victims. The conditions of temporary contracts without benefits can make the situation of the most vulnerable even more precarious.

For Bernal, the balance is bittersweet, since there is a disproportion between the amount of people that enter the welfare programs of City Hall and the number of those searching for work. Many factors come into play here.

“You cannot ask a peasant or native that arrives to Bogotá to work in a call center or courier service because they don’t know the city. We would like for these people to actually recover their life projects, so if they are peasants, that they then have access to land. There are many difficulties that have not been overcome and this generates frustration”, she asserted.

Who are the victims of displacement?

Bernal assures that the differences between the victims of violence that arrive in Bogotá are ethnic, but what makes them alike is the extreme poverty and vulnerability in which they live.

Are the victims conscious of their situation? Asked the political scientist and director of Let’s Talk About Peace and Capital Channel, Pedro Medellín.

Bernal thinks so. For her, the issue has received enough attention that there have been some who try to pass themselves off as victims and (including some victims) want to take advantage of the circumstances as sources of income.

As Bogotanos are we conscious of the problems of the victims? Medellín asked again. “I don’t think so”, La Alta Consejera para las Victimas responded. “Sometimes, even, the reaction is highly adverse. From the center to the north of the city people believe that the conflict has nothing to do with Bogotá”, he clarified.

Attention to victims post-conflict

If the government and FARC reach a final agreement for the end of armed conflict, the challenges in terms of human rights and the demobilization of ex-combatants, among other matters, will increase. Is the city prepared to face them?

Bernal declares that this situation has been discussed by the Interior of the District Government in various occasions, but they have still not designed a strategy in this sense. However, she emphasized, the said strategy will surely be implemented because of the mayor’s enormous political will.

In relation to these challenges, and with the need of sustainable attention to the victims, Pedro Medellín warned about the risk of la Alta Consejería para las Víctimas ceasing to exist with the arrival of a new mayor that no longer considers it a priority. The ex-president of the National Network of Initiatives for Peace (REDEPAZ) agrees with this consideration.

“A time is coming in which, if a peace agreement is to be signed, a lot more solid institutionalism will be necessary. Currently, we don’t have sufficient institutionalism”, warned Bernal.

With regard to peace, the topic of her specialty, the officer said: “I’m very uncertain. There are those who say that the negotiations are going very well; however, there are topics that don’t correspond to the reality of the country, like the implementation of the Law of the Victims. This makes me question how far the will to change the situation will actually go. The government and FARC have the will for peace, but the conditions for us to move forward are still not there.”

(This translation may be reprinted as long as its content remains unaltered and the source, author and translator are cited.)

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