The Agrarian Strike and the Territorial Pulse

Source :

by Alejandro Mantilla

(Translated by Jack Laun, a CSN volunteer translator)

Crimes and debates

Jorge Eliecer Gaitan contrasted the political country from the national country. Diego Montana Cuellar contrasted the formal country from the real country. And Dario Echandia spoke of the orangutan in formal dress to describe Colombian democracy. In speaking of Colombia, the play of contrasting positions and metaphors which bring together extremes has been a recurrent theme. In the last few months the contrasts have reappeared. While in the Presidential campaign the debates were replaced by mutual accusations of commission of crimes, the campesino, indigenous and Afro-Colombian movement opened a programmatic debate about agrarian policy and the future of rural areas.

The mobilization which unfolded between the end of April and the beginning of May took up again the efforts of the agrarian strikes of 2013, the year with the greatest number of protests and mobilizations since 1975 (1). In contrast to the previous year, the recent days of protest had as the key point agitation for a set of unified demands pushed for by the Agrarian, Campesino, Ethnic and Popular Summit, a process which brought together 12 national organizations which, according to the data of the national government, were responsible for 96% of the points of mobilization (2). The list of demands consisted of eight points which questioned the economic model implanted in the last several decades. These points included a new model of territorial ordering; modification of mining policy; an integral agrarian reform; human rights guarantees; a different relationship between the countryside and cities; alternatives to the growing of coca, marijuana and poppies; and a political solution to the social and armed conflict, with the participation of popular organizations.

To summarize, while the two candidates with the best chance of winning the elections accuse each other of committing serious crimes, the public policy of the country is being debated in hamlets, reservations, and roads.

The question for territorial peace

On March 13 of this year, while the Agrarian Summit and other organizations prepared for a strike, the High Commissioner for Peace and negotiator in Havana, Sergio Jaramillo, gave a presentation titled “Territorial Peace” at Harvard University. His presentation has immense relevance for the political moment the country is living, marked by the discussion of a political solution to the conflict and for the ascendance of the agrarian struggles.

Jaramillo’s presentation can be summarized by emphasizing a few central theses (the quoted text which follows does not appear to be a literal citation of Commissioner Jaramillo’s remarks at Harvard—editor):

1. “That the guerrillas lay down their arms is of course an inevitable condition of the transition (to peace). But it is not the most important thing. Most important is what happens afterward…The energy of peace is required to set in motion the transformation of the conditions which have kept the conflict alive.”

2. “In the center of the Government’s vision of peace there is a concern for territory and a concern for rights. ‘Rights’ in the sense that the peace process must satisfy the rights of the victims, beginning with the most effective measure of protection and of non-repetition: put an end to the conflict. But also in the broader sense of guaranteeing equally the constitutional rights of Colombians throughout the country.”

3. “…it is impossible to guarantee rights in a sustained manner if strong institutions do not exist. “Institutions” not only in the sense of entities, but also in the collection of practices and norms which regulate public life…if a country lives in conflict…it is inevitable that it has or it has had serious failures in its institutionality, as much in its capacity to produce public goods and to satisfy rights in all its territory, as in assuring the conditions for carrying out the political demands of the society.”

4. “We have now achieved (with the FARC-EP) agreements on two points, which establish the framework for implementation of the other points. The first, on the topic of rural development, seeks, as I have already said, to transform the conditions of the countryside and reverse the effects of the violence. What is involved is the closing of the enormous gap between the urban world and the rural world, which has been the scene of conflict, by means of plans and programs which will give them a real change in the living conditions of the population. The Government does not believe that “objective conditions” exist which justify someone in taking up arms against another. But it does believe that in the countryside there are conditions of extreme poverty, of lack of opportunities and of weakness of institutions when needed to regulate public life, which has permitted violence to flourish” (3).

It is worthy of praise that the High Commissioner adheres to the theses that the popular Colombian movement has sustained for a long time: the armed conflict has social and political roots originating in the actions and omissions of the Colombian State. For this reason peace does not consist of the simple silencing of firearms on the part of the insurgency, but rather in crucial transformations of public policy, especially with reference to agrarian and territorial policy.

However, the question that will mark a good part of the coming debates in Colombia is how territorial peace is conceived and how the institutions necessary to guarantee that conception of peace will be understood. While neo-institutional economists consider that strong institutions are the key to the reduction of the costs of transaction which permit the stability of investments, the social movement tends to defend a vision of institutions linked to public policies which guarantee social rights with a focus upon redistribution of wealth and satisfaction of necessities. “Territorial peace”, “institutions” and “rights” are terms which are objects of controversy and political dispute.

The agrarian strike as a builder of territorial peace

Upon reviewing the set of demands presented by the Agrarian Summit (4), we find that the mobilized communities stress reordering of the territory, a new, more equitable agrarian policy and the guarantee of human rights as the basis for construction of peace with social justice. Thus the mobilization also stressed the construction of territorial peace.

However, I insist that the concept of territorial peace is in dispute, since the public policies which the government applies today are openly opposed to the framework of policy which the mobilized campesino movement proposes today. A good example is mining. The Agrarian Summit proposes a mining moratorium which would halt environmental licenses, concessions and mining titles while mining policy is discussed in a democratic manner. In contrast, the Colombian State has delivered about 40 million hectares (5) in concessions for large-scale mining interests, in a Colombian territory which has an expanse of 114 million hectares.

While governmental officials believe that territorial peace consists of generation of income for inhabitants of the rural areas, the persons who have mobilized point to peace with respect to the territories, including with respect for the environment, maintenance of ecosystems as the source of life of the communities and a redistributive public policy. This opposition will be the basis of coming discussions in Colombia, since both the economy and peace depend upon what happens in the rural sphere.

Recently in an interview with Juan Carlos Iragorri (6), Professor Bruce Bagley of the University of Miami issued a disquieting affirmation: if peace is signed, Colombians ought to prepare themselves for an increase in violence. Bagley was not incurring in any contradiction, rather he was alerting us to what happened in Guatemala or El Salvador after the peace accords, when the end of the political war gave way to the violence of the “maras” linked to drug trafficking. This last point is crucial, since as the Colombian campesino movement has sustained, agrarian public policy in Colombia has not contributed to combatting drug-trafficking, but rather to its consolidation, since the failure of the campesino economy has led in many regions to consolidation of coca, marijuana, and poppy growing, crops which are in fact profitable even though their commercial development is illegal.

One way of avoiding the eventual recurrence of violence after some possible peace agreements will be to support a profitable campesino economy so that the illegal commercial crops would not grow. This objective could not be achieved with the present model of commercial liberalization and promotion of foreign investments. An authentic territorial peace requires a different economic model.

Mobilization, that which is public, and antagonism

The past agrarian strike achieved a partial victory in benefit of the mobilized persons. The signing of Presidential Decree 870, “by which a space of dialogue and participation with organizations of the Agrarian Summit is regulated” recognizes the validity of the campesino protest, recognizes the urgency of advancing in guarantees of human rights for the organizations of the Summit, and sets up a fund for the strengthening of the campesino economy outside of the agrarian pact, obligating the government to generate new lines of public policy.

Based upon the prior discussion, the strike leaves two crucial lessons. In
the first place it showed that mobilization can build public policy; that strikes and
protests are not useless; and that genuine democracy is built in the hamlets and
the reservations. In the second place, the mobilization expressed a pulse for the
territory and for the public which will last a long time. Because of the foregoing,
the strike is not a finished process which ends with the signing of the mentioned
decree, nor is it a simple complement to the agreements of Havana. (7) The pulse
for territorial peace is just beginning and disputes for land, the environment and
rural public policy will be its principal expressions.


1. CINEP/Programa por la paz, “Informe especial. Luchas sociales en Colombia
2013”, Bogota, April 2014.
2. ElTiempo, May 11, “El tortuoso camino hacia el fin del paro”,
3. Portions of the conference of Jaramillo were published by the daily newspaper El Tiempo, see “No va a haber otra oportunidad por la paz: Sergio Jaramillo”, available at NOTA INTERIOR-13791996.html
5. The nearly 40 million hectares consist of 19 million in mining titles and pending applications with 20 million in areas of strategic mining reserve located in the Departments of Choco, Amazonas, Guaviare, Guainia, Vaupes and Vichada.
6. The interview is available at 030872.html
7. See

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