The Paradoxes of Peace in Colombia

(Translated by Rudy Heller, a CSN Volunteer Translator)


by Jesús Antonio Reyes

The real question, before we even go into a discussion about paradoxes, reparations and awareness brought on by the thought that one was not voting for Juan Manuel Santos but against Álvaro Uribe, is this: was peace achieved with Santos’ victory?
In the speeches heard between the first and the second rounds, one can discern two currents of thought. The first one called for pacifying the nation, for negotiations to achieve democratic harmony. The spokespeople for this current were Santos, the parties of Unidad Nacional and the “ democratic left”. On the other side, were the loud calls for war, for a national crusade against “atheist communism”, a battle against “terrorists” and against “castro-chavismo”, concepts that effortlessly embroiled anybody who disagreed with the stated positions of the Centro Democrático, Uribe’ s party.

The most salient feature of any present day analysis must start with the fact that Colombia’s peace is as yet unsigned, as is clearly indicated by the key component of the peace talks: nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.
Of the five points set forth in the agenda with FARC-EP, three have been argued (land ownership and the agrarian problem, participation in the political process, and the substitution of illegal crops) and some agreements have been reached. In the fourth point, FARC acknowledges its victims. But FARC-EP themselves are victims of a conflict that starting at the end of the 20th century has dispossessed hundreds of thousands of campesinos who have engrossed the social and political bases of the guerrillas and of some other actors in this war.
To this day, peace in Colombia is a process for which we are all still striving. The road to peace is one of negotiations to institute a process of national reconciliation in which everyone has a say. There’s plenty of criticism. Peace is not silencing rifles nor is it espousing concepts of social justice and reparations and equality. These are nothing but campaign slogans seeking political gain or a way to institutionally channel popular demands.
With Santos’ victory, what has been challenged is the continuation of the social and political conflict, which isn’t necessarily armed but it does have causes and consequences that are deeply rooted in plundering, murder, forced disappearances, torture, kidnapping and more. In other words, the causes of the armed conflict do not lie where Uribe and his supporters have placed them: in “terrorists”. Instead, the “terrorists” are the consequence of the structural inequalities which have been endemic throughout Colombia’s history.
The defeat of Oscar Iván Zuluaga, Uribe’s candidate, also makes it clear that this war must come to an end. Colombians want war to end. That internal enemy, that “terrorist” that Uribe had implanted in everybody’s common sense and common discourse, became the very reason for his defeat.

What’s at Stake
In the second round Santos garnered 7.816.986 votes against Zuluaga’s 6.905.001. But a fact that is not insignificant is that less than 50% of the voters turned out to cast their ballot: of 32.795.962 possible voters in Colombia, 17.001.022 people did not vote. The explanations (and there are many) range from no faith in the electoral system and even no trust in democracy itself, to total dissatisfaction with the slate of candidates.

What’s at stake in Colombia is not peace, because peace, both for Santos and for Zuluaga, is a pax romana, a peace by subjugation which has shown scarce results throughout talks that abound in Colombia’s history (1954, the pacification process of General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla; 1957, the National Front; 1984, Uribe’s negotiation process in Meta; 1991, the negotiation process in Tlaxcala, Mexico; 1998, the negotiation process in San Vicente del Caguan, Caqueta; 2012, the negotiation process in Norway and Havana).

What’s at stake is a change in the social, economic and political conditions that gave birth to the armed conflict in the first place. And what were those conditions? Which of those conditions worsened during Uribe’s mandate? Which saw more of the same during Santos’ first term? What changes are needed to eliminate those conditions?
Some of those conditions that contributed not just to the existence of an armed conflict but to its continuation are:
-Inequality in the concentration of property, in land ownership and distribution, in the distribution of wealth and in the ways land is appropriated. In short, agrarian reform is sorely needed.
-The need to know the truth about victims and to create a Truth Commission so that those responsible for violence are held accountable and are subjected to judicial consequences.
-It is indispensable to restructure political participation in government. Today, a small percentage of Colombians criticizes the possible appearance of Timochenko —commander and chief of the FARC-EP— in Congress and his potential involvement in national politics. However, how many expressed their disagreement when Salvatore Mancuso, paramilitary leader, visited Congress and was applauded?
In any national reconciliation process, it is indispensable to revisit forgotten spaces in people’s remembrances, and to reward that memory with events that have nurtured the nation’s everyday political activities. The process must also bring to mind the fact that over 3 thousand members of the Union Patriotica party were tortured and disappeared in the 1980s, and that in Colombia, involvement in politics often means not touching the structures that the government sees as necessary. To survive, FARC-EP, ELN, and the social and political movements of diverse natures must be allowed to take part in this national project.
The Free Trade Agreements, the pervasive inequality and the gap between rich and poor, the loopholes in the laws establishing the educational system, and healthcare operating as a business have to be reconstituted within a model which will be shaped by a Constituent Assembly which will create a new Colombia.
Some see Santos’ victory as the call of the referendum for peace to take place when the negotiation process in Havana is completed. The agreements reached will thus be validated by popular vote. However, peace has not yet been signed, and the negotiation process is not peace — it is simply the twilight of the dark night of violence that has darkened the nation’s landscape for so long.
Let us hope —given the largest of all challenges that is faced by peace and by the establishment of a democratic process— that we will know the truth about the 30-years of action
by the paramilitaries, a State-sponsored machine that was institutionally strengthened, that contributed to the flare-ups of violence, and that were legitimized by Uribe himself.

Just like Uribe’s supporters implemented certain policies that deepened national problems, Santos gave them continuity and prevalence. Santos does not represent peace but he can be an effective means to lead us to a Constituent Assembly for peace.
And what is most important is that the transformational changes that are needed to achieve peace are not just precarious reforms to the prevailing structure. What is needed is a total transformation of that structure and not syncopated patch-ups that continue dropping Colombians into the empty gaps of the nation or the democratic republic, as Colombia is often purported to be.

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

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