By Jack Laun
In many respects the effort to end civil conflict in Colombia still depends upon solutions to problems which Liberal leader Jorge Eliecer Gaitan confronted before his assassination on April 9, 1948. Very unequal division of property in rural areas; a general lack of presence of the government and government services in those areas; and a clientelistic structure for local authorities.
Colombian Labor Attorney Francisco Ramirez began to discuss the prospects for a lasting peace in Colombia by reciting the fact that 71% of Colombia’s people live in poverty. Meanwhile, multinational businesses pay little or no tax to the Colombian government. For example, he said, in a recent year the owners of the Cerrejon mine—the largest open-pit coal mine in the world when it was built over 20 years ago—paid nothing in taxes to the Colombian government, while receiving about $300 million back from the government. Drummond, a U.S. coal company, paid no taxes while receiving payments totaling more than 1 billion dollars in credits.
Meanwhile, Congressman Alirio Uribe of the Polo Democratico Party told us that opposition parties in the Colombian Congress, led by the party of former President Alvaro Uribe Velez, are trying to sabotage the Peace Process. Implementation of the provisions of the Peace Agreement between the Santos Government and the FARC guerrillas has been haphazard, while plans for resettlement of demobilized FARC fighters have not been carried through adequately.
Father Javier Giraldo, who has courageously spoken out for the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado and other campesino communities, `told us that paramilitary members have been integrated into rural communities, where they will be informants. He said that the Peace Accords do not effectively touch the roots of the conflict in Colombia, by not resolving the very serious problem of access to land for most Colombians in rural areas. Only a very small percentage of those who were forced off their lands by paramilitary and guerrilla forces have had their lands restored to them.
We met with Minister of Post-Conflict Rafael Pardo, who outlined the Government’s plans for achieving peace in the countryside. He said they plan to build many farm-to-market roads to provide access to markets for campesinos’ crops. And they will try to reduce coca growing by paying those who transition to legal crops a sum of money similar to what they have received from those involved in the drug trade, which he said they calculated at about $300 per month, during the transition period. He also said the government proposes to reduce the coca crop by 40% within a year, through support for alternative crops and through cutting down coca plants in the fields in which they are being grown (but not through forced eradication by aerial spraying with glyphosate (Round-Up Ultra), which the Santos government discontinued for health reasons).
A fundamental problem with this plan is a lack of adequate resources to carry out the plan, as Todd Howland, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia, told us. Since our meeting with Commissioner Howland allegations of misuse of funds by an assistant of Minister Pardo have cast further doubt upon the sucessful implementation of coca crop substitution and a productive alternative to coca growing. As many as 75% of the demobilized FARC guerrillas may have left the 26 zones where they were sent after turning in their weapons to United Nations personnel, Mr. Howland noted,
Attorney and Law Professor Rodrigo Uprimny, who has worked to defend and improve the legal elements of the peace process, identified in a meeting with us at his office in Bogota the following problems: 1) a lack of strong support for the Peace Process; 2) the structural problem of the Government’s lack of control in many parts of Colombia; 3) lack of implementation capacity of the government—safety and a reduction in violence have not been as good as had been assumed—which might even lead some elements of the FARC to again take up arms; 4) the economy has declined, leaving the government fewer resources for the Peace Process than it had expected to have; 5) The coca crop has expanded, and President Trump has called upon Colombia to resume aerial spraying of the coca fields, which the Santos government ended in response to health concerns; 6) the Colombian Congress has passed measures eliminating some of the persons chosen as judges in the transitional justice system.
In short, the Peace Process, and with it improvement in the precarious situation of many campesino and other families, is not at all assured of success. We can hope that political leaders will work to save the transitional justice system and lay the groundwork for a lasting peace in Colombia, but none of this is assured at this time, with Presidential elections set for May 27, just a few days away.