By Clara López
Semana, April 30, 2019
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
A headline in “El Espectador” says it all: “A country without a postconflict”. It precedes an itemized statistical report that details the dissolution of the peace into blood. But we are also a country with serious inclinations, not just to ignore the peace agreements, but also the very bases of the imperfect democracy that governs us.
Democratic institutionalism succumbs when it does not guarantee the lives of the people who exercise leadership in the society, especially the lives of opponents and minorities. Also when those who are responsible for imposing the law deviate from its function, or turn over the power given to them to their personal designees or groups, in contravention of the most basic laws of humanity, but also of the separation of powers and of the basic rules of democratic deliberation. Look at what is happening.
The statistics on violence reveal a point of inflection beginning in 2018 when homicide statistics began rising and political violence reappeared. According to MOE (Election Observation Mission), 70 per cent of the murders of social leaders, many of them leaders of alternative groups or candidates for elective office, took place in the 16 zones most affected by the armed conflict.
The government’s apparent impotence in the face of its responsibility to protect demands a deeper examination of the reasons why, in the territories abandoned by the demobilization of the FARC, most of the civilian and military authorities are not rigorously applying the constitution and the laws. Confidence in institutions and in the rule of law is undermined with every additional murder, and unfortunately, each is more serious than the last.
The vicious killing of the ex-combatant Dimar Torres Arévalo at the hands of the Army, and the unsuccessful effort to cover it up, are an example of that. Official behavior in this case is no different from what was done during the degradation of the armed conflict when it ended up with nearly ten thousand extrajudicial executions, the wrongly called “false positives”. Before the uncritical acceptance of “a struggle” was repeated by the Minister of Defense and endorsed by a prosecutor and a judge, an Army officer had already reported that the killing had happened in the midst of an operation against the drug traffickers. It took the very brave reaction of the victim’s neighbors and the intervention of the Senate Peace Commission, along with the UN mission, to stop impunity from taking its course.
Neither does the conduct of President Iván Duque augur well for postconflict or for democracy. Faced with a decision by the JEP (Special Jurisdiction for Peace) to order the capture of alias El Paisa, he seized the jurisdiction for himself, in clear violation of the separation of powers. Public offices are positions of responsibility and confidence, and their powers cannot be twisted, nor impartiality in decision-making put into question.
Added to the homicides and abuses of power are the extraordinary explanation given by the Constitutional Court when it decided to conduct a session in a private club: the justices suspect that their communications and the location of their functions is being violated by illegal listening devices. Acting institutionally, although perhaps naively, the court sent a message to the police, to the prosecutor’s office, and to the secret service, asking them if they knew about the listening devices. With the past experience of proven “bugging” of the high court, which has an ex-director of the DAS (former Colombian intelligence agency) in prison, the return to those practices sets off all the alarm bells.
The examples set forth in this column are not the only symptoms of the deterioration of institutionalism and of the peace. They are just those publicized last weekend. The comforting news is that something is changing when the citizens respond and make demands, when a general asks pardon for the actions of his men, and when the Constitutional Court publicizes the attacks that are trying to undermine it. The postconflict, the consolidation of peace and the hopes for a well-functioning democracy require that those voices of nonconformity persevere and are not silenced or punished.