By Kristina Birke Daniels and Sabine Kurtenbach

Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, August 9, 2021


(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

The Peace Agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC will be five years old in November. The peace process awoke hopes, and was considered to be on example to the world, but within Colombia it has been and continues to be a very controversial and polarized subject.

Understanding how to reach the peace is so difficult and, as they say in Colombia, it’s a mess. It needs a broader analysis, with the construction of it as a process based on three pillars:

  • Physical integrity and the reduction of the different forms of violence;
  • The guarantee and implementation of individual and participative human rights;
  • The constructive and nonviolent management of the conflicts that occur in every society.

The construction of peace is a complicated process and, even though an agreement can help to manage some conflicts, it also creates new ones.  Precisely when the peace agreements have as their objective to confront the problems that are central to a society, as is the case in Colombia, they change the power relations at national and regional levels, and we see winners and losers, both real and imagined. Colombian society is tangled in three conflicts in the intersection between maintaining the status quo and changing it.

In the first place, the implementation of the Peace Agreement signed between the Juan Manuel Santos government and the FARC has sharply polarized Colombian society. Those who oppose the Agreement won the Presidential election in 2018, but they didn’t obtain the majority in the Senate and the Chamber of Representatives. Once in power, the Democratic Center administration of Iván Duque torpedoed the application of substantial parts of the Agreement, such as the reform and modernization of the rural sector, and/or the voluntary crop substitution in the fields planted with coca.

At the same time, they tried to dismantle the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (a government transitional justice institution created by the Peace Agreement). Its framework provides for reduced sentences (alternative penalties instead of prison) in cases of serious violations of human rights if the accused individual (former guerrillas, military, or civilian) admits responsibility for his/her participation and tells the truth about actions and events.

United with that, we see a second conflict: the recognition and application of civil and human rights. In spite of the fact that, with the adoption of the Constitution of 1991 there was formal achievement of great advances in this area, in practice, those rights continue to be in danger. With the Peace Agreement, marginalized and disfavored population groups—indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, youth, women, and LGBTI expected a radical change.

When those prospects vanished with the change in administration in 2018, there began a process of mobilization in favor of reforms seldom seen in Colombian history, first in the cities and later also in rural areas. At the same time, the violence against representatives of social movements and human rights organizations increased, as well as against member of the FARC who had demobilized.

In October of 2019, the wave of social mobilization reached its first peak. The government’s answer was repression. The protests diminished because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but they came back strong in April of 2021.

The third conflict, a structural and historical conflict, is about the control and use of the land. Land use pits the small farmers against the regional elites. With the end of the war, regions of the country previously very hard to get to, were much coveted by national and international companies that operate globally.

The government has not undertaken a subject covered in the Peace Agreement until a few months ago, but they are relying on a land registry, in a country where more than 50% of the land has no formal title, and the way they are doing it is controversial.

In spite of all these obstacles, among others, the “muddles in the peace” can be managed constructively if there is political will. But it also has a highly destructive and dangerous potential. Colombia will have elections in 2022. If the administration, the Congress, and the society are able to put together a broad alliance that has the will and the capacity to manage the necessary changes in a constructive and peaceful manner, then Colombia will have the conditions to begin to overcome the reasons for the violence.

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