By William Ospina, EL ESPECTADOR, March 19, 2023
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
What’s going on in a country that was pacified in 1991 with the demobilization of the M19, and later was pacified by Álvaro Uribe with the demobilization of the paramilitaries, and later still was pacified by Juan Manuel Santos with the demobilization of the FARC?
Why is it that now, after those much-publicized processes that have produced not just a new constitution but a Nobel Peace Prize, we have to open new fronts for negotiation and for submission, in a horizon where active armed groups seem more and more abundant and less and less comprehensible?
Historian Erik Hobsbawm’s sentence continues to hang like a sword over Colombia, where he says, “the presence of armed men seems to be a natural part of the Colombian landscape, like the hills and the rivers.” It’s clear that our violence is long-standing, and it’s clear that here the violence “neither creates nor destroys, but it does transform.”
I attribute this to several causes: a colonial mentality that didn’t just happen centuries ago, but rather its inhuman conquest of America continues today; the governments’ servile submission to the commands of the world market, without paying attention to the internal market, which nullifies the creativity of the society, preventing an alliance with the work force which has the power of the soils and the climates; a submissive development model that destroys both agriculture and industry equally; a studied abandonment by the formal economy, leaving us in the hands of the multinationals to plunder our resources, with a day to day logic of odd jobs and the cross-bred patterns of corruption and crime.
Thus, the peace processes produce the effect of a flood in which we never confront the task of getting the river back into its course, but rather we spend all of our energy in tireless carrying out bucketsful of water. So, in an old far east poem a man is sweeping and sweeping his terrace, and he never stops because he is trying to sweep away the shadows of the flowers.
The M19 were the shadow of the dissatisfaction of the urban middle classes, and their laying down of arms brought us a new constitution that guarantees everything on paper but nothing in practice. The paramilitaries are the shadow of the failure to protect the big rural landowners by governments that engendered criminals and later used them for their dirty wars, and all it took to demobilize them was to stop paying their salaries. The FARC were the shadow of the abandonment of the Colombian countryside after the violence of the ‘50’s, and their demobilization simply left the campesinos to the mercy of other mafias.
It’s not that these processes were not well-intentioned, it’s that the peace was somewhere else; that’s why you can’t build peace by negotiating with the fighters, but instead by empowering the capacities of a peaceful society, one that wants to work but can’t find work, that wants to sing on the stage but has to sing at stoplights, one that wastes its creative life at blockades, at odd jobs, and in the prisons.
Now Colombia isn’t able to be a country, because its leaders have never figured out how to be leaders. They just use their wealth to make fun of the poor, they just use their immense power to cheat, they don’t respect this country to which they owe everything, and the result is that they can’t enjoy it. Because the grand paradox of Colombia is that, even though the poor can’t enjoy their poverty, the rich can’t enjoy their wealth. And the governments, since they don’t know what peace is, they specialize in creating peace processes. More and more numerous, more and more imprecise, and less and less convincing.
Pretty soon a Bukele will appear, trying to convince us one more time that the peace is in the iron fist, the bigger and bigger prisons, and an exhibition of the helplessness of the prisoners and the high-handedness of power is like a dog and pony show to entertain the fears of a society of the desperate. But prisons have never made peace, just like the violence of the guerrillas and the criminal gangs. The peace is not a cause, but a consequence; the peace is not made, but rather it’s obtained; the peace does not produce reconciliation; it’s the reconciliation that engenders peace.
But with whom must the corrupt, obscene, crooked, extortionist, parasitical Colombian government reconcile, while it sticks to the subparagraphs that kill, formulaic, procrastinating and irresponsible? It’s not with the delinquents, it’s not with the criminals, it’s not with the rebels; it’s with the patient, peaceful, and downtrodden Colombian society. And in the first place, it’s with the young people that here are ending up as cannon fodder for all of the armies, and if they want to live and dress like all of the boys in the world, they will have to pay with their lives.
Don’t give them any presents: pay them for planting trees, for studying, for walking around to get to know the country, for accompanying, for making art, for sowing co-existence, for exploring history, for making botanical, zoological, river-based expeditions, for protecting the jaguars and the birds, for making maps and finding the rhizomes of the plants and their utility, for learning the treasure of Amazonian medicine, for discovering the extraordinary geographic riches of this country in the deserts of Manaure and the eternal rainfall in Chocó, of the canyons that lie behind the Salamina and the gold mine of pleasure that is there in the waterfalls of Valle de San Juan and of Falan, for protecting the jungle of Florencia and the Amazonian jungles, for traversing the treasures of the canyon at Las Hermosas and the one at Garrapatas, for learning to plant a hundred thousand species, distilling essential oils, and learning to cure and beautify the world, for making an expedition around the arts and the letters, for the ocean of special recollections of Juan de Castellanos and of Tomás Carrasquilla, of those dazzled travelers that were Jorge Isaacs and José Eustacio Rivera, Manuel Ancízar and Alfredo Molano, for the treasure that is Colombia in all of the hills, in every paramo, in every toucan, in every tanager, because in every frog in Chocó there is enough substance for a humane life.
And I hope that some day our governments will discover that what was given to those young people was not a budget to spend, but a treasure to be magnified, the creative power of 50 million people in the best setting in the world.