By Marta Ruiz, CAMBIOColombia, August 26, 2023

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

Marta Ruiz is a journalist and former member of the Truth Commission, who took part in the design of the CAMBIO forum on The Great National Agreement.

The path to the great peace sums up the principles of consensus that emerged from the conversation among such different sectors. We see that we have to start right now to build the agreement and that there are people who can build it along with us.

Weariness with the divisions, desire to be one nation, longing for peace, and generosity in wanting to get started. Ah, and optimism, definitely. That’s the way you can describe the picture that the CAMBIO forum leaves behind it. The National Agreement, the path to the great peace as related to the recommendations by the Truth Commission. A large group of Colombians laid out their minimums for guiding the country on the way to turning itself into a nation, and to stop being that handful of unresolved and violent conflicts that are eating us away inside.

If anything was made clear at the forum, it was that the National Agreement has to look more like the traditional soup that Jaime Bateman was talking about to the National Front.  Without any exclusions, with eyes on the structural problems and not only on taking the weapons out of politics, and with a necessary change in attitude, language, and emotions by the country’s leaders.

Thus, the Agreement was not just put forward as a desire, but as something urgent. Better yet, the conversations at the forum made it clear that there is wood enough here to start building something. Of course, the devil is in the details, and that’s why the tensions and dilemmas cropped up that are part of a scenario where different currents and individuals are coming together.

About what?

In the forum, the idea that a National Agreement must be about what’s fundamental, about minimums, predominated, and above all, that it’s not about an agreement to sign on to the administration’s agenda. There is a broad consensus that the two central points are to put an end to the violence and to attack the social inequality and exclusion as one of the underlying causes of the persistence of the armed conflict.

An agreement that would have this reach would have to have three dimensions: that of the political parties, so as to guarantee a climate of governability and respect for democracy; that of the administration with the armed groups that would permit a new attempt to govern the countryside without armed conflicts; and a pact with the people, with the whole society, especially with the regions that have been the most affected. It should be highlighted that this time the idea was imposed that it’s necessary to make some moves, to give in, to recognize the things we’ve done badly and the things that everybody can support. The matter of the environment also emerges as a subject that unites political wills.

There was a step forward in the discussion when it was suggested that we must review the model of development that exists in this country: its structure for production, the governmental model, decentralization, and the land. The idea that institutions, businesses, even the communications media, have turned their backs on the countryside and the real country was practically cross-sectoral at the event.

But there were also disagreements. The first and perhaps the strongest is about ways to put an end to the violence. Two positions were expressed with regard to “total peace”. One suggests a political exit for the groups that have that origin; the other argues that all the armed groups that are present now have to be treated as organized crime, and thus should be met with force and with legal punishment. The question remains as to whether sectors that continue armed activities, like the ELN, should be part of a National Agreement. That is a central issue because right now that guerrilla group is arguing that peace with them would require a National Agreement, because without such an agreement, there would not be a definitive end to the political violence.

The appraisals with regard to security are differing. There weren’t many points of convergence, nor was there much clarity about the character of the criminal groups and the treatment that would be given them. Along with that, there are differences about the ways to confront the drug trafficking. Just the stick, or a combination of carrot and stick. For certain, the question of whether the drug traffickers are to be invited to the Agreement remains open, given that on the day before the forum, President Gustavo Petro mentioned his intention to present a national reconciliation bill that would include the narcos.

Thus, reality requires that issues on which we can make progress toward a National Agreement are those that have to do with social inclusion. The following were mentioned forcefully: social justice in the rural sector, and particularly on the subject of land, the push for education, for the environment, and for the youth. Here you see the bases for starting to talk about an agreement.

Nevertheless, the question arises about the methods the administration is proposing. President Petro is debating between two pathways: the one of friendship and the one of confronting the elites. In practice this points to two tempos. One is gradual, given the necessity of building consensus, and that takes time; and the other accelerated, leading to separation. This dilemma leaves open the question of whether the National Agreement will flower for this administration, or whether, like the National Front, it’s a long-range thing.

Where to begin?

Substantial agreement was expressed at the forum with the idea that the National Agreement involves everybody. That’s to say, it’s the country’s Agreement. For that reason, it has to be knitted together from many different scenarios, and go through a democratic referendum. The political dialog was argued widely, and there was capacity for conversing with those who are different before there were formal pacts, legal formulas, or laws. Beginning with an example, with the experiences from the countryside. Countryside was the word that was mentioned the most, either as a clamor, or as a mea culpa. Some people from there say that peace is still an unpaid debt, and some people admit that they haven’t been able to enter into the diversity and the complexity of what this nation under construction really is.

It can’t be a pact between elites, but neither can it be a pact without elites. The pact with the elites is necessary, but it’s not enough. Among other things, because one of the panelists mentioned the experience we had with “hablar Colombia” (“Colombia talking”), an exercise of sustained dialog that involved more than 5,000 people, and in which the evidence shows that the country isn’t polarized; it’s the elites that are polarized.

However, that optimism was moderated when some of the panelists mentioned the basic difficulties: you can’t make progress toward an agreement if the stigmatization of disagreement is persistent. This requires confidence, but attaining confidence requires conversation. And we don’t know how to converse. We don’t listen to each other. The opposition’s political sector that attended the forum claimed that they had not been listened to. They demanded that the administration, which is seeking a National Agreement, set an example. One that would show their will for political peace by their actions.

The panelists from the communications media and peace spoke of a simple formula: more context and fewer adjectives. Of the morality of democracy. You can build an argumentative debate about the truth, but not about lies, not about prejudice, not about ignorance.

So a possible formula for a beginning would be learning to dialog, learning to negotiate, and the government using a tone that’s favorable to conversation among people with differing views. And stitched from the bottom up.


The greatest obstacles can be summed up in three words: the contexts, the ambitions, and every one of us.

With regard to context, the panorama is a bit dramatic. Different panelists recognized that we are in a transition, without being able to read with absolute clarity the changes that that is producing. On the one hand, the changes in the illegal economies, their character now more and more transnational. On the other hand, the sociological and generational changes that were expressed in the social explosion. Thus far we have not been able to measure their depth. The impact of the pandemic, both on security and on the economy, and the new phenomena of inhumanity, such as human trafficking, the erosion of nature, and the galloping violence. Add to that the deterioration of confidence in institutions, the low quality of debate, etc.

Regarding ambitions, there is a tension between maximalism and minimalism. Wanting to do everything now because the accumulated destructive factors in our lives permit no delay; or moderate that ambition and opt for less monumental actions but with greater effect in modifying the reproduction of our system of violence. Probably, and this was more hallway comment than in the panel setting, it will start with experiences out in the country more like “pilot projects” than those that were proposed by the chief negotiator with the ELN, Otty Patiño. That moderation of ambitions could be one of the most challenging points in reaching a National Agreement. Thus, it’s worth rescuing the term so frequently used by the President of the Sura Group, Gonzalo Pérez: We have to be heroic and persist.

Finally, every one of us. Judging by this forum, this seems like a moment in which there has been an increase in awareness of the fact that transformations don’t only come from great historic processes or high-flown agreements, but rather from a day-to-day construction of everybody’s morality and practice. Before we think about how other people will have to change, we have to ask ourselves: “And me. How am I doing it?”

Finally, a clear message: young people have to be part of this agreement. “Let the generational succession take place,” said one of the Senators attending the forum. It’s the young people’s turn to speak.

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