Peace in Colombia: Between Expectations and Uncertainties
By Alejo Vargas Velásquez, Professor, National University
From Caja de Herramientas Virtuales
The goal of a negotiated solution to Colombia’s long-running war has always been key. In recent weeks it has become more prominent in national debate. FOR presents one Colombian’s view on where it is going.
The armed conflict in Colombia has in recent days been on the national agenda. This is not only because of new killings that had a deep impact – the murder of four members of the armed forces by the FARC guerrillas – but also because of citizen reactions and several statements by President Santos and the guerrilla groups. Let’s look at the sequence of events and what evaluation we can make.
In what everything indicates was a rescue attempt by the Army of kidnapped members of the armed forces, four of them were killed by their captors and one managed to escape. This generated, as expected, widespread national rejection and led to a march rejecting kidnapping, for the release of those kidnapped and against violence, especially by the FARC.
Exchange of Statements
In subsequent days, on the occasion of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States summit in Caracas [in early December], the FARC said in a letter to the presidents: “Peace is never the fruit of humiliating surrenders that contribute to entrench in power even more those responsible for this national tragedy. We will never change those in arms with something that allows everything to continue the same. A dialogue with full guarantees, before the country, the continent and the world, with grassroots participation, that exemplifies an institutional and political recomposition; that opens the gates to profound democratic reforms, is the formula that we in the FARC have repeatedly proposed and that we hoped will soon be reality.”
The ELN in the same way proposed in its own communication to the Latin American leaders: “Peace is an unavoidable urgency for Colombia, but that peace is justice and social equality, is democracy and sovereignty, is a process that makes listening to the clamor of the people and the nation indispensable. It is not an event or a decree, it is a consensual process, where the parties listen to each and put ourselves facing the majority as the subject of change and of the future. …urgently request of you to hold direct dialogues at the highest level, that envision a true path for peace in Colombia and prevent the consequences of war continue to generate tensions in the region.”
For his part, President Santos in Caracas responded to these statements, emphasizing the need for a real will for peace: “If we see that real will, we are more than ready to sit down and find that peaceful solution.” Emphasizing the thesis promoted by his government, he added that the internal armed conflict is a problem of Colombians, unlike the preceding government that attempted, fruitlessly, to link its neighbors to the fight against the guerrillas. “For now the best way to help is to not do anything. I said on my inauguration that peace is an internal Colombian issue, and we Colombians will resolve it.” But he followed by saying that if he sees that will for peace, “Then I will approach you to help us and to all of you or some of you that can help us to accelerate the processes, to enlighten us, to make suggestions. We will surely need that and I will be the first to approach you,” leaving open the possibility of participation by regional leaders in an eventual peace process with the guerrillas.
The Citizen Protest March
On December 6, following a publicity campaign by the media and government, marches against kidnapping, for unconditional release of those kidnapped and against violence were held in several cities in Colombia and the exterior. If those marches were a way of reaffirming the widespread rejection of violence, kidnapping and also of the insurgency by Colombian society, nevertheless, it must be noted that this time there was noticeably less citizen participation than in February 2008. Exploring the reason for this, one could accept that the rains could have reduced motivation for some, that the publicity was less, and that apparently some sectors did not mobilize as enthusiastically – that for some sectors the march was only condemning some groups and as such did support the possibility of peace. But what probably was a greater factor was a kind of fatigue among many sectors with this kind of mobilization that, for many, does not demonstrate tangible results. Probably, unlike other places given as examples, in Colombia if there are no tangible results it would appear to reduce the stimulus to participate – but that is something for further study by specialists.
More Verbal Exchanges
Because of these citizen marches and after a FARC letter announcing the unilateral release of six kidnapped persons, an international group of women who had previously requested the unilateral release of armed forces members as a humanitarian action, President Santos said he was prepared to accept terms for their release, and said that if there are unilateral releases of armed forces members kidnapped by the FARC it could open space for a peace accord. In his words, “as a step” for “arriving at a peace agreement.” Because the government must have events that give it evidence, in light of a broad sector of opinion skeptical of dialogue, to justify and convince it of the importance of this path for definitively ending this confrontation between Colombians.
In a statement by [FARC commander] Timoleón Jiménez, in response to the marches, he repeated the old thesis of [former FARC commander, now deceased] Manuel Marulanda of a humanitarian accord [exchange of prisoners], but he also reiterated the idea of a political solution to the armed conflict, saying, among other things: “And because any humanitarian accord could open the doors to a peace dialogue in Colombia… We are moved by the slogans of the marchers in the street demanding a humanitarian exchange, the political solution, [and] the initiation as soon as possible of conversations.” He also criticized President Santos for what he called warlike language. “The most intense and pulsating longing of Colombians is peace, while from Santos’ mouth there are only threats to deepen the war.”
In addition, President Santos knows that a full implementation of the law on land and restitution to victims is a great leap forward in the path to peace – it takes away an argument used to justify violence in the past. It is in addition a fundamental step in the consolidation of the rule of law and of democracy, and will allow the closer possibility of productive and effective dialogue with the guerrillas for the political closure of the armed conflict. But there are very large enemies to carrying out that law, and as such it requires not only protecting victims so they are not killed, which has been occurring with of their leaders, but that there be social pressure to support it. And for this protection, as well as to accompany the process, the preventive and reactive actions of the military against dark forces that oppose the law are not sufficient. It would be relevant for the government to promote the organization of victims and peasants demanding their stolen lands, and at the same time exercising the right to participation, which constitute a true social evaluation of the implementation of this policy.
There is no doubt that a decided push by the government in implementing this law is a move in the right direction, sending a strong message to the insurgency of evidence going beyond words, that there is will to create the conditions for useful dialogue that can close this cycle of violence.
A Final Note
The conclusion we can draw is that the scenario for possible approaches to the search for a negotiated end to the internal armed conflict is today more positive – which does not mean it will happen immediately nor that it will be easy; on the contrary, it is full of difficulties. But it would appear that if the FARC persist in the unilateral release of eleven kidnapped members of the armed forces, and does not insist on the proposal for a humanitarian accord, which has increasingly less viability, that would doubtlessly open the gates for the parties to come closer, hopefully in a confidential and exploratory way, so that both sides can calmly and holistically evaluate whether effectively there are real possibilities to move toward a negotiated peace.
Now this would be facilitated if, as some clues seem to suggest, there are serious and confidential steps to construct a serious and trustworthy channel of communication that would allow, in the moment they consider appropriate, to exchange initial proposals that could come together to structure a new dialogue process.
Of course, this is not exempt from obstacles and conspiracies, but a big challenge is to increase the number of Colombians who consider this negotiated path to overcoming the exhausting armed conflict to be the best and most rational. That is, support from public opinion.
Translation by FOR. Read the original Spanish version.
Edición N° 00284 – Semana del 9 al 15 de Diciembre de 2011