Colombia is six months in to a peace deal intended to end 50 years of conflict. With presidential elections due next year, the prospect of lasting peace is even more complicated than before.
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By Lina María Jaramillo
Colombia is facing a new electoral period, and the battlefield for every politician will be peace. Colombian society remains deeply divided, while the quality of debate is decreasing. Security remains fragile, and a huge number of social leaders and human rights activists are being killed by extreme right-wing forces. Is Colombia ready for peace?
There are four key groups of actors related to the peace process in Colombia: civil society, politicians, the government, and former FARC former combatants. It is important to consider their commitment to peace in Colombia, as well as some of the events which have influenced the implementation of the deal during the last few months. The contribution of these groups is considered below.
The gap in civil society between peace supporters and disbelievers is growing, as well as a lack of tolerance for different points of view. The efforts some sectors are making to promote reconciliation and understanding have been undermined by radicalism and campaigns disseminating violence and hate through social networks; politicians have taken advantage of these divisions and they have used their influence through social networks to spread fake news and misinformation.
With the lack of an active guerrilla group such as FARC to blame for violent acts, violence within citizens themselves is now manifesting itself. This radicalisation is part of our daily lives, and hostilities are being transmitted through social networks. The nature of comments people share on Facebook and Twitter have become so hostile and rude that some citizens and organisations have developed small campaigns to promote respect and tolerance. The irresponsible way in which ordinary people and influencers are using technologies of information is getting out of control.
Worse than this presence of virtual violence and intolerance is the threat social leaders are facing in the regions, due to the presence of right wing armed groups that are trying to impose local control and terror. According to official sources, more than 150 community and social leaders and human right defenders were murdered from January 2016 – March 2017, while 500 human right defenders have been the victim of threats and persecution. More than 40 social leaders were killed during the first seven monthsof the implementation of the peace deal.
But this situation seems to be completely irrelevant to the rest of our society. People living in cities are still blind to what is happening in rural areas. Civil society organisations and independent media have worked to increase awareness in society about the situation for activists, but these are effective mainly among those who already support the peace process. The other half of Colombia seems to be immune to this reality.
Opportunism and corruption are affecting the attitude of the political sector towards the peace deal. Political leaders and influencers are not building on the real value of the process behind the peace agreements, and are acting instead as instruments for misinformation and radicalisation that benefit their personal interests.
With the presidential elections ahead, the political sector is focused on gaining support even by using unethical strategies to manipulate information and people’s choices. One of the most remarkable examples of this is related to an explosion in a shopping centre in June. It killed three people, but within half an hour of it taking place, politicians were speculating on social media about those responsible.
Those against the peace process blamed FARC and the government, alluding to their ‘fake peace’, while those supporting the government blamed extreme right-wing groups who they said were trying to sabotage the advances that have been made.
None of them talked about the victims, and no one showed any respect. They merely used the situation to spread fear and division within the society.
For many years, Colombian society focused its attention on the armed conflict and drug trafficking, as if they were the only problems around. The end of armed confrontation has been positive; now the media are reporting on the other problems that have constrained our path to development and equality, such as corruption. Our political elite are expert at corrupt manoeuvres and have been involved in huge corruption scandals, including the Odebrecht case that has involved many Latin American political elites.
Peacebuilding needs to modernise our political culture and corruption is a big obstacle to doing so. Political parties will continue using corrupt instruments and strategies to consolidate their power, mainly when FARC is on its way to becoming a new political movement. But if Colombian society votes for the same political and corrupt elites, based on dishonest practices, it will be very difficult to build a culture of peace. We need new leadership, promoting different ways to do politics as well as candidates able to encourage change and inclusiveness.
Enduring and sustaining a peace process in such a disrupted society is a difficult task. Although the government is not doing fantastically at following up and informing society about developments in this process, it should be noted that it has assumed an incredibly difficult task in ensuring its implementation. Two key personalities have been key at promoting confidence and transparency in this task: Humberto de la Calle and Sergio Jaramillo.
Humberto de la Calle, who was chief negotiator in the peace process, resigned his position as soon as the agreement was signed. But he has continued promoting the need for peacebuilding, and is now a potential presidential candidate. Thousands of organisations and peace supporters would support him as a guarantee of peace.
Sergio Jaramillo was the head of the Colombian Office of the High Commissioner for Peace until recently, and his resignation has led to a great sense of uncertainty. For many people, his profile was a guarantee of transparency and security. Without him, the position of High Commissioner might start to look like a political position.
In terms of formal Colombian politics, six bills have been approved at legislative level, and the next parliament will be led by two congressmen who have shown their commitment to peace. But key aspects, such as the Peace Special Jurisdiction, have been strongly criticised because they may not bring about criminal punishment, and therefore some victims will not see justice.
It should also be noted that the government seems not to be aware of the systematic murders of social leaders, security schemes have not been implemented, and society is not well informed about how bad the situation is for activists right now. It seems that in order to defend peace process, the government has hidden the level of insecurity that civilians are facing at a local level. Instead of protecting peace, maybe what they are doing is condemning us to permanent victimisation.
Former FARC combatants
Because Colombians still do not trust FARC, it seems to be rash to think that they may be more predisposed to peace than civil society. But the facts show that they are fulfilling all the commitments they signed up to as part of the deal. Of course, there are huge issues, such as reintegration and justice. Thousands of former members of the guerrilla group are wondering if they are going to have a chance to be a part of society again, with access to a decent job, education and other opportunities. The fact they are risking so much may be why they are obeying the agreement. The most significant evidence of this commitment to the peace deal is the disarmament process, and the list of goods and money they gave to the authorities in order to pay reparations to the victims of their atrocities.
Not everything is perfect though. Even though this can be seen as a real intention for peace by FARC, it may not be enough; FARC have claimed that all the goods and money they have will not be sufficient to repay their victims. But that is quite different from the government view, which is that FARC could have a fortune worth billions.
Looking to the future
It might seem obvious that those who faced the hard task of the political negotiations in Havana are more aware of the need to consolidate the peace process than those who were spectators, such as some of those in civil society and among political leaders.
But this is far from the case. Some in civil society still see peacebuilding as something that is not their responsibility, and do not feel the need to participate or ensure accountability around the peace process. Corrupt politicians are taking advantage of this lack of interest to manipulate decisions and opinions. So no matter how effective the government is, or how committed former FARC fighters are to the process, civil society must play a major role in transforming political culture and the way Colombians interact with each other.
However, the positive in this is that we can see that violence is not a problem exclusively related to the guerrillas. Colombians often interact using violence and intolerance, and there are many who are misinformed and have no interest in dealing with their ignorance. If the peace process fails, it will not be the responsibility of those who went to Havana. It will be because of our negligence and the failure of civil society to demand the leaders we need to change reality.
Lina María Jaramillo is Insight on Conflict’s Local Correspondent for Colombia. Lina María is a political scientist with Master’s degrees in International Studies and International Development. For the past 8 years she has worked on projects related to peace, security and development issues and is currently with Oxfam as Knowledge Management Officer.
This article was originally published by Insight on Conflict and is available by clicking here. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of TransConflict.