What did the end of the conflict bring to rural Colombia?
Conflict developed in different ways in the territories where the armed groups operated. Today, the way in which post-conflict materializes in these territories is also different.
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By Miguel García Sánchez
Post-conflict Colombia is diverse. All the areas, territories and regions where the armed groups operated during the conflict are now posing new challenges to the Colombian State – political challenges which the country has not faced before because, until now, its politics were primarily centered on and around the war.
The results of the study Rural Colombia Post-conflict 2017, conducted by the Observatory of Democracy of the Universidad de los Andes with the support and funding of USAID, highlights some of the challenges that Colombian authorities, the government and society must face at this juncture.
The study analyzes several municipalities in the Macarena area: in Caguán, in the south of Tolima and the north of Cauca, in the Andén Pacífico and in the Lower Cauca, four regions which provided the setting for the conflict and where the Agency for the Renovation of the Territory (ART) is currently developing its territorial programs.
The post-conflict country is mostly rural. Its level of schooling is low. It is a country where one in two households lives on less than the minimum wage and where the levels of victimization due to the armed conflict run very high.
It is these areas under these conditions which the State must now reach. This is the first big challenge to be met.
The second challenge is that this must be done quickly, because expectations about what the State should provide are growing.
Traditionally, people in these areas have expected little or nothing from the State, given the precariousness of their life conditions and the limited capacity of public institutions. Our study of these territories in 2015 revealed that more than half of the people there said they were satisfied with the way in which democracy worked and with the education system. We are now sending them the message that the State, investment and infrastructure are coming.
Expectations are growing and it is important that they should be met. In some of the post-conflict regions, citizens have begun to say that they are no longer satisfied with democracy and the public services. They are now demanding more immediate responses from the State. Public opinion is changing and State authorities are slow in arriving.
The third challenge is that the end of the conflict with the FARC and the promise of the arrival of the State should generate certainty rather than anxiety.
There is a lot of uncertainty, a lot of distrust. The Peace Agreement is altering the local operational codes, for an actor which generated certainty as regards social order is on its way out, and a different sort of transition is happening in the post-conflict areas. In many of them, we are witnessing a growing feeling of insecurity and distrust before public institutions, such as the police.
In the area of Caguán and the Cordillera Central (Tolima and Cauca) – where the FARC controlled and ruled the territory -, what is currently happening comes close to what we imagine a post-conflict situation to be like, where an armed actor is leaving, but others are not necessarily coming in. The transition there seems to be smooth and calm.
But in the Lower Cauca and the Andén Pacífico version of the same transition, post-conflict looks more like a mutation of the conflict.
The FARC always fought with other actors for the control of these territories. These other actors are still there today, and this has increased insecurity and, therefore, uncertainty.
Another challenge has to do with channeling an increase in civic activity and social demonstrations in these territories. They could not demonstrate before, for citizen rights were restricted.
Popular mobilizations in these territories represent a great opportunity, but also a challenge, for the government and for the Colombian State in general, because the interests and demands behind them must be channeled in a way that strengthens institutionally established spaces.
In addition, it should be a matter of concern that, for those who live in these areas, it is not at all clear that the end of the conflict means increased security. It is not clear that the arrival of authorities, the police and the army, the presence of which was previously sporadic, will generate better conditions for them.
A percentage of the population is saying that if the police come in, the security conditions will worsen. This is still another challenge: State authorities must generate trust and should not be seen as external agents, totally alien to the communities.
Finally, there is the challenge of avoiding, through the presence of the State, some corruption dynamics which previously did not exist in these territories.
As the actor who delivered justice goes, the perception that it is acceptable to take the law into one’s own hands and pay bribes has increased. These indicators are on the rise and they begin to level with the national average. The State must act quickly in order not to compromise its legitimacy.
Public opinion data show that there is a national consensus to the effect that the armed conflict must be resolved through negotiation processes. But the challenges, the perceptions and the needs of the part of Colombia that has not directly experienced the conflict are different from those of the part where the FARC and other armed actors have played a major role.
The results in these areas at the forthcoming presidential elections in May will be crucial. It is key for Colombia to have a government that sticks it out and stands for the post-conflict agenda. Otherwise, these territories will suffer from indifference and their needs will not be met.
But most serious still is the fact that it is not they who will make this decision, but us, who have not lived the conflict directly and for whom the post-conflict agenda seems not to be a priority.
Miguel García Sánchez is co-director of the Observatorio para la democracia and profesor at the Political Science Department at University of the Andes.
This article was originally published by OpenDemocracy and is available by clicking here. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of TransConflict.