Closing The Door To Peace: The Colombian Government’s Effort To Spoil Peace

Since Iván Duque’s new administration took power in Colombia, its ultra-right political party “Democratic Center” has been trying to spoil peace. This article describes their efforts and briefly elaborates on why their actions pose a serious threat to long-lasting peace and reconciliation. The peace accord signed in 2016 by Colombia’s national government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) aims to contribute to end the country’s armed conflict that has lasted more than 50 years and left more than 8 million victims (displacement being the most common in an ocean of crimes). To do so, the peace accord established an agenda of 5 topics:

  1. Rural transformation: the chapter acknowledges that land use and tenure have played a major role in the conflict, and thus proposes the clarification of property rights over land as the base of rural economic development. Current members of the political party in power, (the ultra-right “Democratic Center”) have been trying to reform the 2011 victims law that has been implemented to restitute the land that was taken away from poor peasants in rural Colombia during war. Their arguments to do so rely on assumptions that the law supposedly criminalizes those that acquired land that was divested during war.

Although, their claims overlook that in 2017 Colombia was the second most unequal country in Latin America and a country where 1% of the farms have 81% of the total land, relegating the other 19% of the land to be distributed to 99% of the farms. That being the case, any type of land reform that tries to be enforced will clash against the interests of the few very powerful landowners. A big proportion of these landowners and the ones trying to obstruct the land restitution process are part of the “Democratic Center”. Also, their members are facing judicial processes or being accused to have been part of human rights violations.

Many experts on the matter claim that the proposed reform to the land restitution law is an attempt to make the process even slower, turns-around the “no harm” principle, and attacks the means by which the power asymmetry is addressed between poor peasants and landlords. Accordingly, the demands for a vigorous judicial defense for the people that acquired land during and within war fall short, as they have the most means and power to defend themselves.

Photo: Pixabay.

The situation is aggravated by national government policies to prioritize national development policies such as mining, and agribusiness in detriment of the interests of local rural communities and minorities. In short, the claims that were hoisted by the political party in power make restitution impossible to victims, and in turn, they obstruct the (small) efforts to change the unequal status quo.

  1. Political participation: the agreement aims to deepen democracy through the strengthening of rights and guarantees for the exercise of political opposition, citizen participation and political pluralism. Thus, the main idea of the agreement is to move the conflict to the legal democratic arena. On July 20th, 2018, eight former FARC commanders took a seat in Colombia’s Congress, following the provisions of the peace agreement.

The party in power argues that perpetrators of grave crimes cannot now be congressmen since that would be tolerating impunity. In short, they expected a non-defeated rebellious armed group to surrender, without any (or very little) political reciprocity. Evidently, this does not happen in a peace agreement; thus, their constant desire to portray ex-combatants as an internal enemy hinders reconciliation.

Moreover, the agreement established the creation of 16 peace special constituencies, chosen in accordance to the level of damage derived from armed conflict, and their institutional, economic and social vulnerability. The idea of the initiative was to widen representation and conduct the historically unaddressed regional grievances through victims and community leaders. Nonetheless, the Democratic Center (along with others) prevented the constituencies to be approved by Congress basically in the base of stigmatizing those communities guerrilla strongholds.

Overall, the lies (confirmed as trickeries by the maximum authority of the administrative proceedings) that the Democratic Center spread in the plebiscite campaign to endorse peace (that resulted in Colombia voting NO), are still present in Colombia’s polarized political situation hindering political openness.

  1. Conflict’s end: The parties also agreed upon the definitive ceasefire, the creation of a monitoring and verification system directed by United Nations, a calendar to hand over arms, the reincorporation of ex-combatants, and guarantees regarding security of members of FARC and to fight against the remaining criminal organizations.

As a result of the peace process, more than 6900 demobilized ex-combatants gathered in 26 transitional zones, 8994 arms were handed over to the UN, and since then they have designed and implemented collective projects as a unique reintegration process. Around 1100 members rejected the agreement and formed dissident groups.

Unfortunately, the pacifying process has been far from peaceful. Since the peace deal there has been more than 500 social leaders’ killings, 210,000 people forcibly displaced, and in just the first 3 weeks of January, 2019, 1 human rights defender was murdered every 3 days. Instead of broadening guarantees for social leaders and human rights defenders, the past and current government have stigmatized them, negated them systematically, elevating their security risks and even calling them criminals related to narcotrafficking.

In addition, more than 85 FARC ex-combatants have been murdered since the peace deal, and the new orders of the Armed Forces to double the number of criminals and militants they kill, could bring back the catastrophic past of extrajudicial killings. Unfortunately, after a terrorist attack on Colombian police, the peace talks with the ELN guerrilla were suspended.

On top of these concerns, a grand feasibility problem comes to place. The current government did not allocate specific resources for the implementation of the peace accord in the National Development Plan. By doing so, the agreement is equated to a consolidation strategy, affecting ex-combatant reincorporation and more importantly, directly impacting victims’ rights to truth, justice, reparation and non-recurrence.

  1. Illegal drugs: the accord suggests a change in the traditional understanding in the fight against illegal drugs, promoting programs to substitute the cultivation of illegal use crops, the enforcement of programs of health and consumption prevention, and ways to combat the production and commercialization of narcotics.

Despite the well documented and informed proposed changes to Colombia’s drug policy, the current government solution has been to go back to the mainstream response that has proven to be a failure: prohibition. Instead, the administration has opted to criminalize consumers while the producers (the true criminals) keep on making profits, to open the door to police abuses/corruption in a context of rising coca cultivation.

To reduce coca cultivation, the administration has reversed the decision to ban the use glyphosate herbicide and instead continue using it notwithstanding the multiple adverse effects on human health, land, fauna, and flora. Despite the suggestions coming from evidence, few changes have been done to allocate resources and emphasize attention in prevention efforts.

The implementation of the voluntary substitution cultivation of illegal crops programs, has suffered from increasing Government unfulfillment and a lack of coordination of the forced eradication strategy. In turn, this situation pushes poor rural Colombians to go back to growing illegal crops as a means of subsistence. This increases illegal crops cultivation, violence, vulnerability of locals to be recruited by illegal groups, and thus their chances to be victims of the growing military.

Photo: Flickr.
  1. Victims’ rights: to guarantee victims’ rights this chapter portrays the creation of the Comprehensive System for truth, justice, reparation, and non-recurrence and the creation of three institutions: The Special Jurisdiction for Peace, a justice system in charge of bringing to justice those most responsible for human rights violations and international humanitarian law infractions, The Truth Commission, deployed to reconstruct what happened within the armed conflict from different angles, and the Missing Persons Search Unit.

The Special Jurisdiction for Peace is the backbone of the peace deal. That being the case, the Democratic Center (as well as FARC to a lesser extent) has fiercely tried to attack it. First, it attacked the appointment of the magistrates arguing lack of impartiality and FARC interference in their selection. Also, the party tried to modify the criteria for their election, trying to exclude people that had experience dealing with human rights violations through judicial ways, which is basically the job that they need to do.

After a year of its creation, the president Iván Duque himself posed a series of objections to 6 articles of the statutory law of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace challenging the democratic check and balances principle. His argument was said to be the improvement of the transitional justice mechanism. Nevertheless, his objections implied disobeying a sentence of the Constitutional Court and to resume juridical questions that had been answered by the Court. By returning to a discussion held during the plebiscite, his claims fueled polarization. His government suffered the biggest defeat when Congress denied his claims and finally after 2 years the Law was finally approved.

Regarding the Truth Commission, it seems that the Democratic Center is trying to accommodate and prioritize their version of what happened during more than 50 years of conflict. To do so, ignoring the complaints of 89 victims and human rights organizations, they appointed as Director of the Historical Memory Center a person that denies the existence of the armed conflict, and by doing they are hiding State violations of human rights and international humanitarian law infractions, and the very existence of their victims. The appointment of the director led to widespread distrust and security related fears, resulting in multiple victims’ organizations retiring their files and information from the Center.

The path to look for the whereabouts of more than 100,000 missing persons is not brighter. Out of 261 planned necessary permanent staff, the money that the current administration allocated to the Missing Persons Search Unit was enough to hire only 59 people in 2019, and only one third out of the requested budget for 2019 was approved. On top of this, the implementation of the Missing Persons Search Unit was not included in the National Development Plan.

As a result, it is evident that the actions of the current government do not match its discourse in favor of the victims of the armed conflict that they so desperately say they want to defend. On the contrary, the actions of the administration hinder the achievement of victims’ rights to justice, truth, reparation and non-recurrence.

In spite of these clear efforts of the current government to spoil peace, it is not worthy to keep fueling political polarization in the country. The arguments of the administration to respond to the critiques have been centered around the idea that there are no enemies of peace, and that even if they also want peace, they want it “without impunity”. However, their demands do not take into consideration that enforcing them would in reality mean to realize their promise of “shredding into pieces” the agreement and by doing so, dismantling the ever-fading window of opportunity to achieve long-lasting peace and reconciliation.

The international community played a crucial role in the signature of the peace deal. After the devastating plebiscite when Colombia voted NO to endorse peace, awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Juan Manuel Santos, ex-president that achieved the agreement, backed the peace process and legitimized its continuity. Therefore, international awareness, monitoring and pressure is crucial to demand the peace deal implementation and guarantee victims’ rights.

Hector Felipe Ramirez

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