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Colombia, one year on from the peace agreement: a disturbing assessment

A year after signing the peace agreement in Colombia, it is worthwhile assessing the progress and setbacks but more importantly the very dynamics of the process that in many ways determine its future.

 

Juan Diego García

 

Whilst progress is considerable, this is to a large extent overshadowed by factors which impede the successful implementation of the agreement.

Although violence persists in some areas, the truth is that casualties of soldiers and guerrillas have practically disappeared to the delight of the families of those playing a leading role on the front line in the conflict. But little else has happened.

The steps for implementing agreed goals that could be realised immediately (amnesty for imprisoned guerrillas, measures to facilitate their transition into normal civilian life, etc.) have been thwarted by outrageous breaches of the agreement by the government, such that not only has there been forceful protest by those who have been directly affected by the conflict (ex-guerrillas and local communities), but several of the international bodies acting as guarantors of the peace process have also approached the Colombian government in equally forceful terms.

No one is asking the authorities to implement measures that typically require lots of resources and time. In fact, the demands being made are justified precisely because all they require is the government’s goodwill and would in many ways appease concerned (not without reason) hearts and minds and help in creating a different atmosphere from the current one, laden with pessimism and, above all, uncertainty.

Indeed, a legitimate question to ask is: ‘why is the State failing so spectacularly to comply with the agreement as regards issues which don’t require significant resources?’ ‘What can be expected from the remaining agreements that not only require a clear political will but do indeed require important material and human resources?

A particularly worrying issue is that of personal security, since more than a hundred ex guerrillas and community leaders have been killed since the agreement was signed.

It is not difficult to conclude that in this particular case there is a lack of political will (either this or it is a question of impotence on the part of the Exectutive) regarding eliminating local paramilitary groups and those in institutions who continue to encourage (and benefit) from the violence.

An assessment of this first year of peace could not be more disturbing, in particular, because the rebel forces have made agreements with an executive that only partially represents the State.

Santos does not even enjoy solid support among his own ranks. Until recently, vice president, and now a candidate for the presidency, he endorses the far right slogan of “smash the agreement to pieces.”

In parliament, alleged support for the government is waning by the day in the midst of the ongoing electoral campaign and this largely coincides with the strategy of the opponents of the peace process.

Santos finds himself increasingly alone and is having to beg those who have supported him thus far in parliament, on a daily basis, to refrain from placing any more obstacles in the way of the agreement’s implementation.

Parliament is not only now deciding to play down anything in the agreement that might affect the interests of the wealthier sectors on the right, but is also mired in a thousand scandals involving corruption, all of which further fuels uncertainty surrounding the future.

In fact, what was agreed in parliament differs on fundamental points from what was agreed in Havana and then solemnly endorsed in Bogotá.

The scene in the judiciary is not much different: not only are really serious cases of corruption widespread at the top but just as with the legislature, it has altered fundamental points in the peace agreement.

If Santos does not seem to have the support of those whose duty it is to guarantee the physical safety of Colombia’s citizens nor the genuine support of lawmakers or those at the top of the judiciary, then this begs the question ‘at whose behest did he agree a pact with the rebel forces to end the war?’ This is probably the overriding problem when it comes to assessing the first year of the peace process.

This first anniversary seems to support the conclusion that the State as a whole has at no time been genuinely committed to abiding by the agreement, at least not regarding its fundamental points.

At best, the aim has been the customary one: limited to allowing the rebels a specific (harmless) position in the institutions; and where reform does not get beyond the discussion stage.

The pro-peace social and political movements have no other alternative than to rally Colombia’s citizens for change, removing this extremely hostile combination of forces by installing a new government, choosing an executive that is genuinely committed to the spirit of the agreements, eliminating a real enemy of the peace process from parliament and the judiciary and achieving true commitment on the part of those whose duty it is to subdue the criminal acts of the paramilitaries.

Certainly, this measure alone will not be enough to achieve peace but it would be an important step in the right direction.

A violent reaction on the part of the landowning classes is to be expected if the agreed agrarian reform is implemented as well as an equally violent reaction on the part of conservative politicians if reform of the political system goes ahead under the terms agreed in Havana.

Forming a broad front for Peace in order to win the next elections would undoubtedly be a decisive step: rallying the public in protest against the peace agreements being further distorted; as well as punishing the corrupt and isolating the exponents of hatred and conflict, almost all of whom are connected with war crimes and now enjoy full freedom precisely because of the impunity tolerated by those whose duty it is to impart justice.

Mobilising the public with an eye on the elections should not however be the only objective, but it certainly would help a great deal in ensuring a more promising set of conditions in the immediate future.

(Translated by Nigel Conibear – DipTrans IoLET MCIL – nigelconibear@gmail.com) – Photos: Pixabay

 

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