☮️When peace is found and built anywhere it effects all of us.
By Leo Weakland, PeaceNews Network, October 9, 2023
Colombia experienced civil conflict for over 50 years, but there has been significant progress towards peace since the 2016 peace agreement between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
After some setbacks, the peace process received a boost following the election of Gustavo Petro in 2022, who proposed “total peace” as a new approach to ending violence and enhancing the peace process.
The Colombian Conflict involved a wide array of armed groups, with leftist guerilla groups, most notably the FARC and the National Liberation Army (ELN), fighting the government since the beginning.
As the conflict continued, right-wing paramilitary groups emerged to oppose the guerillas.
Over time, Colombia also became a center of the international drug trade, which led to a more violent and militarized conflict.
Furthermore, with the rise of large drug cartels who exported drugs to other countries, including the United States, the conflict took on an international dimension and involved different foreign actors.
Since the 1990s, negotiations between the government and armed groups have been successful and adopted by successive Colombian presidents.
In 1990, for example, the M-19 guerillas signed a peace agreement that resulted in their demobilization and their formation as a legitimate political party.
In 2006, the largest paramilitary organization, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), demobilized after negotiations with the government.
Finally, in 2016, as mentioned, the government signed a historic peace deal with the FARC, ending the conflict with the largest guerilla group.
This agreement included numerous provisions intended to address the issues that caused the conflict in the first place, including land reform and restorative justice mechanisms.
In 2022, Gustavo Petro, who was a former member of M-19, won the Colombian presidential election.
As a former guerilla who entered politics and won a national election, Petro is a prominent example of the effectiveness of peace negotiations.
His trajectory may help members of other armed groups recognize that political participation can be more effective than armed struggle.
At the center of his agenda is a push for “total peace”, which includes outreach to all remaining armed groups in the hopes of negotiating a peaceful end to fighting.
Dr. Gwen Burnyeat, an expert on Colombia and Research Fellow at the University of Oxford, states that:
“‘Total peace’ meant full implementation of the 2016 peace accord signed with the FARC guerrilla, and negotiations with the remaining armed groups in Colombia, which include the ELN guerrilla, FARC dissidents who did not sign the 2016 accord, FARC deserters who rearmed following the signing of the accord alleging unsatisfactory implementation of the accord and lack of security guarantees, and a complex set of paramilitary and criminal organisations.”
In 2023, Petro’s initiative is bearing fruit.
The government announced a ceasefire with the ELN, following a long period of talks.
Soon after, an agreement was reached to begin talks with one of the largest groups of FARC dissidents.
While neither of these agreements will make further fighting impossible, they are important steps towards dialogue.
The ELN has been fighting the government for decades, and any agreement to formally end hostilities would be historic.
Negotiations with FARC dissidents can help to fulfill the promise of the 2016 peace deal, and hopefully reduce the level of violence in Colombia.
It is crucial that any progress made in 2023 is not undone in future years.
The implementation of the 2016 agreement has been troubled. Petro’s predecessor, Ivan Duque, had opposed the deal.
Burnyeat warns that,
“Peacebuilding ultimately will depend on long-term political developments, such as the local elections due to take place this year, and the next general elections in 2026, and whether civil society mobilises sufficiently around the imperative for peace.”
Peace News also spoke with Dr. Andrei Gómez-Suárez, who is the co-founder of Rodeemos el Dialogo (Embrace Dialogue), a transnational network dedicated to building a culture of dialogue and supporting peace initiatives in Colombia.
According to Gómez-Suárez,
“The developments in the negotiations with the ELN, in regards to the participation of civil society are encouraging… the implementation of the 2016 peace agreement is fully underway after four years of stagnation during the Duque Administration, in particular, the support of the government to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace is helping unveil the state responsibility in gross human rights violations paving the way for sustainable reconciliation in Colombia.”
While there is notable progress, there are also some setbacks, with the government ending a ceasefire with the Clan del Golfo, one of the largest criminal organizations in the country.
However, these recent developments have led to a newfound sense of optimism in the country.
According to Monica Guasca, an expert on peace in Colombia at KU Leuven in Belgium,
“Three decades ago, envisioning the Colombia we see today seemed nearly impossible. Back then, we were accustomed to a constant barrage of bombs, mass displacements, and daily clashes between armed groups.
“The idea of a peaceful Colombia was reserved for idealists. Planning for the future felt futile, as the primary focus was survival in the present.
“Yet, here we stand, facing numerous challenges and conflicts but also contemplating the future. All in all, several windows of opportunity at both macro and micro levels give me an optimistic outlook on Colombia’s peace processes.”
Peace News has written other stories about Colombia in the past, which you can read here.
In June, we published an article written by Dr. Gómez-Suárez about illegal mining and peace.
Every week, we publish a new edition of our This Week in Peace series, which highlights peacebuilding around the world. which has included recent developments in Colombia.
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