After the referendum, what challenges for peace in Colombia?

On November 30, 2016 and after more than half a century of armed conflict, the Colombian Congress finally ratified the peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP). Following the failure of the referendum on October 2, the outcome was far from favorable to a path towards reconciliation. How can we explain, then, this difference between popular uncertainty and the political will for pacification? analysis_after_the_referendum_quels_defis_pour_la_paix_en_colombie_710x280.jpg

The path of transition from war to peace is never a simple path. While most polls announced the victory of "yes", the "no" actually won with 50.2% of the votes. It is important to point out that many citizens who voted against the agreement did not do so with a view to continuing the war. On the contrary, the majority of Colombians agree in their desire for peace, as shown by the lively demonstrations that took place the day after the results, bringing together a constellation of voices and positions. The negative vote[1]Leading the peace alternative by only some 50,000 votes. , as well as the staggering rate of abstention (62%) show us above all that there are many disagreements (or misunderstandings) on the ways to build lasting peace. Peace: the only way out A military outcome being unthinkable in the short and medium term, peace agreements have appeared as a necessity since 2012, both on the part of the FARC and the Government. Despite the numerous losses suffered by the revolutionary movement during the legislature of President Álvaro Uribe in the first decade of the 21st century, the Government, through numerous efforts, was unable to combat them militarily. However, in the neoliberal perspective of a greater opening of the country to international trade and foreign investors, driven by the current Government, Colombia had to improve its image by pacifying the country. [2]Wilpert, Grégory, Why did the Colombians reject peace?, in Le Monde Diplomatique, November 2016. A dishonest communication campaign It must also be recognized that misleading communication strategies driven by certain political actors – in particular the party “Democratic Center” under the aegis of ex-president Alvaro Uribe Velez – undoubtedly influenced the negative vote. These sought to arouse “indignation” by playing on certain concepts such as “gender” and “Castro-Chavismo”, among others. Indeed, the most conservative sectors affirmed that an agreement with the FARC would amount to opening the doors to an economic model similar to that of Venezuela or Cuba. On the other hand, the points around the “differentiated gender approach” which would confer particular recognition to women and the LGTB population [3]LGTB or Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender., as victims of armed conflict, were systematically perceived as a dangerous approach to the traditional family structure. Two arguments completely removed from the reality of these Agreements which call into question neither the neoliberal economic model nor family issues. Points of contention: Justice and political participation According to part of the political class and the population, the Agreements would open the way to impunity and would give too many benefits to ex-combatants. Transitional justice, which provides for remissions, commutations or alternative sentences, in the event of confession of their crimes, was considered too “lax”. In addition, according to the Agreements, ex-combatants could, in the near future, engage in politics through the creation of a new political party. This point is seen by many as a favor that the FARC should not benefit from. However, if we refer to the experiences of past peace agreements – such as in Ireland or South Africa – restorative justice and political participation mechanisms in different forms are essential to guarantee the transition from war to violence. peace. Transitional justice mainly seeks to restore the rights of victims and restore their dignity. It is essentially a restorative justice that integrates the truth, full reparation – in physical and psychological terms – of the victims and the guarantee that crimes like this can no longer occur. Under the Agreements, the transitional justice mechanism did not only target the FARC, but “all” actors who committed or facilitated crimes in the context of the armed conflict, including state agents such as the Armed Forces. or the Police, as well as political and economic actors. A shared responsibility Far-right paramilitary organizations, in support of the State and often in collaboration with the Armed Forces, have also committed numerous crimes, in pursuit of a so-called “counter-insurgent” strategy. However, despite the implementation of the Justice and Peace law of 2005, designed to facilitate demobilization and disarmament of paramilitary groups , neo-paramilitary groups or “bacrim” – criminal gangs – remain and continue to operate in the territories. This situation raises questions about security and the lack of guarantees for ex-combatants in the process of reintegration into civilian life, but also for peasant and indigenous leaders, human rights defenders and members of social movements and environmental. Finally, the promoters of “no” also drew attention to the financial amounts – 212 euros/month – that FARC members would receive as allowances as long as they do not receive other income. This financial assistance was considered disproportionate in view of the great difficulties encountered by the population. A lack of “pedagogy of peace” A major difficulty of the campaign in favor of the Agreements was communication on their content from the start of the negotiation process. Educational work on the objectives pursued, ahead of the referendum, could have changed the positions of part of the population. Remember that, in addition to the ceasefire and reparation for victims, the agreements also pursued the objectives of fighting drug trafficking and poverty in the countryside, one of the main factors of the conflict. This lack of explanation and involvement of the population in the talks, as well as a limited participation of Colombian civil society, social movements and women, who had to put pressure to have a greater space in the process, has contributed to creating a vacuum into which the mass media have rushed, fueling polarization and disinformation and not allowing for an open and meaningful debate on the substance and form of the Agreements. Historically, the mass media in Colombia have indeed constructed the popular imagination on the armed conflict. On this subject, a study by Alexandra García demonstrated that between 1998 and 2006, the name of these far-right groups, for example, was not the subject of any reference in 75% newspaper articles dealing with the violence for which they were responsible. Therefore, for a significant part of the population, the FARC movement is the main actor of violence in Colombia, while numerous studies agree to establish another hierarchy in the responsibility for the acts perpetrated. And what’s next? The situation was critical in the run-up to the 2018 presidential elections, with some fearing the manipulation of the debate, leading to a lasting blockage and the end of negotiations. Despite the “no” victory at the polls, President Santos continued the negotiations, reinforced by his recent Nobel Peace Prize. To break the impasse, the government and the FARC opened discussions to proposals for amendments or clarifications to all stakeholders, including opponents of the treaty. Thus, the government was able to return to the Colombian parliament with a revised agreement incorporating 80% the opposition's demands. Despite the positive vote of Congress, some blockages remain on the part of the opposition, with former President Uribe calling for a new referendum. However, the implementation of the peace agreements has begun and – some dare to believe – will put an end to the assassinations of human rights defenders, as well as to a bloody conflict which has lasted since 1964. Angela Ocampo



1 Leading the peace alternative by only some 50,000 votes.
2 Wilpert, Grégory, Why did the Colombians reject peace?, in Le Monde Diplomatique, November 2016.
3 LGTB or Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender.

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