Some impressions on Colombia’s peace process

19 Nov

I have had the great privilege to have been in Colombia for the past three days. That is too far short a time to make any sensible comments on the country, particularly as I never left Bogota. Here are some impressions and observations (all encased in caveats that a brief visit by an outsider is does make for expert commentary):

– The latest peace accord (reached one week ago) contains very significant concessions by the FARC. It is clear that they do not have the will to go back to war. They want a way out, and it is up to enlightened elements in the state, civil society and international community to allow them to do that with some honour.
– The implementation of the peace accord is not a one-off piece of legislation. Instead, each provision will have to go through Congress, creating avenues for delay, the watering down of original intentions, and disillusionment among people. Many countries have declared a state of emergency due to war. There is a good case to declare a state of emergency due to peace in order to expedite legislation through Congress.
– Two major issues shape this country but they have largely been left out of the peace process and peace accord: paramilitaries and land reform. The former are extraordinarily corrupt and violent actors but are embedded in society and allied with corporate and elite interests. The latter is crucial and was dodged in the peace process. Commitments to ‘rural development’ are not the same as land reform. The danger is that without fundamental economic reform (or sustained economic growth to cover up the cracks) then Colombia ends up like Bosnia-Herzegovina: somewhere with a sullen population that have not seen benefits from peace.
– The Colombian peace process and accord have contained remarkable innovation – especially in terms of attention to victims and gender. Colombia is well placed to become a peace process ‘beacon’ – somewhere that can offer advice to other societies undergoing transition.
– The fiction that the conflict is marginal to major urban areas, and to the majority of the population is alive and well. It is a dangerous fiction and one that we have seen in many conflict areas where the state has managed to forced an insurgency to the geographical margins. Sri Lanka and Uganda come to mind here. The fiction is dangerous because it covers up uncomfortable facts that political elites would like to hide: 1. That the whole of society is militarised (the Colombian state has a huge number of armed police and soldiers), 2. That every citizen is paying for the war through their taxes, and 3. That the political elite have been inept in allowing the war to continue for decades.
– Elements of the FARC seem to have naive political and economic agenda and believe that they can establish a new economic model in areas they control. Globalisation allied with the paramilitaries will smash that.
– Finally, the Colombian peace deal is at the mercy of politics. A presidential election is coming up. The peace accord might be collateral damage in that.

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