I sometimes forget how much we all need to share and feed the flickers of hope. Many Colombians have lived with war for most of their lives. When I introduced my talk on peacebuilding in Colombia by saying that Colombia is a global leader in peace initiatives, one of the Colombian women in the audience raised her hand to register her disbelief. “How can that be,” she asked, “if we are still at war?”
The failure to put an end to decades of internal armed conflict in Colombia does not mean that there have not been successes. At the national level, some ten non-State armed groups have been demobilized and disarmed, and a Constitution was approved in 1991 that granted broad human rights protections and is widely considered to be the equivalent of a peace accord. Repeated efforts to secure agreements with the FARC and the ELN, Colombia’s major guerrilla insurgents, have had less success, but have left a legacy of lessons to be mined for the future.
While there has been no national peace process in Colombia for a decade, those living in the regions where the conflict is most intense have had to design strategies and processes to address and seek alternatives to the violence. Most Colombians are ignorant of these many peace-building experiences taking place throughout their own country. Such initiatives, which tend to be vulnerable to threat from armed actors, are rarely covered in the media.
More and more I am becoming aware of how important it is to increase Colombian awareness of these local and regional initiatives so that linkages between initiatives might be made and learning can take place on a broader level. The accumulated experiences in building peace in Colombia–those that have failed as well as those that have been successful–provide key inputs for developing the mechanisms that will sustain peace in the future.
A few years ago, I edited a book, Colombia: Building Peace in a Time of War, in collaboration with nearly thirty other authors. (Feel free to “like” it or to write a review and let me know what you think.) The book gives visibility to some of these initiatives and remains relevant to understanding how to support peace in Colombia. Still, I am constantly encountering new approaches and efforts worth considering. I will be highlighting some of these newer initiatives I’ve learned about in recent visits to Colombia.