The Call for Peace from Colombia’s Social Sectors

In the absence of a national peace process in the last decade, local and regional peace initiatives have emerged in response to the conflict violence in Colombia.  The call for a political solution to the internal armed conflict, like the ideé fixe in Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, has been resounding persistently from the regions and has helped to pave the way for the talks that began in Oslo last October and continue today in Havana between the Colombian government and the FARC-EP guerrillas.  (See my article, “Building Confidence for Peace in Colombia.”)

These local and regional peace initiatives are highly diverse and span many sectors.  In 2009, the Catholic church organized a series of regional forums as part of a national consultation to identify consensus points for a National Accord for Peace and Reconciliation.  In August 2011, thousands of peasant, indigenous, and afro-Colombian communities gathered in Barrancabermeja and called for dialogue as the path forward.  The call gained resonance last year when violence escalated in Cauca and indigenous communities sought to evict all the armed actors from their territory, leading to a national “minga” last December that brought together representatives of indigenous communities from across the country.  Women have also been active proponents for moving the country toward a peaceful resolution of the conflict. (See my blog post for International Women’s Day).

Today the call for peace echoes across the country, emanates from every sector of society, and is beginning to articulate an identity of its own, independent of but in dialogue with the parties at the table.  Since the peace talks began, regional and national congresses have sought ways to link these separate initiatives into a common agenda for peace.

National Congresses for Peace

From April 19-22, 2013, a National Congress for Peace brought 20,000 leaders from all of Colombia’s regions to Bogota.  On the eve of the eighth round of peace talks between the government of Colombia and the FARC-EP in Havana, the Congress considered the role of Colombia’s social and popular movements in relation to the current talks and the future prospects for peace in Colombia.

Participants at the National Congress, which was preceded by regional Congresses for Peace throughout the country, represented the tremendous diversity of Colombian society.  They included representatives of the Catholic and Protestant churches, students, ethnic communities, peasants, women, workers, the oil sector, the Marcha Patriótica, community organizations, politicians, and local authorities.  In their final statement, participants expressed their support for the peace talks and called on the Colombian government to open channels of dialogue with the remaining guerrilla groups (ELN and EPL).  They noted that a genuine peace would require more than just the “silencing of the guns” and must be based on a “full guarantee of human rights.”  They underscored the contributions that those who have suffered from the war can make in ensuring that a peace agenda addresses the conditions of “poverty, inequality, marginalization, impunity and political exclusion” that have been at the roots of the Colombian conflict.  “If the end of the armed conflict requires the consolidation of a democratic society,” the final statement read, “we need to begin by democratizing the search for peace.”  ( See the final statement here.)

Children and youth met separately in their own National Congress for Peace.  They discussed the impact of the war on their lives and called on the parties to cease the violence so they could stop worrying about being killed, recruited, or injured by landmines.  (Read their poignant statement here.)

These national congresses for peace, along with the national marches on April 9th (see my blog post, “Rallying for Peace”) are important landmarks in the development of a public mandate for a peace process that has been relatively closed to civil society participation.  The results of these initiatives will feed back into the regions and should help prepare communities for future peace and reconciliation initiatives, and for implementing agreements reached in Havana.

Costs of Conflict

For years, civil society groups have underscored the costs of war for Colombian society:  violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict, youth recruitment, forced displacement, kidnappings, disappearances, and landmines.  The economic costs are high, but have received less attention; they include lost opportunity costs for investment, lost GDP, and budget priorities favoring defense and security at the expense of other needs.  Women’s groups have highlighted the militarization of Colombian culture and society has begun to share their concerns with the sexual and gender-based violence that has marked the conflict.  Ethnic communities have protested the threat to their cultural and physical survival and countered these threats with “mingas”–gatherings to celebrate life.  Victims are organizing themselves to claim their rights to truth, justice, and reparations.  Peasant organizations and labor groups have criticized the human and environmental costs of national development models and historic inequities that are at the roots of the conflict.  Publicizing these costs of conflict appears to have had a cumulative effect that has helped to ripen the conflict for resolution, is slowly shifting the balance of public opinion away from militarized solutions, and has helped to move the parties toward peace talks.  These gains are important, but public opinion favoring the talks cannot be taken for granted, and civil society will have an ongoing role to play in ensuring that the process delivers on its promises.

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About Ginny Bouvier

Love reading, writing, thinking, and working with people to make the world a better place. Family and friends, yoga, travel, photography, perusing dessert menus keep me sane. Latin American enthusiast. Peace practitioner yearning for justice. Heading up the Colombia program at the U.S. Institute of Peace, but tweets and posts are my own.
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3 Responses to The Call for Peace from Colombia’s Social Sectors

  1. luzhelena07 says:

    Good update Ginny. I want to make some preliminary comments and share my feelings on the ¨Foro de Participación Politica¨ taking place until the 30th in Bogota.. This is an event asked for both by the government and the FARC and organized jointly by National University and UN. The attendance, over 1.000 people from all regions and walks of life and the claim por participation and compliance with universal human rights mandates make of this another landmark event in a short period of time. This shows to me that in spite of some very vocal voices coming from the most conservative and rightist sectors, colombian civil society is stretching to the most it can, to express at this very historical time.
    Worth mentioning is the déficit of participation of women the day of the inauguration which took place yesterday, the 27th. This is a reflection of the lack of recognition of women as leaders in the social movements, not only in the political parties. Other issue that has called my attention was the complaint by the indian organizations for their abscense in the dialogue table in Havana. The methaphor they used was quite strong. They expressed that in the colonial times the encomenderos were the ones who killed the indians, and that they are not sending ¨encomiendas ¨meaning messages through intermediaries to the table in Havana. In the inaugural panel by political parties and social movements, all major political parties were present and all “sounded”committed to the process. We will have to wait and see how they behave in Congress where the process with have to be discussed and big decisions will have to be made. Just wat and see!
    Two distintict demands are on its way: a political reform and reestructuring of the electoral system. There is also a good number of participants proponsing another “Asamblea Constituyente “, many of us are not fond of this idea. To me it might be a jump to the abyss..

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    • Luz Helena–Your comments show a lot of insight. Thank you. There is no question that civil society reflects the broader divisions within the Colombian social fabric, exacerbated also by the years of violent conflict. It is easy to think of women and indigenous communities (and Afro-Colombians) as victims of the conflict, which they have been, but it would be a real loss if their ideas are discounted as Colombia seeks ways to heal.

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  2. Pingback: The Pope and the Bishops Speak of Peace in Colombia | COLOMBIA CALLS

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