June 14, 2014
Just back from a week in Bogota, where I was able to partake of some of the capital’s political culture in the final days before Sunday’s presidential elections. It has been an exciting time, but also one of extreme tension and uncertainty. The candidates are in a deadlock, polls give both candidates an even chance of winning, and there is no consensus even among peace groups as to the likely winner is. It is unclear what impact ex-President Andrés Pastrana’s eleventh-hour endorsement of challenger Oscar Iván Zuluaga as is likely to have. (See Semana article here.)
On the peace process side, these days have brought news of important breakthroughs. Last Saturday morning, the parties in Havana wrapped up their 26th round of talks and announced a number of advances: a Joint Declaration of Principles on how they will address victims’ rights, an invitation for victims to join the talks, the establishment of a historical clarification commission, and the creation of a gender subcommittee to ensure gender concerns are adequately considered in all of the final agreements (see my prior blog here). Likewise, on Tuesday, June 10, the government confirmed that exploratory talks with the ELN were underway. (See my forthcoming blog post on this).
All of the parties across the political spectrum are revved up and engaging their machinery for the elections. Santos and Zuluaga were out campaigning across the country until last Sunday, after which time Colombian law prohibits further public campaigning by the candidates. The presidential contenders went head to head in two more presidential debates this week, before Zuluaga got laryngitis and cancelled the remaining debates.
I won’t try to be comprehensive here, but let me give just a couple of examples of the mobilizations taking place on behalf of peace.
Broad Front for Peace
On Thursday night, June 5, major figures of the left gathered before a standing-room only crowd at the Gonzalo Jiménez Convention Center in Bogota to announce the launch of Colombia’s Broad Front for Peace and to throw their support behind the incumbent President Juan Manuel Santos. The Convention Center was packed with a diverse group of young and old, different genders and ethnicities, and representation of a wide spectrum of the Colombian left. It was a virtual “who’s who” that included leaders of the Alternative Democratic Pole, Communist Party of Colombia, the Patriotic Union, Patriotic March, the Green Party/Alliance, the Progressive Movement, the Liberal Party, and a variety of social movements–the National Indigenous Organization (ONIC), the Animalist Platform, the Hip Hop Movement.
“We come from our differences to build a proposal for peace in Colombia that will end the conflict,” noted Jorge Rojas, Bogota’s Secretary for Social Integration, on leave to join the Santos campaign, and a leader of the new Broad Front for Peace. “We are giving a mandate to candidate-President Santos to carry the peace process to its conclusion, but it is not a blank check,” intoned Rojas. He emphasized that the peace agenda is an agenda for change that goes beyond the negotiators at the table.
The left has struggled to define its position in the presidential elections scheduled for this Sunday, June 15th. This meeting to launch a new political movement of the left included those who have chosen to cast their lot with President Santos. Missing from the line-up was Senator Jorge Enrique Robledo, of the Independent Revolutionary Workers’ Movement party, MOIR), one of the Democratic Alternative Pole parties, and others who are opting for a protest vote. Robledo is one of the leaders of the call to cast blank ballots, a position that has enjoyed considerable support in the course of these elections and that reflects both the widespread disillusion of the electorate with electoral politics that have been marked by mudslinging and scandals, and the left’s disappointment with neoliberal policies that are advocated by both of the presidential incumbent candidate, Juan Manuel Santos, and his challenger, Oscar Iván Zuluaga.
Leaders of the Broad Front are clear that a vote for Santos is a vote for peace–not a vote for a Santos program. At the rally, the speakers unanimously supported the peace process, but many underscored the ongoing role they expected to play as an opposition force that will hold the government to any agreements it makes at the table in Havana, and that will continue to challenge Santos’s economic and social policies.
Piedad Córdoba, a long-time peace advocate, received the strongest acclaim from the crowd. She called for an immediate bilateral ceasefire, humanitarian gestures including commitments to de-mining, and the opening of negotiations with the ELN and EPL. “Peace is ours,” she said. “We declare war on war… We are the hope of the country.”
Juvenal Arrieta from the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC) announced that this week, shamans from 29 departments would call on their indigenous gods to pray for peace in Colombia and he urged all Colombians and indigenous communities to vote for peace.
Rep. Iván Cepeda (and newly elected Senator) underscored the “dignified resistance of our people.” He said, “Let us close the path of war and social authoritarianism. …. They have tried to convince us that peace is secondary, but we have suffered innumerable crimes against humanity. [Colombians] wake up and go to bed with the worst scenarios of violence, massacres, sexual violence. We will not allow a paramilitarization of the country. We want democracy.” Cepeda urged the parties to “end to the blood bath” once and for all.
Rep. Angela María Robledo spoke on behalf of Colombia’s women: “We women are peace. We have resisted war and care for life. We have the ethical reserve for peace. We will vote for Santos for peace, democracy, and social justice.” Robledo also spoke eloquently about the youth who have been picked up in the streets of Bogota and persecuted for their status as conscientious objectors. She called on Santos to make good on his promise to make military service voluntary.
Bogota City Counselor Diana Alejandra Rodríguez spoke on behalf of the LGTBI community and animal rights groups, which have recently become quite active in Bogota. She urged the government to embark on negotiations with the ELN as well.
While President Santos did not attend the forum, Liberal Party and Minister of Labor Rafael Pardo spoke on his behalf. Pardo said that Santos recognized the political significance of the Broad Front in the current political context and beyond. He noted that peace goes beyond a question of the armed groups, and that the Broad Front will need to last beyond a peace agreement. “Santos is not asking you to share his government’s program, but the Broad Front is an important force for the legitimacy for the peace process,” Pardo said.
Social and Labor Movements Support Peace
On Monday, June 9, representatives of the majority of the organized labor movement–Confederación General del Trabajo (CGT), the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (CUT) and the Confederación de Trabajadores de Colombia (CTC) and the independent federations and unions–officially endorsed Santos. Labor movement leaders, like leftist politicians, have made it clear that despite their differences with Santos over economic and development models, they will vote for Santos in order to support the peace process, a democratic opening, and social and labor rights. They have now launched a campaign with the theme, “With peace we will do more on the social and labor [fronts].”
On May 29, five large organizations representing virtually the entire indigenous population in Colombia–the Organización Nacional Indígena de Colombia (ONIC), the Confederación Indígena Tayrona (CIT), the Autoridades Tradicionales Indígenas de Colombia Gobierno Mayor, the Autoridades Indígenas de Colombia por la Pacha Mama (AICO), and the Organización de Pueblos Indígenas de la Amazonia Colombiana (OPIAC)–announced the creation of a broad social and political front for peace. The groups announced their commitment to a stable and lasting peace, called on the populace to vote for an end to the armed conflict in the upcoming elections, and invited other social sectors to join their effort to “protect the end of the conflict and not to permit “the return to eras of intensified insurgent and paramilitary violence that has caused Colombians so much harm.” (See “Los indígenas llaman a un ‘frente’ por la paz.”)
Finally, there has been a recent flurry of extraordinarily well done pieces from the office of the President of Colombia as well as by private individuals and organizations to educate the public about the peace process. High Commissioner for Peace Sergio Jaramillo spoke before the Peace Commissions in the Colombian House and Senate. (See his remarks here.) Likewise, below is a sample of some of the outreach being done by Jaramillo and lead government negotiator Humberto de la Calle from a series of interviews available on YouTube from the program, “Crystal Ball.” (Urna de Cristal):
I provide another link below to one of my favorites. This one comes from a group of Colombians and friends in the United Kingdom who have been carrying out peace breakfasts to “surround the process” (rodear el proceso) and contribute to a culture of dialogue. (See their webpage here.)
Clearly, there is tremendous social activism and the emergence of the beginnings of a pedagogy of peace. I invite my readers to share some of what you are seeing, hearing, experiencing…
In the meantime, I am off to watch the World Cup. Colombia takes on Greece in just a few hours…