Peace for Colombia: Hope, Prudence and Risks

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José María Vera, Director of Oxfam Intermón, shares the hopes of Colombia's people as they move forward after decades of conflict.

The peace process in Colombia is well underway. It is exciting to share these times with such a diverse body of people and organizations. The deep sense of hope that people longed for after decades of conflict is now palpable.And then, the tension appears, the fear which is propagated by violence, the fear which nothing changes and which continues running wild with impunity through this wounded country that wants to live in peace, once and for all. I will illustrate this with the stories of three people I have met.

First, there is Lucero Carmona, whose son Omar was killed by the army. One of the so-called “false positives.” The soldiers were awarded with vacation days and extra pay for every guerrilla fighter that they brought in dead. To earn a few pesos more, they abducted young people in the working class neighborhoods of Bogota, moved them thousands of kilometers to the conflict areas, dressed them as guerrilla fighters and killed them. They were never seen again. There are over a thousand cases, from son to son, and mother to mother. A part of the disappearances and extrajudicial killings that ravaged the country. The story of Lucero and other "Mothers of Soacha" should continue to be told until, as she said, truth and justice prevail.

The victims were present during the peace process in Havana. Some, like the women who suffered sexual violence during the conflict, had to fight hard for their place at the table. They succeeded, and now the accords recognize their situation. The transitional justice that is now being proposed is guided not by impunity but by truth, even being dealt to the instigators of the deeds and the rapes which were not isolated incidents, but which were planned as a strategy of war.

Then, there is Esteban, an indigenous leader from the town of Embera in the department of Choco, one of those abandoned by the State and urban Colombia. Not by the violence. His community of about 700 people is 15 hours by boat from the provincial capital Quibdo. The indigenous communities, such as the Afro-Colombians, have suffered all forms of violence at the hands of FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), the paramilitaries and the drug traffickers. Mining operations have depleted their water supply. Peace for them remains a distant uncertainty. There could be a FARC demobilization camp in their region or nearby. No one has explained what they will experience or the impact it will have on their communities. The paramilitaries come back mixed with the drug traffickers. The other guerrilla group, the ELN, has not negotiated, and there is a possibility that this group or the paramilitary groups will occupy the territory left by the FARC. And then there are the usual injustices, Esteban tells us.

Oxfam works with organizations that give psychological support to the familiars of victims of Colombia's conflict. Photo: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

There is agreement among the advocates of peace regarding justice; there either will or will not be will be peace in the regions. It is in the countryside where there have been conflicts, human rights violations, massive displacement, and the confiscation of land. That is where we need to work for peace and create the conditions for coexistence based on rights and development opportunities for all. Meanwhile, the organizations are denouncing the increases in violations and in the number of assassinations of human rights defenders. Sixty three in 2015, a figure that puts Colombia near the top on a global scale. The protection of community leaders, of peasants who demand the recovery of their lands, and of victims who have filed complaints will be an essential aspect of the implementation of the accords. The State, which is the guarantor of these rights, must have a presence in the regions which are in conflict. This includes a police presence as well as the presence of justice, water, health, education and public institutions.

Finally, we have Ivan Cepeda and Alirio Uribe, congressmen from the Polo Democrático party. Firmly behind the accords. Like many, their eyes light up when they speak of peace. And yet, surveys show a lean 60-odd percent in favor of the accords. And there will be a referendum, which is the work of the devil these days. Only Alvaro Uribe and his supporters are leading a campaign against it; Uribe, manipulator of facts and opinions, is leading people to believe that it is a matter of the capitulation of the liberal Santos administration which will lead to a Castro-Chavez type of socialism edging in to the government. His defense of only a few victims, those of FARC, and not of other victims, such as those of the army and the paramilitaries to which he gave birth, is outrageous. So, all are determined that this be an endorsement not only of the government, but of the people, parties, and social organizations. Each of them will do it in their own way, with the firm hope that the support will be overwhelming.

Colombia is definitely one of the most unequal countries in the world. As we senators affirm, it is difficult to build a united society with a Gini index of 55. It is time to address the major issues facing Colombia. The usual ones. The distribution of land and its use, predatory resource extraction and the production model, the right to health and education for all, and the right to justice. Also fiscal reform which is coming to finance peace. So ... do we raise the VAT as they do everywhere else, or do we tax the major corporations?

It’s about time for these debates to take place in Colombia as well. In peace.

This entry was posted by José María Vera, Director of Oxfam Intermón, on 30 September 2016.

Photos by Pablo Tosco/Oxfam:

  • (Top) The organization “Madres de Soacha” has been denouncing disappearances and extrajudicial executions throughout Colombia's conflict.
  • Oxfam works with organizations that give psychological support to the familiars of victims of Colombia's conflict.

Read more about Oxfam's work in Colombia