World in View: Colombia agreement raises hopes, questions

From the September-October 2016 issue of News & Letters

After four years of negotiations a peace agreement between the Colombian government of President Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has been greeted with hope and skepticism. A plebiscite of Colombians will be held on Oct. 2, while President Santos and the head of FARC, Rodrigo Londoño (Timochenko), are expected to sign the final agreement in September.

Within the agreement are procedures for the demobilization of FARC fighters, and a Special Tribunal for Peace that would grant amnesty for some (not all) crimes. The agreement also encompasses some rural reforms, changes to the coca eradication program, and parliamentary elections.

INCALCULABLE HUMAN COST OF WAR

A half-century of war cost the lives of a quarter million Colombians, mostly civilians. Forty-five thousand “disappeared,” and almost seven million were forcibly displaced internally. While both sides have hands dripping with blood, government troops and paramilitary forces are estimated to have been responsible for as many as two-thirds of the deaths, including such atrocities as creating “false positives,” that is, to make their numbers look good, soldiers captured and killed innocent peasants and youth while claiming that they were FARC guerrillas.

Right-wing former president Álvaro Uribe is pushing for a No vote on the plebiscite. If it passes it may leave him open to be tried for massive violations of human rights that occurred during his murderous regime.

For its part, FARC has been involved in kidnappings and the drug trade to finance its operations. The initial Marxist rhetoric it professed did not include working out a serious vision of a new human society in Colombia.

Colombia’s long history as a poor and deeply unequal society, long in the hands of a landed oligarchy, has been at the root of this unending war. But the U.S.s’ “Plan Colombia,” begun in 2000, bears much responsibility for contributing to this deadly conflict. Since 2001 it has given ten billion dollars to Colombia, some 70% military aid–training troops, supplying military technology and weapons, and supporting an aerial fumigation program to decimate coca crops.

WHAT PEACE IS POSSIBLE?

Earlier this year, in a letter to U.S. President Obama, a network of 135 Colombian communities known as CONPAZ (Communities Building Peace in the Territories) wrote “We have seen how our rights have been violated using the pretext of the armed conflict. We have seen how our territories have been and continue to be militarized and even worse, have seen a rise in [the] presence of paramilitaries…Evidently Colombia has changed with Plan Colombia…[yet] these changes have not necessarily meant the improvement in the quality of life for the majority of Colombians.”

An end to this terrible war and the possibility of peace is to be welcome. But the question before Colombia is what kind of peace, what kind of future is possible?

An informal worker in Bogota expressed succinctly the reality of the moment: “Peace is a word politicians talk about all the time. But in Colombia, there is no peace. I come from the lower classes and there is no peace. As long as we have to be desperately seeking bread, doing whatever it takes to survive, there will be no peace.”

—Eugene Walker

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