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Colombia: a window to peace
Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Maria del CorralNeither Colombians of my generation, nor those of my parent’s generation, have ever known peace in our country; our history has been marked by never ending civil wars, and bloodshed.

Our country is a vast land, twice the area of France, a rich land, crossed from south to north by three enormous mountain ranges we call 'cordilleras', with a large part of the amazon jungle in the south-east, vast planes in the east, and large stretches of coastlands both on the pacific and atlantic oceans.

Its history has also been characterised since Spanish colonial times, by high levels of centralisation of power, and social inequality, with a large gap of opportunity between cities and rural land.

The Revolutionary Armed forces of Colombia, the people’s army, FARC-EP, as they call themselves, started their violent path in 1953 as a sequel of a previous conflict between right wing conservatives, and left wing liberals. In the 1960’s a counter-revolutionary army was formed, known as the paramilitary movement, in order to defend wealthy land owners from guerrillas' extortion and threats. The paramilitary movement quickly allied itself for financial purposes, with drug dealers and drug barons. The revolutionary FARC followed in this path, in order to maintain financial viability.  

In September 2012 our recently reelected president Juan Manuel Santos succeeded in inviting guerrilla leaders to talk about peace; the path had been prepared by his predecessor in government, Alvaro Uribe, who had declared an open war to exterminate FARC while tending a hand for talks only if they abandoned crime and handed out their weapons. Uribe’s opponents have exposed the close alliance of the official armed forces with the paramilitary right wing movement during Uribe’s consecutive governments.

After four years of peace talks, and a lot of criticism from every side, official negotiators and FARC leaders, have finally been able to reach a detailed agreement, which will allow FARC to abandon their armed fight and become a political party. However a democratic consultation has to be voted next October, to legalise the agreement.

The path that follows is uncertain, even if the peace deal is backed by a majority of voters, since it implies an entire change of political practice from the official government, including land tenure laws and practices, the allowance for an official communist party to take part in political debates and elections, the reintegration in society of thousands of combatants who have no clear specific skills other than those related to life as a guerrilla fighter, a transitional justice apparatus to bring justice to thousands of victims who claim for the recovery of their human and material losses.

Several attempts for peace have been signed and tried out in the past in Colombia with FARC; yet what makes this deal special, and perhaps hopeful, is that none of the previous attempts implied such a lengthy and detailed analysis and political and social debate, nor did they include such a wide array of influence from international guests from countries with similar armed conflicts and peace deals such as Ireland and South-Africa, plus the intervention of the UN both during the talks and during the post-conflict and disarmament period.

This is perhaps the most important historical opportunity many of us Colombians alive today have ever faced. Whatever happens along this highly risky path that we are walking along now, the very fact that these conversations have taken place, which have dealt with the real issues which should concern most Colombians, and specially the vast majority of marginalised ones, is already an enormous threshold towards the peaceful prosperous land that our beloved country may become.

Along this treacherous path ahead, the values of IofC are our most relevant tools, as our country needs to forgive, to stick to inner connection and the wisdom derived from it, and to be guided each day by absolute standards.

Maria del Corral was born in Bogota, Colombia. She studied agriculture at Reading University in the UK. Being a city girl and daughter of a rather eccentric intellectual, her interest in agriculture stemmed from a combination of her love of nature, and her deep concern about Colombia’s badly torn social structure.

Presently Maria is part of a team of IofC in Bogota, presenting workshops on a variety of topics monthly, plus participating in other initiatives related to re-building the structure of Colombia’s society devastated by over 50 years of internal guerrilla war.

NOTE: Individuals of many cultures, nationalities, religions, and beliefs are actively involved with Initiatives of Change. These commentaries represent the views of the writer and not necessarily those of Initiatives of Change as a whole.