Colombian political analysts suggest that we do not really know what is happening in the negotiation between the Colombian government of Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Yet we do know that, according to United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, death threats against civilians have increased 50% in the last year, since the talks started. What does such a worrying increase tell us about the impact of the peace talks in Colombian society and vice versa?
So far the parties have reached an agreement on two points of a six-point negotiation agenda. The partial agreement on the land issue, which most analysts recognise as the cause of the conflict, and the agreement on political participation, which has ignited the ideological struggle and justified the continuation of the armed conflict, show that the peace talks have achieved unprecedented results. However, the parties still need to deal with the victims’ rights, which represent a serious challenge to the transition from war to peace, for it requires dealing with the ongoing damage caused to Colombians’ social fabric by many years of war.
Scepticism remains high in regards to the implementation of a Comprehensive Rural Reform agreed to by the parties. However, scholars argue that recent developments, such as the technical assistance mechanisms suggested by the 2011 Human Development Report and the National Agrarian Pact of August 2013, together with regional peace programmes, might be a sign that the country is moving towards a new rural Colombia. Moreover, I would argue that the agreement on the land issue shows that Santos and FARC have finally yielded to voices calling for a national peace policy that aligns with regional peace projects. This is central for solidifying an ‘imagined’ geography in which previous enemies can coexist and even collaborate within a rural model of development. However, such coexistence can only occur if FARC and Santos recognise each other as part of the same imagined community.
To create an imagined community means to unleash a renewed national identity-building process, which can only occur when the wounds of the past are dealt with, thereby enabling the social fabric to start to heal. The lack of knowledge about the parties’ wrongdoings during the armed conflict suggests the need to take seriously FARC’s proposal for an International Commission for Historical Memory, which complements the work of the National Centre for Historical Memory and enables Colombians to know the suffering endured by victims in all margins of society from an ‘impartial’ perspective. So far, the parties have shown some willingness to move in the right direction. Both the Colombian government and FARC have recognised their involvement in human rights violations and have set up a room next to the negotiation table with commemorative objects sent by the victims, in order to show respect for their suffering. These actions shed light on how the reconciliation of two enemies who have fought for over 50 years can take place; for it is through recognising ‘our’ victims that the concept of ‘we’ can be reconstituted.
The peace talks are far from reaching this final stage though. However, the agreement on political participation represents a milestone reached: two enemies recognising that there is a need to “deepen and strengthen our democracy.” Yet, two days before the agreement was released to the public, the leader of the Conciencia Campesina movement, César Garcia, was killed. The road ahead for the peace talks to open a Political New Beginning in Colombia, in which all sectors of society can engage in politics without the threat of violence, is still long. To achieve this, both parties must work together to reinvent a nation torn apart by more than 220,000 deaths and 4.6 million internally displaced persons over the last 25 years of armed conflict.
Dr. Andrei Gomez-Suarez is a Research Associate at the Centre for Criminology at the University of Oxford and a Researcher for the National Centre for Historical Memory of the Department of Social Prosperity of the Colombian Government. He is also a member of the Sussex Centre for Conflict and Security Research (SCSR), Rodeemos el Diálogo (ReD), and a founding member of British Academics for a Colombia Under Peace (BACUP).