Francisco Diez has extensive experience mediating conflicts throughout Latin America and is actively working on the Colombia peace process.
Colombia is a country of contrasts. While military dictatorships and foreign indebtedness characterized most of the continent during the latter half of the 20th century, Colombia experienced democratic regimes and kept its finances under control. Yet it was also the only country in the region with a strong guerrilla movement that remained active for decades.
The political elites and social leaders of Colombia are among the most intelligent and educated men and women in the world. The country’s entrepreneurs and traders are among the most successful, and they have produced wealth and a reasonable level of development. Yet the economy has been plagued by drug production and trafficking.
A COMPLEX SOCIETY
In Colombia the institutional framework of democracy and the separation of powers are firmly established. Modernity and technology have reached most of its cities. Yet in much of the countryside, life and personal integrity are in constant danger, the institutions of the state are largely absent, and legality is selective at best.
This combination of contrasts has generated a very complex society. The country has become a mosaic of different social groups with limited contact and little knowledge or awareness of each other’s reality. Divergent social circles look at each other as strangers, even as enemies to be killed. The presence of violence in social relations has become ‘normalized’ in the culture. This is the very difficult social dynamic that feeds armed violence. It is what the peace process must attempt to reverse.
SUPPORT FOR PEACE
The external context for peace negotiations in Colombia is favorable. There are no more armed conflicts in the continent. The shift in bilateral relations between the U.S. and Cuba leaves any violent insurgent movements in the region without support. The governments in neighboring Ecuador and Venezuela strongly support the peace negotiations, like the rest of the world. The ruling elites and leading economic interests realize they will make more profits in a future scenario without violence and insecurity. Politically progressive social movements around the world have found that they can achieve better results if they get away from violence.
The guerrillas participating in the talks in Colombia realize that if they want to leave a legacy after so many years of struggle, it could be obtained by peaceful means, not through war. For his part, President Santos knows that the only way to transcend his predecessor and greatest political rival, Alvaro Uribe, is to successfully conclude these negotiations before the end of his last term. In short, the process of peace negotiations has excellent external conditions and strong motivations among key actors to move ahead.
BUILDING BRIDGES WITH RESEARCH
From the peacebuilding perspective, the greatest challenge lies in generating common spaces and overcoming distances between social sectors. Building bridges and shared spaces of coexistence are needed among people positioned as adversaries or enemies. This requires convincing people that violence cannot be a resource to resolve differences or resolve disputes.
Peace research can make an important contribution to these efforts. Examples of the ways this is being done in Colombia include the following:
- Working with the Peace Commissions of the Colombia Congress to provide data about the concrete benefits of peace agreements in comparison with conflicts that end with the victory of one side. This has helped them overcome skepticism among their peer congress members about the value of negotiations.
- Preparing a comprehensive paper on land reform for the Catholic Church and presenting the findings to Church activists working in the affected regions.
- Sharing comprehensive comparative papers on demobilization, disarmament and reintegration, on truth and reconciliation commissions, and on ratification mechanisms with the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace, while also answering requests for information about implementation mechanisms and victims’ issues.
- Contributing articles to journals and providing interviews to newspapers.
- Presenting research findings to university faculty and students and to NGOs and civil society activists.
- Establishing close contact with the other foreign supporters of the negotiations, including the UN, the Organization of American States, and the Norwegian and U.S. Embassy.
In Colombia there is an urgent need to activate connections among divergent sectors of society, to bridge differences of ideology, to create new collaborative spaces for former adversaries, and to sustain the profound social and cultural changes that will become possible and necessary upon completion of the peace negotiations. The principles of peacebuilding and the knowledge of what has worked in previous peace accords can help in this process.