Colombia has suffered with civil conflict for many years. Here, Gabriela Helm questions whether the recent peace treaty really means peace.
Since the 1950’s, Colombia has been a turbulent country consumed by civil conflict. A war began in protest about social justice and people’s rights fought between left wing guerrillas such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian Government. Other groups such as the Leftist National Liberation Army (ELN), The Maoist People’s Liberation Army (EPL) and the 19th of April Movement (M19) are all factions involved in the violent and bloody civil war that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. Drug wars, guerrillas, murders, kidnappings, and crime have all become a way of life for the Colombian people who have endured and suffered the civil war for over five decades but is this all finally coming to an end?
On the 23rd of June, a long awaited peace deal was officially signed between President Santos and the FARC leaders. Although over the last year progress has been made in the form of FARC members laying down their arms and agreements over certain terms of the peace deal, it was still rocky waters until the end. There have been countless setbacks over the years however after 3 years of peace talks which began in November 2012, real change has begun.
Already in the first half of 2016, before the peace deal was officially signed, the people of Colombia were starting to hear and feel real change. Adverts on TV promote the path to peace whilst showing how many lives have been affected and that everyone should look positively to the future. Numbers of kidnappings and homicides have drastically dropped making the streets of Colombia safer. The most important fact is that after decades of violence and conflict, the people of Colombia are ready to change. 67% of Colombians asked from 5 major cities said they would go to vote in a plebiscite, and of those 61% would vote in favour of the peace treaty, parts of which have already been made public. That is 4% more than two months ago. We can only expect that number to rise as the people realise peace can now be a much nearer reality. It is vital that the Colombian people are ready for change, that’s including the Government, the FARC, and other rebel group members.
This is a momentous occasion for the Colombian people, some of whom, have never experienced life without war, however there is still a long way to go. What sort of ‘peace’ can the Colombian people imagine or have they been so desensitised with the war that a mere drop in violence and crime will go unnoticed? For peace to be achieved, do the government now need to help and enable the people to live well and freely? What about improving the standards of living, reducing poverty, and increasing the provision of education? Furthermore, we still need to consider the threat from the still active ELN group.
The ELN, the other major Guerrilla group, seem reluctant to engage in peace talks and already in 2016, they have been involved in numerous kidnappings and bombings. Peace negotiations will not begin unless the ELN cease their kidnappings which proves to be an obstacle in the way of Colombia gaining complete peace from the civil war. With the FARC laying down their arms, this also comes with many risks and could lead to the ELN gaining more power. There is a strong possibility that dissatisfied members of the FARC may aid the ELN by passing over their weapons or even joining the ELN forces if they believe the fight should continue; even taking over regions that the FARC will not occupy. The ELN may see this peace deal as an opportunity for them.
The peace agreement comes after serious talks regarding the many factors which need to be agreed before the country can finally start moving forward. With thousands of combatants involved, their re-integration to society needs to be carefully thought out. So far, 50,000 combatants have laid down their arms with just over 12,000 successfully completing the reintegration program, with another 17,000 working through the process. The process is a long one with all involved, including women and children needing to be re-integrated successfully back into society. In this area it could be said Colombia, so far, has been successful; looking at the figures where over 70% of the ex-combatants are in employment.
For the first time in the last 5 decades, real potential in the outcome of the peace treaty can be seen. Although some issues still remain to be dealt with, the signing of the treaty is something which will bring joy to most Colombians as Colombia’s path to peace has begun. If all is successful, for the people this will mean, less danger, less violence, and more freedom. The civil conflict has hindered Colombian’s development by huge lengths and hopefully with the conflict behind them, the country can now concentrate on finding much needed solutions to its other major problems.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.
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