Colombia, it’s still a long road to peace

Beside international support, the possible way out from the actual stalemate and the implementation of the government-FARC deal will not finally mean stable peace for Colombians.

At the beginning of the 1990s the great majority of Colombians and many foreign governments decided that the main world problem and panacea for all the Colombian ills and violence had a name: Pablo Escobar, the world most famous drug lord and trafficker. Its hunting, which finally led to his death, represented for many the imaginary end of all the country problems. That was a known lie. Everyone knew violence and the cocaine business would not be over with Escobar death, and indeed violence and trafficking increased exponentially. Governments around the world supported Colombia, praised the victory in the war against drugs, and quickly forgot that Escobar was just a segment of a bigger problem.

That framework is similar to what is happening today in Colombia with the peace agreement between the government and the FARC guerrilla, and it was exposed by the recent Colombian rejection of the deal in the ballot box. The perception from inside and outside of the country is that Colombia is at one short step to eternal peace. The Noble Peace Prize for President Juan Manuel Santos has been an explicit show of support by the international community, and reflects that perception too. But even if the FARC-government deal will probably erase the most important reason for the internal fight and should be celebrated as a great historical achievement, it will anyway leave behind unresolved structural issues.

When Santos received the Nobel Peace prize, few days after the NO in the plebiscite, FARC Commander in Chief Timoleòn Jiménez, aka Timochenko, greeted the President with a message on Twitter, “The only award we want is peace with social justice for Colombia, without paramilitarism, retaliation or lies”. While sticking to its transformation process of turning toward a legal political movement, the Marxist guerrilla leader aimed to reinforce the peace process but at the same time showing their great distance to the opposition, and its greatest fear: physical extermination.

Indeed, what will happen to the almost fifteen thousand guerrillas when they will enter society and start doing politics no one really is talking about. The plebiscite vote exposed the population rejection of the FARC and well showed how difficult will be their reintegration. Colombian history is made of retaliation and killings of social movement leaders, human rights and political activists. That was the case of the Union Patriotica in the 1990s, of which 3500 of its members were killed by paramilitary forces in less than twenty years. Something similar happened recently with another leftist movement, the Marcha Patriotica. Since its foundation in 2010 around 120 of its members have been killed. To better understand how structural is the problem and how it went almost undebated during the four years and half of dialogue, already 13 political activists were killed since Timochenko and Santos publicly declared the end of the war in August. That culture of impunity is often related to the process of expropriation of natural resources and annihilation of political opponents, mainly led by paramilitary groups involved in narcotraffic activities and often in isolated areas where state officials and the national army have been closing one eye in the last decades.

For many in Colombia, paramilitarism, retaliation and lies coincide with former President Alvaro Uribe side, the main voice behind the No to the peace, and now with the keys to resolve the stalemate. When in 2006 Uribe reached a controversial agreement with paramilitary forces, many gave up arms and submitted to a transitional justice process, but many of them just reorganized themselves in criminal gangs. Main reasons, maintain control of certain territory and trafficking with the most lucrative Colombian resource to export: cocaine.

Beside the attempt to put in the deal the eradication of plantations, cocaine trade is another big unresolved issue. The FARC still control large part of the territory where cocaine production take place, and national and international actors interested in those territory are carefully and silently looking at the guerrilla legacy. Considering the enormous international interests in maintaining a strong flow of drugs from the country to international buyers, cocaine trade will not stop with the peace deal or a general agreement among all Colombian political factions. It will maintain instead Colombia in a state of perpetual war.

The actual stalemate after Colombians voted NO in a campaign that was actually based on lies and distortion of the terms of the peace agreement reflects how Colombia society fragmentation. Going to the table again with all the involved actors would be too a tremendous act of dialogue and democracy, but to change the agreement will mean many months ahead and harsh political games with in mind the 2018 Presidential elections. A stable situation of peace will not reached easily in Colombia, not even with a political agreement among political factions, which looks every day more and more difficult to achieve. On December 10, when Santos will publicly receive his prize in Oslo, all actors involved will be held accountable. For the moment peace is far, violence still going on, equal justice far from sight yet.