Colombia: an election which will determine the fate of peace
By Thomas Mortensen, Colombia Country Manager, Christian Aid
As Colombians head to the polls on the 27th May, the internationally recognised peace agreement signed with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in late 2016, hangs in the balance.
Edited highlights of a debate between Colombian presidential candidates Ivan Duque and Gustavo Petro, held at New York’s Columbia University, 24 March 2018. A full recording can be watched here.
This agreement has the potential to put an end to more than 60 years of conflict which left 8 million victims, including 7 million internally displaced people and yet the Colombian society has been very polarised over the peace process from the very beginning. This remains the case, but more worryingly implementation has not moved at the desired pace and the peace process is fragile.
These are perhaps the most important Presidential elections in decades in Colombia. The new President could either push for the implementation of the peace agreement and the wider peace process, which also involves another insurgent group, the ELN, or block the peace process and allow the country to sink into a spiral of violence – fuelled by inequalities, impunity and resentment.
Since the agreement was signed, the FARC has gone from being an illegal armed group to a political party seeking to pursue their objectives through democratic means.
More importantly, as the FARC have put their guns aside, thousands of lives have been saved[i]. Whilst these are encouraging results of the agreement, FARC dissidents are growing in numbers and influence, communities are still being forced from their homes and there has been a steep rise in killings of human rights defenders – Colombia remains the most dangerous country in the world for human rights defenders.
The candidates’ stance on the Peace Accords
Where do each of the candidates stand with regards to the peace process? Three of them (Gustavo Petro, Sergio Fajardo and Humberto De la Calle) are fully supportive of the peace process and two (Ivan Duque and German Vargas Lleras) have reservations and have stated they will revise the agreement should they be elected. According to polls, Duque, Petro and Fajardo stand with a chance of winning – in that order.
Unless one of the candidates gets more than half the votes on 27 May, there will be a second round to elect the President, on the 17 June.
The focus of Christian Aid´s work in Colombia is to support an end to the violence and to tackle its root causes. We work with partners who have been pushing for the implementation of the peace agreement. With our partners, we insist on laws being pushed through Congress to allow the transitional justice system to work effectively and independently. This is essential in order to guarantee the right to truth, justice and reparation and to ensure that there will be no repetition of the crimes. This is vital for Colombia´s 8 million victims of the conflict, many of whom are women victims of terrible crimes of sexual violence.
Land: the key factor
Like our partners, we want Congress to approve and the Government to implement a much-promised land reform to ensure access to land and basic public services to Colombia´s peasants, indigenous people and black communities. Widespread and violent land grabs, often linked to commercial interests, have contributed to an extreme degree of land concentration. According to OXFAM[ii], 1% of land owners control 81% of the land and the remaining 99% share 19%, making Colombia the country with the highest land inequality in Latin America.
The peace agreement is strongly supported by the international community. For example, the former Irish deputy prime minister (Tainaste), Eamon Gilmore, who is the EU Special Envoy for the peace process, has spoken very positively about the peace agreement on behalf of the EU.
The celebrated peace agreement also deals with the complex issue of production and trafficking of drugs by proposing a system under which producers of coca leaves can voluntarily substitute their coca crops with alternative sources of income and at the same time have access to markets and public services. The pilots carried out to test the viability of the system were very successful.
In spite of this, the Government has gone back to the habit of not fulfilling its promises, not consulting with farmers and carrying out forced eradication of coca. Today, production of coca leaves and cocaine is at an historic high. Without claiming it to be a panacea, we believe that implementing the policies of voluntary crop substitution could go a long way in addressing the problems of drugs and the associated violence. Our partners have been working with the current Government and last week, they held a public hearing about this in Congress. Once the new President takes office, they will continue to try to influence his Government to adopt more effective drug policies.
Christian Aid and our partners have been actively advocating for the implementation of the agreement to dismantle paramilitary groups. Historically, paramilitary groups have worked in collusion with parts of the armed forces – the police and the military – and evidence suggests that these links still exist[iii]. Making Colombia a peaceful country is going to be very hard if some legitimate authorities continue to collaborate with illegal armed groups, which are directly responsible for the violence endured by millions.
The results of this election are crucial, and it will be up to Colombian society to determine through their votes the long-term survival or not of the peace process.
[ii] OXFAM, 2017 “Radiografía de la desigualdad”