By Susan Abad
After more than 50 years of conflict and several failed negotiation attempts between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, President Juan Manuel Santos initiated a new rapprochement with the country’s leading guerrilla group in the search for peace-building.
The first steps — which according to the president began a year and a half ago, and were worked on for the last six months in Havana — lead to the signing of a 5-point agenda called the General Accord for an End to Conflict and the Construction of Stable and Lasting Peace, which will be discussed in Oslo, Norway, since Oct. 8.
The announced issues include rural development policies, political participation, an end to conflict, illegal drugs, and victims. Those topics, along with the amount of importance placed on each point and the names of the individuals who will represent the Colombian society at the meeting, were generally well received in the country.
However, the agenda left uncertainty about the more than 4 million people affected by assassinations or forced recruitment of their family members, as well as by kidnapping, extortion, displacement, and permanent injury at the hands of the FARC.
Officially, there are 5,000 people missing because of the guerillas, and around 2,000 Colombians have registered with the government as victims of crimes by the FARC, including 135 cases of sexual violence.
Victims are unrepresented
Although President Santos said the commitment to truth will be a pillar of the process and that victims have the right to know “what happened and who is responsible,” for Francisco Santos, former vice-president under the administration of Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010), “it’s clear that [in this negotiation] the victims don’t matter to them. They skipped quickly over that point,” he warned in an online video column.
Clara Rojas, director of the organization País Libre, or Free Country, which advocates for the detained and disappeared, told Latinamerica Press that “we the victims don’t feel represented in the negotiating team. We are worried that this deal is an agreement to impunity.” Rojas, who was a captive of the FARC for six years, said “the truth shouldn’t be up for negotiation, but rather a requirement before sitting down to a dialogue. The FARC announced in February they would stop kidnapping, and they aren’t fulfilling that promise.”
Nevertheless, Marco Romero, director of the nongovernmental organization Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement, or CODHES, said negotiations are a good start.
“It’s a big decision for the country because peace is definitely the only way to avoid the number of victims in Colombia multiplying by the hundreds of thousands,” he told Latinamerica Press. “In the context of continuous war, the feasibility of guaranteeing victims’ rights is very restricted.”
Romero, an expert in forced displacement, said “the agreement that has so far been disclosed has a very important element … that the government is prepared to discuss the country’s agrarian problems as part of the agenda. Colombia has one of the most anachronistic agrarian economies in the world.” He cited a land concentration rate of 0.37, measured by the Gini coefficient (that estimates the inequality of income or wealth distribution in an area) and rural poverty rates above 67 percent. “That is to say, the majority of tragedies and victims of the conflict are concentrated in rural areas,” Romero said.
Archives found on the computer of the military head of the guerilla movement, Víctor Julio Suárez, better known as Mono Jojoy, when he was killed in September 2010, showed that the FARC owns roughly 48,000 Ha (120,000 acres) of land in the country, worth approximately US$37 million, largely the result of removing campesinos, indigenous peoples, and Afro-descendants through violence and intimidation.
Without a doubt, the relationship between the social problems of the countryside and land ownership will be one of the most difficult issues to resolve in the reparations for victims. President Santos recalled that his administration pushed the Victims and Land Restitution Law forward. It was approved in June 2011 and seeks to return to their owners lands that were dispossessed or abandoned because of the conflict.
But a year after the law went into effect, Comptroller General Sandra Morelli said only 2 percent of the 19,000 requests for restitution submitted by alleged victims had been reviewed.
“The FARC needs to understand that to move forward in a serious negotiation process, the truth, reparation, and asking the victims of their violent actions for forgiveness are necessary,” Senator Juan Fernando Cristo, of the Colombian Liberal Party, told Latinamerica Press. He is also the man behind the creation of a truth commission in the “Legal Framework for Peace,” a juridical initiative for constitutional reform approved in June by the Colombian Congress. It provides the government with the tools for transitional justice in the event of demobilization of an armed illegal group.
For Cristo, “the recognition of victims’ rights during this process will give it the ethical and political legitimacy that a peace process of this nature requires.” He added that as negotiations progress, he hopes mechanisms will emerge “to allow the victims’ voices to be heard.”
Romero, the director of CODHES, hopes that “peace will help break the urban-rural divide that has made rural society shoulders all the costs of war and the inequalities of society.”
“The dilemma of the displaced is to find a productive opportunity in the rural areas that suits their worldview, their cultural and social capital, or to find better social services in the urban realm,” Romero said. “The solution is to find a way to get people back to productive activities, but while also having equal civil rights.”