Celebrating International Day of Peace in Colombia

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Co-Facilitator, Global Fellows Network

As we mark International Day of Peace 2021, we also reflect on the progress made towards achieving peace in Colombia. The peace agreement between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government was signed five years, in November 2016. As such, International Day of Peace provides the opportunity to reflect on the peace signatories and on the 13,000 reintegrated people who decided to transform their lives, all with the desire to build a new society and find lasting and sustainable peace.

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My reflections are towards four main themes that call my attention because they were key points in the document of the peace agreements, which, apparently, has been very rich in rhetoric (considering its 297 pages), but very poor in execution. The progress of the implementation of the agreements is currently at 28%:

  1. Security Guarantees: so far there are 285 peace signatories assassinated, 36 of these assassinations have occurred in the current year (2021). In addition, there have been more than 400 murders of social leaders since the signing of the agreements, which show the lack of guarantees on the issue of security and the aggravation of violence in the country.
  2. Socio-economic Reintegration: this is one of the great deficiencies of the peace process, because so far there are only 96 productive projects for the 13,000 reintegrated people, projects that mostly depend on land tenancy and titling of it to the peace signatories which has not yet happened. Another issue is that the government gave around US $2,300 to each reintegrated person to start a new business. Initially, the plan was to bring all this money together to create entrepreneurships collectively, mostly in the countryside on the lands former FARC were supposed to own, but as they do not own any land most of them have decided to use this capital to start small businesses or productive projects. Right now, there are 500 productive projects, but as they do not have any government assistance (as was initially promised) they sadly have the tendency to disappear.
  3. Political Participation: this is one of the points of least progress in the entire implementation of the Agreement. This is due to the lack of guarantees of citizen participation, the non-implementation of a political-electoral reform, the non-reform of participatory and democratic planning, and other points that are halted.
  4. Implementation, Verification, and Endorsement: the current government of Iván Duque was supported by Álvaro Uribe Velez, who was one of the main opponents of the Peace Process. As a result, the peace process has been affected by a notorious and growing lack of political will from the government to comply with what was agreed in the agreement. It seems there is instead the will to gradually undo what has already been implemented. This is demonstrated by low percentages of implementation, for example where departments highly affected by violence and war, such as Cauca, have an agreement implementation progress of only 3%, which is disastrous for the peace processes in this territory. There is little investigation into the murders and threats against peace signatories; so far only 21% of the murders have progressed into investigations and only 2% of 259 reported threats are being investigated.

Considering the previous points, it is necessary to think about what the possibilities of peace for a country like Colombia are in which during the last 38 years seven peace processes have been devised and yet peace is still an aspiration. To answer this, I want to say that the solution lies in the grassroots leaders and organizations, in the peace signatories, the reintegrated ones who, despite all the inconveniences, remain firm in their will for change and in their commitment to collectively build a new peaceful society, and finally in the desire of the victims to forgive in order to build a peaceful future.

The belief that the government and its political, economic, and military model are going to achieve sustainable peace must be put aside, because it is these same institutions that allow the perpetuation of violence and war. Instead, efforts to create peace must be redoubled by grassroots leaders and civil organizations that emerge due to the need of communities to help find solutions to their problems. Our hope is not in the government, our hope is in ourselves, in the people, in our social leaders, in our laborer’s, in our small actions that from time to time turn into great revolutions that could change the history of a country.

In other words, it is imperative to start believing and creating based on the assets of our communities to see lasting and sustainable changes. On September 21, 2021, Jennifer Divantoque, one of our 2021 Global Fellows, and I, Lissette Mateus, part of the Goldin Institute Global Team, were present as representatives of the Goldin Institute at the Emprende Paz festival, which took place in the Plaza de Bolívar in Bogotá, where 75 entrepreneurships and productive projects of reincorporated persons and victims of violence exhibited, to raise awareness and garner support for their various initiatives.

There, we find projects such as that of Mrs. Gilma Méndez, a native of Huila and a victim of violence who, at over 60 years of age, believes that peace is possible and that it is possible to transform her present and future. For this reason, together with her daughter, she created Salsa Pesto IAN, a delicious sauce that we bought with the intention of supporting her project. Doña Gilma told us that this product was sold to different organizations that work on the issue of peace, but sadly the product is still not registered with INVIMA (The Colombian Food Regulation Agency), which means that, although their product it is delicious, she cannot offer it to department stores or export it.

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In addition, we came across the project of Doña Rosita, an empowered woman and a victim of violence who told us that one of her sons disappeared, another was murdered, and now she has been left with 6 grandchildren whom she has to look after, together with one of her daughters. Doña Rosita makes delicious Empanadas and Arepas de Huevo, but she says that her dream is to have a restaurant where she can cook food from the Colombian Pacific, such as fish, rice with coconut, and Patacón.

We also found San Pedro Café, a product grown, produced, and distributed by four reintegrated people from the eastern and central bloc of the FARC. Although the government is not supporting them, they remain firm in their desire to contribute to society. They have been working without necessary equipment but have still managed to produce this coffee with a lot of effort. When we asked them how we can help, they told us they needed equipment, knowledge, and education about good practices in production.

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Another product we found was La Trocha Beer, y La Roja Beer, produced by 12 former prisoners of war. This craft beer is delicious and it is also an endeavor that serves as an example of success and hope. Currently, they produce 2,000 litres of beer per month and the demand for their beer exceeds their capacity to produce it, so they need support with machinery and money to increase their production capacity.

Finally, we found farmers and other laborers products such as granola, chips, chicha, honey, fabrics, bows, a great variety of products which highlight many indigenous actions which are essential to peace. These signify the assets of different people who come together to build together from what they have, to seek a different future for themselves, their families, their communities and for our country.

While we were enjoying the products, we wanted to ask the different actors and participants of this festival a simple question: How can a person contribute to peace? The answers surprised us, because most of them answered that the first thing we had to do was learn to forgive: "heal your heart, leave hatred, anger, and when you have already achieved it, which is not easy, then, you can start to create things from art, from music, sports, cooking, anything can be a pretext for building peace”.

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After a day of great information, sharing, eating, learning about new products, and living in practice a dialogue of truth, justice, reparation, and non-repetition, we went home tired but inspired. The next day I cooked pasta for my family (clearly privileged) with Doña Gilma's IAN Pesto Sauce. Then I prepared a Café San Pedro and, while I was doing it, I could not stop myself thinking about all those experiences and stories that these two products tell, and questions continually appeared in my head:

How can I contribute to peace? Is there something or someone I should forgive? Something that I should heal?

How else can I help Mrs. Gilma and all the creators of this great social dialogue? These are questions which need to continually be asked and reflected on, not just on International Day of Peace but every day.

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