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The historic march for Peace – its political motivations, the price of peace, and who was excluded

Foto: EFE

NB: Please check the original posted on Tuesday in Spanish for links.

Until there are no longer first and second class citizens of any nation…there will be war” – Haile Selassie, former Emperor of Ethiopia

On Tuesday on the streets of Bogota bodies million Colombians took to the streets, saying they do not want more threats to the integrity and security of the same bodies. These bodies, after 49 years of murders, massacres, injuries, landmines, forced disappearances, forced recruitment, forced displacement, rape, torture, kidnappings, bombings, and threats, they want to bring to reality the dream of peace in Colombia in instead of a war against the rebels.

The mass mobilization occurred on the symbolic date of April 9, the second annual National Day for Memory and Solidarity with Victims, and the anniversary of the 1948 assasination of populist Jorge Eliecer Gaitán Ayala. His murder unclenched the civil war from 1948-58 known as “La Violencia”.

Some in the media are talking that tens of thousands attended the mach just in the Bolivar Plaza (in front of Congress, Colombia’s version of Hyde Park). Others, especially on social media networks (and later reports in the media) report 900,000 to one and a quarter million marching just in the capital.

In a sense, Tuesday’s march can be considered historic in that it demonstrates a complete change in the political tone of mass mobilizations. Just 5 years ago on February 4th, there was also the “historic” march which Barranquillero Engineering studenet Oscar Morales organized through Facebook called “One Million Voices Against the FARC”, which mobilized for the first time in years, millions of Colombians against this armed group. Nevertheless, this march was strongly criticized for its partiality (forgetting the crimes of the paramilitaries and the Armed Froces) and for validating the anti-guerrillero and war-mongering discourse of the political establishment and its counterinsurgency. It’s worth mentioning that former President Alvaro Uribe supported officially endorsed the march.

Now what we see is a peaceful march against war and for peace, organized by some entities which are by no means non-controversial (ex Senator Cordoba and the Marcha Patriótica have been accused by the Defence Minister, Juan Carlos Pinzón of having ties to the marxist insurgency).  Nevertheless, the nation in this occasion seemed to have been unified by a diverse march, without taking much notice of the social and political differences of the participants. This contrasts the march 5 years ago against the FARC-EP which was heavily supported by the middle and upper classes, and was explicitly linked to certain political interests.

Even though the march was organized by people who still have an ambiguous and controversial position in the public imaginary, the march and its gesture for peace wre well received by many sectors of mainstream opinion – the President of Colombia Juan Manuel Santos himself invited Colombians to march. The U Party was also in favour of the march (breaking away from Uribe’s opposition to it), and the Mayor of Bogotá and former M-19 guerrilla, Gustavo Petro also had passionately called on Colombians to unite in this gesture of solidarity towards the ‘victims’.

Basically, the marchers of the MP, who came from all parts of the country, many from rural areas/the Other Colombia, invited the urban and middle/upper class Colombia to temporarily forget their differences and march for a common peace. And the invitation, surprisingly, was accepted by the urbanity which only a few years ago was marching in pro of the counterinsurgency.

I think that the reflections of the editor of the popular Semana weekly (one of the most read publications in Colombia) best describes the political moment that occurred on Tuesday:

In this sense, perhaps the main lesson of April 9th is not just that the government achieved an important popular support in the street for its political negotiation [with the FARC], but that Colombians from very different sides, including oppositional ones, were able to coincide on one day in complete calm around a common objective. After the march, of course, this differences will continue. But, there are very few precedents of an alliance that goes beyond the most engrained of the establishment and the most ‘hardcore’ of the Left in favour of peace and a negotiated solution. Even the FARC and the ELN gave their support to the march.

Nevertheless, the pece march, ironically, despite its unifying character, also surfaced deep social and political divisions that the peace process has accentuated. Oponents of the march included the rare combination of the Democratic Alternative Pole (el PDA or El Polo, one of Colombia’s few progressive/left-wing parties that grew out of the demobilization of the M-19 guerillas), even though Polo congressmen and Mayor Ivan Cepeda and Gustavo Petro atended, and of course ex-President and his Puro Centro Democratico/Pure Democratic Centre, Alvaro Uribe. The Leftists, for their part, did not want to legitimize a politicization of the peace process used by the President for his re-election. The Uribistas/right-wingers, considered that negotiating with an armed group would be to legitimize it and that the President is negotiating “issues of nation” with a group of “narcoterrorists”. In particular, the Ex-President through his online commentary on Twitter said that the march was “disrespectful” to the victims of the insurgents.

The march nevertheless has many political interests behind it – first of all, it legitimized, partially, the Marcha Patriotica and the ex-Senator. Also, just because Santos did not march to the Bolivar Plaza (as the editor of Semana recounts, there was ‘no photo with the President and Piedad Cordoba’), it is easy to see how the march gave the President a big help in achieving the ‘popular mandate’ for the peace talks. Ex-President Andres Pastrana and several others had been criticizing the President for a negotiation seemingly without any popular support being carried out in secrecy in a far-off capital in the Caribbean. This march gave Santos an answer to those critics.-

In Colombia, like in any part of the world, there is no free lunch. Peace in Colombia should be created a plurality of actors, and it should be for all Colombians no matter who they are, as was the march on Tuesday. Peace should not belong to any one political party or leader, but as the Democratic Alternative Pole has argued, this is not the case.

In the same sense, we must ask ourselves, this march and this peace, its for whom, and by whom? Those who currently have a seat at the negotiating table in Havana, discussing the beginning of the end of a long and blood-soaked conflict are generals, government representatives who are almost exclusively from Bogota. They are not a broad representation of those who have the most interest in a  demobilization of the FARC-EP – those living in the communities under their control. On the other hand, it is not the thousands of forced combattants/child soldiers that are representing the FARC-EP at the table, nor their victims, but Ivan Marquez, the no. 2 in this guerrilla organization and the leader of the Caribbean Block, who is wanted for several counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity by Interpol and the Colombian justice system.

In other words, what is being negotiated in Havana is a peace between murderers. The government as much as the guerrillas claim that they are the victims and that neither has committed to recognizing their complicity or facing their victims.

This lack of recognition of their crimes (from both parties), and this discourse in PRO of peace (which was the official government line at the march) was very different to the many placards from victim’s groups marching on the streets of Bogota that demanded memory, justice, and truth.

Not to say that the good should the be the enemy of hte perfect, but it must be recognized that like everything in Colombia, this process is experiencing a centralization and a bureaucratization which is taking away power and a place to speak for the communities that continue to live in Colombia’s multiple war zones. As analysts of the CINEP have argued, a durable and legitimate peace needs to be regionalized/come from the rural areas.

The government emphasis on prudence (which the guerrillas have also respected) towards the talks makes much sense given the chaotic nature of the previous attempt in the Caguán. Some have talked of submitting the accord to a Constituent/popularly elected Assembly or putting it to a referendum as was done in Guatemala (which could be coopted and defeated by the right-wing). Nevertheless, it would be a shame if this peace, like the incomplete peace of 58 which ended the era of “La Violencia” but began the era of the FARC, would be like the war in Colombia – imposed by the powerful on ‘The Other Colombia’ without consulting nor giving space for the voices who live there.

Uribe and his ‘Pure Democratic Centre’ movement say that they are not opposed to peace per se, but that they are against ‘peace with impunity’. The diversity in the march Tuesday perhaps showed that the majority of Colombians want to put their differences aside and take advantage of this rare opportunity for a viable accord with the guerrilla force that just a few years ago was labeled ‘narcoterrorist’ and just a few decades ago was thought invincible. Nevertheless, just because the Uribistas have not gone out into the streets marching does not mean that they do not have support, nor that all victims are in favour of the process.

Peace, like everything, will come with a price. the FARC-EP have repeatedly said that they will not go to jail under any circumstances as part of an agreement. They consider themselves the victim of state and paramilitary violence; they want to do politics with guarantees of security and they do not want to address their victims, to say nothing of paying jail time for their crimes.

So, one could say that in a way, Alvaro Uribe is right. Undoubtedly, there must be a trade-off between ‘peace’ and ‘justice’. Many on the Left, with  good reason, were very critical of the demobilization process with the AUC paramilitaries. Nevertheless, it is very strange that the voice which is asking for justice for the FARC-EP for their crimes is the counterinsurgency ex-President, and that other commentators who criticized the deal with the paras are mute on this point. In any event, it has to be said that that balance between peace and justice is a very delicate and controversial issue; within the mainstream media, politicians, and the majority of analysts I have read who are in favour of the process, there is a language of forgiveness and reconciliation used which presupposes that the victims of the FARC-EP owe the guerrillas forgiveness because they all owe the country reconciliation. However, the trade-off between how much peace and how much justice is not something that can be imposed from Havana or Bogota. The peace in 58 was a peace between murderers, powerful interests, and it was imposed, leaving open and unhealed the wounds that would leave the soil of Colombia fertile for the bloodshed of the next half-century.

 

Finally, the war in Colombia in many ways is and is not against the FARC-EP. These guerrillas continue to displace, kill, threaten, forcibly recruit, and commit all kinds of war crimes and crimes against humanity, but the violence of new paramilitary groups is much more of a threat to public security than are the guerrillas, as reported by the conflict think tank Corporación Nuevo Arco Iris. This is not to say that the human suffering of the victims of the FARC-EP should be given less priority because the violence of the emerging paramilitaries is greater, but it is to say that a peace accord with the FARC-EP (and even with the ELN) will not put an end to war and violence in Colombia in a holistic way.

In fact, on Tuesday morning before the march Presidenet Santos on his Twitter account recognized the unfortunate murder of Ever Antonio Cordero Oviedo, a human rights activist working towards land restitution who was killed in Valencia, Cordoba. This man was but one of thousands of Colombians who continue to be victimized by this new manifestation of paramilitarism, for whom the government discourse that these groups are ‘merely criminal gangs’ reduces them to being outside of the ‘armed conflict’ and into the realm of ‘general delinquency’. In other words, for these thousands of victims, there was no mass march. In these thousands are also ADOM in Chocó and the women of the Enchanted Valley in Cordoba.

In Colombia, economic development of certain sectors is tied to war. The war in Colombia is a kind of institution in and of itself. Disarming this institution (literally), whose roots are have nexuses with so many other institutions such as the political and economic power of the nation, as well as the military industrial complex, will come at a high price. The war in Colombia is a very profitable business, and to end it there has to be a fundamental change in Colombian society.

This peace process must therefore be transformative for Colombian society. It can not only be reconciliation between victims and perpetrators (two identities which often intersect), but also a new social contract that begins to break down that wall which divides The Two Colombias. The peace with the FARC-EP must be a process that not only begins other peaces with the ELN and the neoparamilitary groups, but also that begins a wider conversation about the structural violences of poverty, patriarchy, racism, inequality, state violence, and above all classism which produced the guerrillas in the first place

Will the country have this conversation? Who knows. 10 years ago it was impossible to imagine a negotiation with the ‘narcoterrorists’ and now it is something which receives general support. It took a decade of counterinsurgency, displacement, murders, cooptation by the state by paramilitarism, and Total War, but at least this march showed that Colombians can change their opinion and leave aside warmongering and hate against the guerrillas in favour fo a supposedly common good (a national peace). However this change, as what will come after it, will also have its price.

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“It’s Colombia, Not Columbia” – Positividad como propaganda?

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Recientemente noté que una campaña virtual, “It’s Colombia, Not Columbia” empezada por una empresa digital, Zemora, y su vice-presidente de operaciónes, Carlos Pardo, ha conquistada las redes sociales, y la comunidad colombiana en Twitter y Facebook.

Es algo positivo, creo yo, no solo que nuestros amigos non-colombianos finalmente estarán conscientes del error ortográfico que nos molesta a todos los colombianos, pero que unos jovenes dínamicos de la nación se hayan inventado semejante campaña para rechazar los estereotipos negativos y ignorantes que por demasiado tiempo han definido el imagen internacional del país.

Mucho de lo que la campaña propone es verdad – tanto en terminos de seguridad como reducción de pobreza, en las ultimas dos decadas Colombia ha progresado bastante. Al fondo de la campaña hay una intención muy noble – mostrar el “lado bueno” de Colombia, para que nos conozcan por nuestros maginificos cantantes, artistas, escritores, y activistas por la paz embez de nuestros narcotraficantes y matones. Y, a un paso (dolorosamente) lento, Colombia si esta superando su legado negativo. La Colombia de los años 1990s y los primeros años de los 2000s tenia casi la mitad de sus habitantes viviendo en pobreza; ese numero se ha reducido hoy a un tercio. En el 2002, La organización mundial por la salud de la ONU calificó a Colombia como el país mas violento del mundo, y entre circulos diplomaticos se trataba de un “estado fallido”, hablado de la misma manera en la cual muchos se refieren a Somalia y la República Democratíca del Congo hoy. El 2012, en contraste, tuvo uno de las tasas de asesinatos mas bajas de hace 3 decadas. Tambien vale la pena notar, como el mismo Pardo explica, Medellín, la 2da ciudad del país, fue de ser la capital mundial de asesinatos en 1993 a ser votada una de las ciudades mas “innovadoras” en el 2012.

La campaña, hasta cierto punto, es muy humilde, y sensible al hecho que para demasiados de nosotros y nuestras familias, el baño de sangre que fue los 1990s y los 2000s nos ha dejado con heridas aún muy frescas. Pardo dice que el no quire “negar la realidad de Colombia ni el pasado, pero que si queremos concentrarnos en las cosas buenas”.

Problemas – Quien tiene el derecho de representar a Colombia? Quien fue el responsable por todo este “progreso”?

Sin embargo, Colombia, aún un país muy bello con un pueblo fuerte y resiliente, y con muchas cosas “positivas” que valen la pena resaltar, es todavia una sociedad racista, violenta, y sumamente desigual. Es necesario ser ultra-crítico: Cuales son las cosas “positivas” que se enfatizan? Los imagenes y cuerpos de quien son excluidos? No sorprende, que con una buena pasada por la pagina de Facebook de la campaña, solo se ve los imagenes típicos de la Colombia “avanzada” y “moderna”, con mayoritariamente cuerpos blancos y mestizo de tez europea, quienes parecen pertenecer a la global y cosmopolitana clase-media, con iPhones y todo.

La población ‘real’ del país, al contrario de lo que muchos colombianos quisieran presentar en el exterior, es un poco mas diversa. Por ejemplo, según algunas aproximaciones del PNUD, un tercio del país vive en el campo, y según organizaciónes afro como El Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN), hasta 20% del país se podra identificar como afrodescendiente. Colombia tambien tiene una población pequeña pero no insignificante de indigenas, quienes cuentan con ser de 3-5% de la población nacional, y tambien hay una comunidad de arabes en la costa caribe, ni de que hablar de los otros grupos etnícos y sociales que no hacen parte de mitos nacionales dominantes; me refiero a los 35% de colombianos que viven en la pobreza, el aproximado 4.6 milliones que viven en la míseria. Donde esta el lugar de esa Colombia, Colombia entera, con su bueno, su malo, y su feo en esta campaña? Por si caso, la Colombia en la cual solo mencionamos lo “positivo” es una donde no hay minorias etnícas, campesinos, gente pobre?

Ademas, esta campaña no es nada nuevo. Pardo reconoce la historia de campañas de red social anteriores que tambien han tratado de restorar el imagen dañado de la república, como ‘Un Millón de Voces Contra las FARC’ (UMVCF).

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Un poco de contexto para los que se perdieron de este movimiento: En el 2008, el estudiante de ingeneria barranquillero, Oscar Morales, tras Facebook, creo la campaña UMVCF – un movimiento virtual contra la insurgencia marxista (o como algunos les dicen ‘narco-terroristas’), las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – Ejercito del Pueblo (FARC-EP), pidiendo fin a la violencia, en particular a los secuestros. La campaña de Morales fue super exitosa, con literalmente milliones de colombianos, de todos estratos, saliendo a marchar a las calles. Morales, como ha sido documentado en la excelente crónica de la historia del Facebook por David Kirkpatrick, “The Facebook Effect”, se volvió en eje central del cuento de Mark Zuckerburg, el joven creador de Facebook y multimillionario, de que la naturaleza abierta y conectiva del FB podria traer cambio social y paz al mundo. Lo que a Pardo y a Zuckerburg les faltó mencionar es que una campaña contra un actor armado no es necesariamente una campaña para la paz. UMVF fue una especie de regalo político al discurso de demonización a la disidencia y de la “guerra contra/del terror” del ex-Presidente Alvaro Uribe Vélez, y su contrainsurgencia apoyada por los EEUU. UMVCF tambien fue muy conveniente para el estado como la campaña estaba muta sobre los abusos de la Fuerza Pública y las autodefensas/los paramilitares quienes han sido vinculado con el proyecto militar del estado colombiano.

De una manera similar, “It’s Colombia, Not Columbia” puede ser interpretada como una publicidad gratis para la agenda del gobierno nacional. Dentro de Colombia, todo el mundo conoce que el gobierno esta tratando de hacer un “marketing” profesional, y comercializar el imagen del país, con las campañas “Colombia, es pasión” y “Colombia, the only risk is wanting to say” (“Colombia, el unico riesgo es querer quedarse), todo aspirando en salir de la sombra de las guerrillas y el narcotrafico para presentar a Colombia como una opción viable para el turismo y la inversión extranjera.

Este pedazito de la entrevista en The Huffington Post con Pardo, traducido del inglés, creo que habla por si solo.

Hay algunos que dirian que Colombia no es el paraiso que la campaña esta pintando. Por ejemplo, pese a los actuales dialogos de paz, todavia las guerrillas del ELN y las FARC siguen comitiendo actos violentos, y Colombia sigue siendo el primer productor de coca en el mundo. Entonces, cuales exactamente son los cambios que ustedes quieren que el mundo vea?

Pardo: Queremos que la gente comprenda que Colombia es mucho mas de lo que se ve en los medios.  Queremos balancear el mensaje, y mostrar el lado positivo. Hoy, Colombia tiene una economía fuerte y los inversiónistas estan mirando hacia Ameríca Latina, particularmente a Colombia quien durante la crisis mundial financiera a mostrado tasas de crecimiento sostenibles. Creo que Zemora es un ejemplo de esos cambios, la gente piensa que todo lo que Colombia exporta es café, y eso es importante, pero también exportamos servicios digitales a clientes como Toyota, Nissan, BMW, Sea World”

De nuevo, Pardo no esta necesariamente equivocado – Colombia si se puede identificar como una de las economias mas fuertes de Ameríca Latina, si no del mundo, en este actual deprimiento global económico. Lo que a Pardo se le olvida mencionar, es que de acuerdo con el programa de desarollo economico del actual Presidente, Juan Manuel Santos, la extracción de los recursos naturales, y no la economia digital, sera la “locomotora” del crecimiento. Con la liberalización del comercio, y el “re-establecimiento” (violento) del estado en areas anteriormente “marginales” del campo, controladas por las guerrillas y ricas en recursos, gracias a la contrainsurgencia y la “estabilización” del país, Colombia ahora esta “open for business”/lista para la inversión. Vale notar que durante los dos periodos del Ex-Presidente Uribe, la inversión extranjera en Colombia, se triplicó.

Mi otro bello país, el Canadá, ya ha comenzado a agresivamente invertir en el sector minero coombiano, y un banco canadiense ya se apropió una de las instituciones financieras mas importantes de Colombia. Acusaciones de nexos entre la mineria, la agroindustria, y los neo-paramilitares han surgido por todos lados. Tambien tengo que mencionar como la multinacional gringa Drummond, recientemente fue responsable de un catastrofe ambiental en la costa caribe, y que los trabajadores de la mina del Cerrejón, la mina mas grande de carbón del mundo, en una de los departamentos mas indigenas y mas pobres de Colombia, La Guajira, estan en huelga pidiendo una mejor renumeración. Del otro lado, si, la pobreza se ha reducido 15% en una decada, pero el GINI, la medida de la desigualdad, casi ni se ha movido de su altura de 0.57 a su actual nivel de por ahi 0.55, haciendo que Colombia sea el país mas desigual de Ameríca Latina, despues de Bolivia y Haití, y uno de los mas desiguales del mundo.

Por decir lo menos, la inversión extranjera que parece como una motivación de esta campaña urbana, no esta sin su controversia. Se puede decir que esta inversión esta perjudicando lo maximo, y devolviendo lo menos, a aquellos quienes son invinsibles en la campaña “It’s Colombia, Not Columbia” y quienes historicamente han sido invisibilizados por la sociedad colombiana – los indigenas, gente pobre, los afro, los desplazados, la gente que vive en el campo y las regiones “periferas”.

En sintesis, ya que la paz con las FARC se acerca, los colombianos tenemos que re-conceptualizar que es “Colombia” (y como queremos que sea percibido en el exterior) para que podramos sobrepasar (pero nunca olvidar) el legado ultra-violento de la nación. Crearemos un nuevo pacto social, reconoceremos los crimenes de los poderosos, y haremos una Colombia mas diversa, mas inclusiva, (como la de la constitución del 91), y nos alejaremos de las estructuras de poder y desigualdad quienes dieron leña al fuego de la violencia en el primer plazo? O continuaremos a sostener los mismos cuentos de nación, y sistemas de desigualdad en donde algunos son escuchados, muchos callados, y las riquezas de la nación son vendidas al extranjero mas rico sin la consulta prevía de las comunidades quienes viven sobre ellas, pero en la cual baseamos a los extranjeros quienes se atreven a reconocer nuestras desgracias, o mucho peor, no saben como se escribe “Colombia”?

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