Given the introduction published last week, we carried out a short interview with seven Chocoanos to help us really understand what some of those in Istmina, Andagoya, San Antonio, Quibdó, and Condoto felt and thought about the peace negotiations, the peace accords, and the upcoming plebiscite. These individuals included young, middle-aged, and older adults, and some from inside and outside of the Mennonite Brethren community in Chocó. In order to protect the identity of our participants, we have used pseudonyms instead of their real names.
We formulated several questions to guide our interviews and the following are some of responses we gathered from the participants.
What are your thoughts on the process of the peace accords?
Sebastian: For peace, we need to vote. We need peace and not war.
Paula: Someone who knows the Bible would say yes, that peace can only be achieved when you know Christ, that he is the Prince of Peace. [But] I want to make two points. We know that in Colombia there isn’t just one group outside the law and achieving an agreement with Farc would be an important step. But, what happens with the other groups outside of the law?
Gabriela: I would like there to be true peace and that it be the reality because peace is what we want. And may there also be peace with the other [armed] groups. They have also done misdeeds and should turn in the people they kidnapped.
Sofia: Well, the truth is that I think that the only one who can give peace to Colombia is God, and that the president should look to God for guidance because it is He who can do all things.
Alejandro: The process seems viable to me. After all the attempts that former governments made, none had advanced as much as now.
Juliana: I do not agree much with the peace process because they are doing it with only one group outside the law. With only one group we can’t talk about peace in Colombia as such. And although I do not know well the contents of the accords, they seem to me to be benefiting just one group too much.
Isabela: I think that despite there being many points with which I do not agree, I consider that it is a big achievement for us as Colombians after so many years of violence, of abuse and murders, etc.
What are your thoughts on the upcoming plebiscite?
Sebastian: When the peace process is accomplished may there be no more need of plebiscites.
Paula: It seems like a smoke screen to me. Supposedly, great there’s peace! But, there are many things behind this. For example, if the sons of the rich had gone to war, the violence would have ended a long time ago. It’s low-income people that are most vulnerable.
Sofia: I do not know much about the plebiscite.
Alejandro: I think it is an opportunity for the people to decide. We’re accustomed to the government asking the people just to follow protocol when the decision has already been made. The fact of having this plebiscite is very significant for the country.
Isabela: To me it seems like a good gesture for the president to allow the people to participate in this decision knowing his position on these peace accords, keeping in mind that as president of the Republic he has authority to unilaterally make this decision.
Do you plan to vote in the upcoming plebiscite?
Sebastian: Yes, if there’s a way.
Gabriela: Yes, for there to be the true peace that we want.
Alejandro: Yes, as a Colombian citizen it’s my duty to do so. A peace process, although it has a lot of difficulties, is possible, and it’s better to try it instead of crossing your arms and doing nothing.
Juliana: Yes, I would vote, but I would vote no.
Isabela: Yes, I’m going to vote. It is a duty I have as a citizen. Additionally, I hope to express my will for peace.
If you are okay with answering, which way do you plan to vote? And why?
Sebastian: Yes, may the peace process be accomplished. This is what we are looking for.
Paula: I plan to vote because I want to say no. I do want peace, but not under these accords. There is too much injustice in these accords. It doesn’t seem just to me that a normal person has to work so hard to earn minimum wage and that a person who demobilizes earns so many benefits.
Gabriela: Yes. If the plebiscite doesn’t win, things will get worse. We’re going to have to say yes so that things don’t go backwards. We have to say yes on October 2nd (2016).
Sofia: I would vote no because they should pay for all of the evil that they did.
Alejandro: Yes, because in Colombia after 50 years of war, it’s the civil population, the farmers, the poor who have suffered the most, so it’s good to vote yes.
Juliana: I’m certain that I’m going to vote no. Whatever the case may be, no. I think there are many people that do not have the knowledge of why they are going to vote. They just base their decision on what’s being said on the streets. Many people do not have interest in what’s happening because they don’t see any future in these accords. Because of a lack of information or bad information many people close themselves off. They made so many agreements, and they didn’t do their job of informing Colombians well. They started four years ago, and they haven’t informed the people. These agreements don’t get my attention. If you commit a crime, you should pay for that crime. The whole world wants there to be peace, but that it be a just peace. They are giving many benefits to the Farc, and this doesn’t seem just to me.
Isabela: I will vote yes because we’ve tried to get peace by means of weapons, of war which has generated more violence. This is a more correct way to look for peace.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Sebastian: May there be no more disagreements. May there be agreements and may peace be accomplished. God is love, and he wants there to be peace in Colombia and in the entire world.
Gabriela: True peace is what we need the most.
Alejandro: I don’t think that any peace process is easy. Today more than ever Colombia has the opportunity for the armed actors to return to civilian life, and we hope that they do less damage as civilians than with guns and drug trafficking. May there no longer be so much persecution in the countryside and may Colombia prosper. A bad agreement is better than a good dispute.
Isabela: I agree with those who have expressed the opinion this peace process is lacking many things and that many crimes committed by the guerilla fighters will remain in impunity, but I am sure that no peace process will be perfect, and it’s necessary to overlook many things to obtain this so-desired peace agreement with the FARC.
These responses to our questions demonstrate both similarities and differences with regards to how some people in Chocó think about the peace process and the plebiscite. Next week, in Part III of this blog, we will offer several reflections based upon some themes that emerge from the responses of our participants.
Written by: Brendah Ndagire, Carrie Vereide, & Daniel Christie