In light of the interviews published last week, we have five areas of reflection regarding the peace agreement and the plebiscite.
The complexity of Colombia’s conflict: The FARC is not the only armed group in Colombia, a point that both Paula and Gabriela mentioned. In the regions of Chocó where our interviewees reside, it is other armed groups that presently exert the most influence. Accordingly, as Paula asks, “what happens with the other groups outside of the law?” For instance, the government speaks of the peace accords as “the end of the conflict and the construction of a stable and long-lasting peace,” including within the language of the plebiscite itself. This rhetorically suggests that the peace accord with the FARC could end the conflict in Colombia, as if full and durable peace can actually be achieved by negotiating with only one of the armed groups. This raises some questions, such as: Will these other groups, as some fear, take over the areas where the FARC used to have control, thus perpetuating the violence? Will some voters in the plebiscite encounter electoral fraud due to these other armed groups? These concerns and others highlight the broader context of violence in Colombia that extends beyond the FARC.
Victimization of poor and vulnerable: Several of people interviewed brought up the idea that it is the poor, the farmers, the people working hard to earn minimum wage that are most affected by the violence in Colombia. For Alejandro, this is all the more reason to support the peace process, in order to end the “persecution in the countryside.” While for Paula, this peace deal is problematic because it benefits armed group members over those who struggle to earn a living. Regardless of how people will vote, as both Alejandro and Isabela indicated, the plebiscite is significant because it allows the people of Colombia most affected by the violence, not just the political elite, to voice their perspective.
Peace, justice, and reconciliation: On the peace accords, many participants seem to express a high regard for total peace in Colombia; celebrating the fact that with the conclusion of the peace talks and the anticipated peace-agreement, Colombia has a chance to be free from the conflict with one of the internal armed groups. However, some of the participants seem to wrestle with the way in which justice has been served by the government. For instance, one of the patterns of thoughts on the peace accords and the upcoming referendum raise some questions around the concept of justice and reconciliation. For example: what does justice mean for the most vulnerable groups who are mostly affected by different armed groups? Does it mean giving several seats to the victimizers in Colombia’s congress? Does it mean economic reparations for the victims (the most vulnerable groups)? Does it mean repentance on the side of Farc rebels to the victimized groups? Is reconciliation possible in the victimized communities without confession (truth) and repentance from the victimizers?
Uninformed or misinformed voters: Another theme in these interviews is a concern over the Colombian people being uninformed or misinformed about the peace accords. Paula believes the plebiscite is a “smoke screen” while Juliana stated that the peace process “started four years ago, and they haven’t informed the people.” Others interviewed expressed personally feeling uninformed about the plebiscite and the content of the peace deal. This lack of information raises the concern, with the vote rapidly approaching, will Colombian voters be able to access sufficient, honest, and clear information about the content of the peace deal?
Peace from God: Some participants emphasized that God is necessary for peace in Colombia, although not dismissing socio-political action, while others put greater emphasis on the latter. As Seeders, we continue to reflect on both our role and the role of the Anabaptist community within Chocó in building and restoring peace among various ethnic groups of people who have been affected by the armed conflict in some way or the other. As Sebastian said, “God is love, and he wants there to be peace in Colombia and in the entire world.”
In conclusion, one of the lessons we can highlight from this experience is that the context of conflict, justice, peace, and reconciliation in Colombia is very complex. We recognize that having only lived in Chocó for several months we have neither experienced nor can truly understand the effects of violence in this region. In that regard, it was really important to hear the voices of Chocoanos on these peace accords and the upcoming referendum. Therefore, we are grateful to our respondents for their honest insights and participation which have provided us with a better understanding of this important moment in Colombia’s history
Postscript: It should be mentioned that there have been other important developments in Chocó in the midst of the context of the peace accords and the upcoming plebiscite. There were political protests in Chocó in July and August this year because of feelings of “chronic federal government economic and social neglect” by the people of Chocó due to unfavorable conditions such as unemployment, poor education and health care-systems, and poor infrastructure. This led us to wonder how might the process of the peace agreement be understood in relation to the protests in Chocó? How does economic and social progress at the department level relate to peace and justice? For those interested, these questions have been addressed, at least in part, in a separate blog, which can be found here.
Written by: Brendah Ndagire, Carrie Vereide, & Daniel Christie