Colombia: the struggle for peace

There are extraordinary resonances and lessons for Northern Ireland

 

If the North’s peace process has been complex and tortuous, with great leaps forward and moments of precarious backsliding, it is as nothing compared to that also firmly underway today in Colombia. But there are extraordinary resonances and lessons in both for the other, as an important piece of reporting for a series in this paper this week by Dave McKechnie illustrates.

After a 52-year war that left 220,000 dead and seven million of the 47 million population displaced from their homes, a peace deal between the government and the guerilla movement Farc is seeing the beginnings of weapons decommissioning, of the reintegration of combatants into society, a transitional justice mechanism, and amnesties for political prisoners. The process has also put an important emphasis, one that could have lessons for the North, on the experience and testimony of victims – no hierarchy here between victims of paramilitaries and those of the state.

We got into this mess together and together we have to get out of it

The deal, which touches on almost every aspect of life from the replacement of the coca crop, to education, to land reform and infrastructural development, was the product of four years of talks in Havana. Although initially narrowly rejected in a referendum last year, a substantially similar agreement was then ratified by parliament.

Martha Amorocho’s son Alejandro, who died in the Farc bombing at El Nogal social club on February 7th, 2003. Photograph: David McKechnie
"The inspiring Martha Amorocho, who lost her son Alejandro (above) in a Farc bombing, remains evangelical about pressing on with the process and the need to teach young people about their value in building a new society."  Photograph: David McKechnie

Implementation is a slow and costly business, supported by international funding from the US and EU among others. But it is hindered by the continued activity of right-wing paramilitaries which remain a deadly threat to leaders of social movements in the countryside and which move in to control territory given up by Farc.

The inspiring Martha Amorocho, who lost her son in a Farc bombing, remains evangelical, however, about pressing on with the process and the need to teach young people about their value in building a new society. “We need education – we have to take into account that truth is important. We have to have the balls to deal with the truth. We got into this mess together and together we have to get out of it. We’re not going to change in six months, that’s for sure. It’s not easy but we have to start with the kids.”

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