No peace without rural development

The transformation of Colombia’s rural areas is vital to secure the peace process, as is the introduction of social services and government presence in neglected areas. Español

democracia Abierta
23 November 2017
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A soldier stands guard in front of the displaced community, as a helicopter arrives in Pie de Pató, Colombia. Foto: Mauricio Morales/¡Pacifista!

This article forms part of the section on the Negotiating Timeline: From Start to Finish, from the project “Peacemaking in Colombia: Lessons from the negotiators”, a collaboration between DemocraciaAbierta and the IFIT.

Visit the Negotiations Timeline here. 

Process Design

The timing of the exploratory phase of the negotiations greatly influenced the design of the comprehensive rural reform agenda item as a process which would seek to completely transform Colombia’s peripheral regions. At the time, because the government was already drafting a rural development bill, problems of cross-communication between ministries ensued due to the fact that the negotiations with the FARC in Havana were confidential and had not been disclosed across the wider-government.

The negotiating team decided to use the format - the same titles and subheadings - from the government's draft rural reform bill to structure their agenda item to include, inter alia, land access and use, titling, rural development, regional programs, productive use, and technical assistance. The official final designations of the item as “Comprehensive Rural Reform” (Reforma Rural Integral) reflects the multidimensional nature of the matter. Because the government proposal directly responded to FARC’s demands for rural reform, it served as the foundation for early discussions.

One issue that arose during the course of the negotiations was how to offer a proposal to the FARC which was both sufficiently ambitious and institutionally viable, but that also responded to their historical demand for land reform in a way that they would provide enough of an incentive for them to continue negotiating, and be able to present real gains to their constituency. The general agenda stated that even though the items could be addressed in any order, the starting point should be item 1: integral rural reform. This enabled the negotiators to start with the issues for which the commitments would fall on the government, such as rural reform, political participation programs, and crop substitution programs. This allowed the government to show its commitment to the negotiations and created incentives for the FARC to make similar efforts in other areas, such as the laying down of arms and compromise on post-conflict justice.

In October 2012, following the launch of the formal peace negotiation agreements in Oslo, this agenda item became referred to as a ‘golden bridge’ because it provided the FARC with a basis to justify their own armed struggle, even if the government did not share their vision in terms of the origins of the conflict. It set up a common ground that despite differences in opinion as to how the conflict began, allowed for agreement and a shared vision of the future. This shared vision facilitated discussions on land distribution programs and the provision of funding and technical assistance for different sectors, including agriculture, health and education. An agreement reached up on this basis, which was followed by the development of a methodology for the impending peace deal negotiations.



The Negotiations and Challenges

The land issue was most probably the hardest part of the negotiations, because of how differently the government thought about issues of land access and use. The FARC wanted to talk about massive expropriations and a more classical land reform, where the government would take control of cattle ranching haciendas (large farms). To deal with this issue, the government created two subcategories: land access and land use. Many substantive agreements were reached, including to distribute land through legal mechanisms and to create a fund; to title the land of peasants who previously had no title; to implement mechanisms and policy measures to tackle the environment and economic challenges posed by the type of land use; and to tackle the problem of unproductive land through a cadastre (land registration data base) and property tax. In addition to this, a series of measures to provide guarantees and access to justice in rural areas through alternative conflict solution mechanisms were formulated, such as fora for social dialogue in the regions.

All of this sequencing was very hard to develop, because for the FARC, land use and land access simply meant land expropriation, which was not politically or legally possible nor desirable. The negotiators spent the first four months just discussing land issues and still had to discuss public goods and productive assets. Another complicated issue was the government having to refuse discussion of certain sensitive negotiating items that were not in the agenda, such as mining, territorial ordering, or food sovereignty, because these issues were strictly off the table.

The FARC's approach to the negotiations changed after the introduction of the civil society forums: they updated their ideas and were willing to talk about ideas from civil society.

Confidence Building Measures (CBMs)

Civil society proposals were important in building trust and confidence between parties around issues of rural reform. As a result of the introduction of civil society forums, the FARC changed their approach by updating their ideas demonstrating a willingness to discuss previously proposed ideas from civil society. The negotiating team also looked at other land reform programs in Latin America, such as in Brazil and Mexico, which helped create better policy briefs for the negotiators. This meant the policy briefs were better presented to the FARC at the negotiating table. The negotiating team found that the breakthroughs in this case came in small three-by-three meetings or in the drafting commission, whereas the negotiating was treated more as a public forum for presenting the bigger proposals.



The plebiscite on 2 October 2016 was the adopted mechanism for ratification. Rural reform, as an agenda item, didn't play such a big role during the plebiscite campaign. Most of the attention was on justice and political participation, which were the most contentious issues. Outside of public debates, many groups either strongly opposed rural reform, or worried about particular issues within this agenda item, such as tax increases. The opposition, and in particular former President Álvaro Uribe, revealed their opposition to a cadastre (land registration survey), which demonstrated that they were against an increase in land taxation. There was not as much noise about other agenda items, but there was definitely an underlying concern that these reforms might generate a more equal distribution of land and a better use of productive assets.

Another public concern during the plebiscite was the issue of community participation – many thought this would drastically change the way states operate in terms of the decision-making processes. The other big concern was a lack of information about the amount of resources available to implement all these programs. Many economists and the business sector believed there were no resources for this, even though others argued that resources were present and would just have to be allocated efficiently.


Implementation and Verification

Rural reform is one of the hardest agenda items to implement because it demands one of the bigger commitments on the part of the state. Colombia is a heavily centralized country, and there are regions where there is no state presence. Building a state from 0 is therefore a long-term project and not something that can happen in the next few of years. The expectations are high in rural regions, as locals want to witness immediate changes in terms of access to water, energy, and income. There is an inherent gap between citizens’ expectations and the time required to actually implement these changes.

The negotiators considered ways to implement short-term, rapid responses in order for communities to acknowledge and see changes happening, even if they are small in scale at the start. However, the amount of the effort required is still huge because of synchronisation issues. Roads, schools, water systems, and energy infrastructure must all be implemented simultaneously in different regions. This represents a huge task because of the difficulty to coordinate at the national and local level, especially in advance of the March 2018 national elections, as politicians concerned with re-election are more interested in achieving short-term goals.

Colombia is also in a difficult macroeconomic situation: the national government, largely due to the decline in oil prices, does not have the fiscal space and capacity it had three years ago when negotiations took place. Institutional capacity is also relatively weak at the local level. Projects on the ground will be the most challenging in involving the private sector, communities, and cooperation agencies, and will require strong leadership and institutional design. Accordingly, the vice-president was designated as head of the implementation and the commissioner for the coordination of the different sectors. Historically, resources in Colombia have been spent in urban areas, which poses a challenge. Changing these spending patterns will prove hard. The general public doesn’t understand the importance of investing in rural areas, or the impact this investment can have on urban wellbeing by providing opportunities in rural areas therefore minimizing urban area migration. 

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