Postconflict in Colombia (11): Regional visions and resources for peace

We will witness a new attempt at rapprochement between the Colombian public institutions and certain regions of the country. It is extremely important to consider the expectations and the resources of these regions. Español Português

Paulo Tovar
5 April 2016

"Who doesn't long for peace! But this peace is achieved with incentives that look towards a better future, creating jobs, strengthening culture … When I speak with the guerrillas, they are also fed up, they want to sleep in peace, they are also human beings, they also need peace. The army and police also need peace." Interview with a key actor in Macarena-Guaviare region (south-east Colombia)


Members of Colombian indigenous communities. Raul Arboleda/AFP/Getty Images

If the Havana agreement is signed and approved (the probability of this coming to pass is high), we will witness a new attempt at rapprochement between the Colombian public institutions and certain regions of the country with which they have had little dealings in the past: regions precisely where  the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – the FARC - have greater presence and activity. This will not be the first attempt at rapprochment: beginning in the 1960's, different programmes have been implemented with this ambition in mind. However, it seems that these programmes have been more concerned with bringing a predefined offer to the table than to understanding local demands. For that reason, it is extremely important to consider the expectations and the resources of these regions, when faced with an ever-closer scenario of  post-conflict.

With the aim of contributing to those considerations, we at the Fundación Ideas para la Paz (Ideas for Peace Foundation - FIP), in partnership with the Fundación Paz y Reconciliación (Peace and Reconciliation Foundation – PARES[1]), have taken a closer look at local capacities for peace in a number of municipalities with historical FARC presence. The following highlights some aspects of this analysis, which  we propose will help understand how a post-conflict scenario is seen from the perspective of the regions and the considerable organisational capital that they have[2].

Correspondence between visions and proposals

In our approaching the regions, we included a seemingly naive question, which in practice was key in creating a environment of trust with significant local actors: "Imagine today is the year 2025, there is no longer any armed conflict, and the region is as you wish. Tell me what you see. " The answers to this question were systematised and categorised as shown in the following table[3]:

Chart1 pt(1).jpg

This table is indicative of the most and least important issues for local actors when they consider a post-conflict scenario and, therefore, give meaning to the notion of "peace". The table shows how the categories "Productivity and rural development", "Basic living conditions" and "Culture and education" account for more than 50% of responses. Comparatively, references to classical aspects of a peace process such as disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (category "End of conflict") or reparations for victims (category "Transitionality") are far fewer. In a way, this shows us that the regions' interest in the peace process lies less in visible aspects of violence and instead in structural changes that would underpin it. This is demonstrated by expressions of the following type:

Peace is not simply an agreement that is signed, it is the security that people have work, that they have basic needs met, that issues such as environmental sanitation are managed so that people have access to those services, from there peace can be built, having met all needs. "Interviews from Cauca-Nariño region (south-west).

However, these concerns are not absent from the agreement in Havana, particularly in the first agreement "Towards a new Colombian countryside: comprehensive rural reform" (Hacia un nuevo campo colombiano: reforma rural integral” -RRI). In fact, when given most of the issues outlined in first three categories of the table, it is possible to identify corresponding proposals in the RRI Agreement. Table 2 contains some examples:


This correspondence between the RRI policies and the regional 2025 visions takes on an even more striking character when considering local actors' lack of knowledge about the Havana agreement. In general, in the regions it is thought that the agreements are focused on the surrender of weapons and the reintegration of the FARC; hence the emphasis of different actors on peace being not "just" that (see quote above). Changing that perception and generating enthusiasm around the identified correspondence between the regional visions and the proposals agreed in Havana is a significant opportunity of which the backers of the agreements could take advantage.

Adverse conditions but not just empty space

The RRI agreement is not in itself novel, rather it considers a number of issues which have been the repeated focus of attention in different circles (academia, civil society organisations, international cooperation). The project interviews show, too, that the transformation of the countryside is a necessity deeply felt by local actors. It also reveals, through these actors, the existence of a vibrant social network in the regions, made up of a wide variety of associations of women, young people and small-scale producers, among others.

The preceding discussion challenges an external perception of these regions as empty spaces, or at best, natural paradises with poor levels of human capital and no social fabric to speak of. In this sense, more than 1,400 civil, community and producer organisations were identified in the 35 municipalities covered in the second year of our research; an average of 40 per municipality. With the intention of gaining a closer understanding of these organisations, the experiences of 58 of them were systematised. Our dealing with them allowed us to note that the most part of these organisations respond to community strategies to confront adverse conditions of violence and exclusion from development. Some of them have a more defined political position than others, indeed they may even have a substantial ideological proximity to the FARC, although they express a clear distancing from using violent means .

Several of them apply regularly for state aid, which has reached the regions principally through national programmes of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the National Apprenticeship Service or the Department for Social Prosperity. Access to resources provided by these programmes has been an important source of funding for these organisations and has maintained them. However, the provision of these programmes (some more successful than others) coexists with a high level of distrust towards public institutions; so, while the state is criticised for its absence or chronic failure, applications are made to government programmes and as a result of these resources the organisations see gains: for example the construction of a headquarters, access to supplies or technical training. For all these reasons, many of these heads of rural organisations deal with both the FARC and the public authorities, and use these communication channels to provide for the welfare of the communities to which they belong.

Undoubtedly, the regions most affected by the conflict will have much to say in an eventual implementation of the peace agreements; local actors may not have the last word on all issues, but it will be essential that the current negotiating parties are willing to be in dialogue with them, recognising their role in motivating community processes and managing local coexistence. The key space for this dialogue will be the citizens' participation exercises provided for in the agreements. At FIP we have identified 61 references to specific mechanisms for citizens' participation in the thus-far agreed terms (excluding general references to participation, such as "as a starting point"). Supporting these exercises, from different sectors, and ensuring their quality.

[1] Colombian NGO, based in  Bogotá.

[2] In particular, findings from the 2nd year of the study are used, which focused on different regions in Colombia: a) Pacífico Cauca/Nariño, b) Sarare (north-east) and c) Macarena/Guaviare (south-east). These areas are concordant with the findings of the 1st year of the project, of which details can be found at the following link

[3] 224 interviews were carried out in total, however, responses were not categorised in an exclusionary manner given that one interviewee, or one response, could well make reference to different categories. For this reason, in the sum of interviews, 861 references to visions of a post-conflict scenario were made and thus is the total included in the table


Translated from Spanish by Katie Oliver, member of Democracia Abierta's Volunteer Program.


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