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Interview: international day of action for peace in Colombia

Gustavo Monteiro

August 13, 2018

On August 7, the Colombian Action Solidarity Alliance organized a vigil in Tkaronto, endorsed by many Latin American organizations and other groups in the city. They joined a call for a worldwide day of action to say no more attacks and killings of human rights’ defenders, campesinos and social movements activists in Colombia—and to pressure the new government to apply the Peace Agreement and hold accountable those responsible for this wave of violence.

Colombian’s new president, Iván Duque, had his campaign endorsed by Álvaro Uribe Vélez (Colombia former president and leader of Centro Democrático, Duque’s party) who’s been investigated due to his connections to militias and their killings. Álvaro Uribe is against the Acuerdo de Paz (Peace Agreement) and Duque has mentioned his disagreement with parts of this document—more specifically the section where the FARC (Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Colombia) agreed to completely disarm themselves to then become a political party in the country. The newly elected president still has to negotiate with ELN (Ejército de Liberación Nacional) and deal with systemic corruption and the “war on drugs,” implemented by Uribe, considering Iván and Álvaro are both against the decriminalization of drugs.

At the vigil in Tkaronto, had the chance to speak to Iliam Burbano, member of the Colombian Action Solidarity Alliance and an activist constantly fighting for social justice and human rights.

Could you explain why this vigil was organized today here in Tkaronto, and also worldwide?

In the context of negotiations for the final peace agreement between the FARC and the outgoing government of Manuel Santos, something that we’ve seen in Colombia probably starting in 2014 is a spike in the targeted killings of social movement activists, community movement activists, primarily those in rural areas. Once the peace agreement advanced and was finally signed in November 2016, a specific area that’s been targeted is where the FARC was demobilized—so those peasant communities, rural communities continue to targeted.

This vigil for peace was called in Colombia by the left Colombia Humana movement, led by Gustavo Petro, but this isn’t only an initiative from this group and Petro called this day of action because today is the day that the new president in Colombia, right-wing leader called Iván Duque from the Centro Democrático (Democratic Centre Party) takes the office. Duque won the elections in May this year after receiving over 10 million votes and the Colombia Humana movement and Gustavo Petro got 8 million votes; this was the highest amount of votes that a left-wing politician has ever got in Colombia.

How can Gustavo Petro, the Colombia Humana movement and other groups supporting this initiative apply the pressure on Duque’s government?

These movements called for a nationwide demonstration and also people were asked to mobilize internationally to demand an end to these killings, that those responsible are punished, dismantling militias that still exist in the countryside and targeted areas. Also the other key demand is to support the implementation of the peace agreement.

Could you describe what was the Peace Agreement and how it happened?

The peace agreement was signed in 2016 after about 4 years of negotiation in Havana. The FARC were the largest gorila movement army in Latin America and in the world I believe, and the oldest one. It was an arduous negotiation and it led to the demobilization of maybe 7,000 or so militants. In this agreement the rank and file members would receive amnesty, but the leadership would have to go to a transitional justice system tribunal and answer to crimes they have committed. In exchange for truth around crimes claiming responsibility for them, they’d get an alternative sentence. This accord contemplated a transitional justice tribunal which initially was supposed to be for FARC leaders, army leaders, police leaders and it also included non-state, non-FARC, non-military, non-police people that were associated with and/or financed one of the armed actors leading to crimes against the population. Also the focus is to make the historical truth clear so the victims know what happened, know who’s responsible being State or non-State and that society takes consciousness of this so this is never repeated. FARC were also given designated seats in the congress and senate.

The right-wing parties and current government are very much opposed to that: despite the peace agreement, they don’t think the FARC should be participating in the parliamentary institutions in the country. There’s also some limited agrarian reforms, particularly in the areas of conflict where the FARC were active. One of the main causes of these conflicts in Colombia is the lack of land for rural communities; there’s never been a land reform in the country.

What is expected with Iván Duque’s mandate?

There’s a right-wing government, far right-wing and the power behind the president is Álvaro Uribe—who was president for a decade in 2000s, very opposed to the Acuerdo de Paz, and considered the most powerful person in Colombia politically. They don’t want FARC having any participation in the transitional justice tribunal.

On the other hand, you also have this opposition that had 8 million votes which is a block of left and centre left parties/groups who are progressive in many issues—such as climate change, free universal access education and health care—and they support the Peace agreement. We’re hoping the left in Colombia can unite and move forward to at least significant reforms so social movements, grassroots groups can demonstrate, assemble, organize and don’t get murdered. Where being murdered is the exception and not the norm, that would be a great thing for Colombia.

As part of the solution to deal with the violence in Colombia it’s essential that public institutions and representatives understand that the failure from the “War on Drugs” platform in Colombia and similar cases like in Mexico and Brazil shows that other initiatives must be explored instead of funding more police and the military to solve this issue. During these conflicts only impoverished communities and innocent lives end up targeted in the crossfire. Uribe still plays an influential role in the country’s politics which will make Iván Duque continue importing US weapons and tactics to deal with this problem—creating more instability in the rural areas. People in Colombia must remain united and support social movements, campesinos and Indigenous communities exercising their right to self-determination all on a common goal to achieve peace and justice.


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