Today’s story is about international support and cooperation. It is a call for democracy to be defined as something universal, and a belief that the idea is not restricted to national sovereignty and strict geographically placed borders. Instead, it is an urge to defend human rights and peaceful democratic solutions everywhere. Anytime.
This article is set within Colombia’s dark history of bellicosity, and the over five-decade-long civil war. The number of casualties and people affected by conflict are vast. Over 265.000 Colombians have lost their lives and 7 million people displaced.
The Usual Suspects
Historically, the country is indeed one of the most politically turbulent places in the world. The global war on drugs, as it is frequently duped, has complicated the web of illegal activities and actors throughout the country’s modern history. The ‘war’ has numerous layers and history tells a story of a conflict that has disproportionately weakened the security for women with sexual violence and extortion being a common tool of combat. The Colombian people have, through five decades, been victims of inimical characters in pursuit of money and power. It is a violent tale dating back to the colonial history of Colombia and neoliberal Western intervention that has led to growing inequality, and prolonged the chaos and violent approach to politics. For too long “politics” has been a game of power, a vicious circle of kidnappings and revenge, assassinations, drug-cartels, paramilitary death squads, governmental insufficiency and a persistent Marxist inspired rebel group FARC. However, the current developments have included FARC as a political vital actor. Despite being responsible for numerous tragic destinies, the group has become a key stakeholder in the push for peaceful settlement.
The Vote that Became a Wrench in the Wheel
The first peace agreement hit a major obstacle, as President Juan Manuel Santos’ hope of securing the agreements’ more legitimacy through popular vote came crashing down. By the slimmest of margins, below 0.5 pct. the plebiscite rejected the peace accord. Less than 54.000 votes tipped the balance towards a refusal – a true horror story for most pollsters, who did not see it coming. On the day before the election, the ‘yes’ vote led comfortably – but in these times with Donald Trump and Brexit, the predicitons of pundits and experts seem to lose their credibility.
The reason for the ‘no’ vote holds great multiplicity. Many believe that the vote was influenced by a discontent with the governments’ policies altogether. Others point towards the vote being deeply divided between people living in the big cities and people from rural and coastal areas. The rural and coastal areas being far more directly affected by the prolonged civil war explain this. Even Hurricane Matthew, which hit the coast of Colombia is believed to have tipped the election, as most people in coastal areas were polled to support the peace agreement. Lastly, the vote no campaign is had strong right wing support. Led by the former President Álvaro Uribe, the framing of the ‘yes’ vote was that it accepted FARCs violent history, and left to little for the victims of their action.
A New Hope
On November 24, the country hit a new milestone in the effort to create peace. A new peace agreement was signed by the government, represented by President Santos and FARC’s current commander in chief Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri also known under his nom de guerre as Timochenco. The latest developments have been backed by the USA, and especially American Secretary of State, John Kerry. An unanimous United Nations security counsel decision has also for months pushed for a peace agreement, and promised a UN mission to oversee the enactment and process of carrying out the agreement. Whether this agreement will hold depends on the willingness of the actors involved to persistently assert promise of peace. A growing international support can motivate this very persistence and legitimacy – this is a point we will return to, when we inspire you to become part of the peace process later. An important note here is that the new peace agreement has been praised for its’ comprehensiveness and its’ recognition of the victims of the prolonged armed conflict. The inclusion of women through a gender subcommittee in the peacebuilding proces is also very unique and intelligent. This is something that rarely happens as women only account for less than 4 % of signatures in peace agreements (1992-2011), according to UN Women.
NarColombia: When Entertainment Shadows Misery
Times are hopefully changing in Colombia. For far too long international attention towards Colombia have been dominated by a marketization of the countries notorious drug production. The entertainment industry is partly responsible for a normalisation of the tragic effects of the countries role in the illicit drug trafficking. One current example is the Netflix series Narcos, that has become a massive success. Viewers around the globe love the series; except for one place: Colombia.
For many Colombians, the series is a twisted celebration of moguldom. With Pablo Escobar following the anti-hero trends of the likes of Breaking Bad’s, fan favourite, Walter White, the mesmerizing Frank Underwood, and John Gandolfini’s eminent work as Tony Sopranos. My immediate conclusion is that –especially- drugs sell. It attracts viewers, but in this case it is a serious misrepresentation and reductionism of a country, and the possible effect is that the extreme violence of the drug cartels in the name of entertainment becomes okay, normal – or even glorified.
Cristian’s Hope for Peace
I had the rare opportunity, to meet and interview Cristian Raul Delgado Bolanos, from the organisation Marcha Patriótica. The organisation is one of the largest social and political movements in Latin America, and has been a key non-governmental actor in the peace negotiation process. The interview will be dealt with in the latter part of this article. Marcha Patriótica is a paramount organisation, covering a large amount of small organisations. As such, the fight foremost for peace and non-violent democratic conversations, but also LGBTQ rights, the interests and protection of indigenous group, education for all through small student movements and sustainable agricultural development and aid to small farmer communities.
As head of coordination in the Marcha Patriótica’s human rights commission, he has felt the dangerous web of interest. His story is very emotional, and I was deeply moved when Cristian explained that four of his colleagues recently have been cold-bloodedly assassinated because they were defending and supporting the newest peace accord. This stunned me, and I tried my best to formulate my deepest condolences. The web of interest and assets in armed conflicts are often large and the sad truth is, that some actors will always benefit from violence, gun sales and continued conflict -especially when civil wars prevail for long.
Despite the horrible assassinations and the danger that lures, Marcha Patriótica, and Cristian, hold strong hopes for a more democratic and peaceful future for Colombians. “We are most of all filled with hope. Because we have also fought and sought a non-violent and political solution. We believe that dialogue is the best tool to solve the disputes. “
Time to act: An international Responsibility
As we sit here, Cristian and I – and our translator, I sense that his character and person is made of a special material. Fearing for his life and constantly looking over his shoulder, he is still determined to battle for peace, as he puts it “The right to peace, and the security of every Colombian must not be afraid of evil forces”.
Human rights are a global project, a fundamental pillar, and an absolute defining necessity if we are to develop our global democracy. Therefore, I asked Cristian what we can all do to help his movements push for peaceful settlements. “This is a battle between war, violence and deaths versus life and peace. That is why we need as many people as possible to stand in solidarity with us.”
I ask him what he believes we, as people in a globalised world, can do to support the current turmoil in Colombia towards peaceful means. ”One way to do this is to send a letter to the government of Colombia declaring ones support for a peaceful process, and that the agreement is met with carefulness, respect and consistency”
In order to create international amity we should all pile together to show compassion with the move towards peaceful resolution in a civil war-torn country. Read the actions below and if you feel inspired, use your voice to express your support for the urgent need for a cessation of hostility.
In the following suggested actions we ask you raise your voice in the fight for equality, freedom and justice – three things that apply to all regardless of nationality. In order to do so, you need the address for the Colombian President (firstname.lastname@example.org) and the Danish Foreign Ministry (email@example.com). The following is a template that you can use when writing to the Colombian government.
Estimado señor presidente Juan Manuel Santos,
Le escribo desde Dinamarca para expresar mi apoyo al proceso de paz de Colombia. Un proceso valorado internacionalmente por la inclusión de mujeres en los diálogos y por el reconocimiento de la victimización de mujeres en el conflicto.
Le escribo también porque me preocupan los últimos hechos violentos contra los movimientos sociales. En el mes de noviembre la violencia en contra de defensores de los Derechos Humanos aumentó en más que 7 asesinatos, 4 atentados y un desaparecido. Desde Dinamarca estamos siguiendo el proceso de paz y de democracia de Colombia y nos preocupan mucho este tipo de ataques a el derecho a la vida y a la libre organización de los diversos grupos.
Esperamos que tome responsabilidad, Señor Presidente, y se pueda dar garantía al derecho a la vida, a la organización social de los defensores de Derechos Humanos y de todos los movimientos sociales y políticos en Colombia.
Dear mr presidente Juan Manuel Santos,
I am writing you from Denmark to express my support to the Colombian peace process. A process that internationally has been celebrated for the participation of women and the explicit acknowledgement of the victimization of women in the conflict.
I also write this letter to you because I am worried about the latest violent actions against the social movements. In November the violence against human rights defenders arose. More than 7 people were killed, 4 attempts and one forced disappearance. From Denmark we follow the process for peace and democracy in Colombia closely and it worries us to know about these attacks at the right to life and free organization.
Please take responsibility, Mr. President, and guaranty the right to life and organization to the defenders of the Human Rights and to all the political and social movements in Colombia.