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Defendamos la Paz: Protecting Colombia’s Fragile Peace

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Date: Jul 19, 2019

Author: Lisa Haugaard

Colombia’s New Citizen Movement for Peace
A Conversation with the Leaders of “Defendamos la Paz”

Introductory Remarks, Lisa Haugaard, Latin America Working Group

What an honor to be here to say a word about Defendamos la Paz and thanks to the U.S. Institute for Peace for hosting with us and the Washington Office on Latin America, Colombia Human Rights Committee, CEJIL, and Inter-American Dialogue. Defendamos la Paz is an organic, horizontal, diverse movement that sprang up via social media to rescue, surround, and protect the peace process in Colombia. It includes everyone from the former negotiators of the peace agreement in Havana to former government officials, mayors and members of Congress from political parties of various persuasions; former guerrilla leaders; and artists, union leaders, renowned scholars and leaders of victims’ associations from around the country. It shows the remarkable persistence, creative flair, and refusal to take no for an answer with which despite every adversity, Colombians pull together to build a better society.

Since its founding just a few months ago in February 2019, Defendamos la Paz has come out decisively with statements and actions in support of the transitional justice system, particularly the Special Jurisdiction for Peace. The movement has directed letters to the Organization of American States and United Nations High Commissioner for Peace to insist upon vigorous international support for peace. Defendamos la Paz called on the ELN to conduct a unilateral ceasefire as a sign of goodwill and on former guerrilla leader Santrich to respect his commitments to the peace accords. The movement is seeking to gather a million signatures to demand that victims be given their seats in the Congress, a peace accord promise that has so far been denied them. And the movement’s broadest action yet may very well be the march scheduled for Friday, July 26, in solidarity with the social leaders, the local leaders building peace and defending rights in their communities, who are at grave risk.

And the peace process really needs this rescuing, this surrounding, and this protection.

We all know that so much attention is focused on peace processes during harrowing negotiations and on the days around the celebration when the ink is barely dry on the signed accords. Yet the hard work of building real peace is just begun. 

In the case of Colombia, the problem is not just a question of slow and incomplete implementation. It is also the constant challenging of core parts of the accord by the very government that is charged with implementing it. This is deeply, deeply concerning. Forgive this metaphor, but I always think of the peace accords as a game of Jenga. Neither the government nor the former guerrillas nor the international community can say, I’ll pull out this piece because I don’t like it, I’ll pull out this piece because I disagree—or sooner or later, the whole Jenga tower, or the whole peace process, will come tumbling down.

Why does it matter if Colombia implements the accord in a half-hearted way? First, because the accord if implemented will help Colombia get where it needs to go anyway. It’s hardly a radical document. It provides truth, some justice, and reparations for a considerable number of Colombia’s 9 million victims. Yet it also calls upon the Colombian state to provide, in the areas affected by the conflict, the basic services and protections that all governments should offer to their citizens: education, access to health care, roads, courts that work, responsible police, access to land and secure land titles, opportunities to make a living, the right to vote and participate in politics, and protection for citizens’ rights, including the right to defend rights without being killed. For all kinds of reasons, this is what is needed in Colombia, peace accord or no peace accord.

Second, it matters because the alternative is not likely to be some better, imaginary accord. The alternative is another generation lost to war. 

Finally, it matters because the victims of violence have suffered far too much tragedy. Over 261,000 people lost their lives, the vast majority of them civilians, and nearly 8 million people were internally displaced. Eight million people. Most of the victims are Afro Colombian and indigenous, poor campesinos, and many are women and children. Thousands, thousands of Colombia’s visionary human rights defenders and community leaders have been gunned down and continue to be gunned down in targeted killings. In the areas affected by the war, after perhaps a year of feeling the wonderful, delicious sense that peace was at hand, many of the same communities that have always suffered the brunt of violence are trapped in violence and fear once again. This must stop now.

The United States and the rest of the international community have a crucial role to play to get this peace process back on track towards full implementation. One way to do that is to support the civil society voices for peace united in Defendamos la Paz. Listen to them, and then do whatever you can from wherever you are to stand by them.