Author: Allison Lopez
A delegation of victims of Colombia’s internal armed conflict were brought to the United States in July 2014 by the Latin America Working Group Education Fund (LAWGEF) and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) to discuss the rights of victims and their proposals for achieving a just and lasting peace. Their stirring words come just before the discussion on victims’ rights opened in August 2014 at the negotiating table in Havana, Cuba. The delegation consisted of Luis Fernando Arias, president of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), José Antequera Guzmán, co-founder of Sons and Daughters of Memory and Against Impunity and son of slain political activist José Antequera, and Clara Rojas, newly-elected representative in Colombia’s National Congress, who had been kidnapped and held captive for years by the FARC guerrillas. At an event sponsored by our organizations and the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), the panelists discussed their peace proposals for the ongoing peace talks in Havana.
As part of a three-part series, we bring to you the second installment featuring José Antequera Guzmán. Click here for part I featuring Luis Fernando Arias, and here part III featuring Clara Rojas. This is what José had to say:
Skip to the 34:12 minute mark.
Since the conflict’s outbreak, Colombians have had many opportunities to solve this conflict, yet we have not seized these opportunities. One of the biggest opportunities occurred in the late 1980s, when rumors about a negotiated end to the conflict between the Colombian government and the various guerilla groups began to circulate. This was an exceptional opportunity to resolve the conflict because a new constitution was being written that would strengthen our democracy. This constitution included the protection of the human rights of indigenous and Afro-descendant communities and the right to peace.
At the same time that constitution was being ratified, the biggest political genocide in the Western Hemisphere was also taking place: the genocide against the Unión Patriótica. My father was one of the leaders of this political party and on the day he was murdered, he became the 721st member of the Unión Patriótica to fall victim to this political genocide. Today that number has risen to close to 5,000 people. This includes people who have been forcibly disappeared, murdered, tortured, or exiled.
Despite everything we hoped for, the 1990s were amongst the darkest and most violent in Colombia’s history. It was a decade in which 5,500 murders were carried out with the intention of reshaping the political and social landscape of the country.
Why is this peace process so important then? This peace process is important not only because, as many think, it is an opportunity for the Colombian government and the FARC to reach an agreement that satisfies both of their interests so that they will stop fighting each other, but also because this is an opportunity to settle that historical debt, to bring about the social change that we have been unable to achieve.
I believe there are four major challenges to the peace negotiations that must be addressed so that peace can finally be achieved in Colombia. The first challenge is the existence of a far-right faction of elected officials, led by former President Álvaro Uribe Vélez, who are staunchly against the peace process. This faction, which enjoys a vast amount of political power, has been proven to have committed crimes against humanity and has ties with paramilitary groups. In order for peace to be achieved, these politicians must be brought to justice and must pay for their crimes.
The second challenge is the deep democratization process that Colombia must undergo as soon as a peace accord is finalized. We must stop the guerillas from being the machines of war they are today so that they can become political actors in a democracy, a democracy where their views can be heard and taken into account. A deep democratization process refers not only to the political participation of guerillas, but also to the participation of political and social movements in the political process so that they can cease to be mere movements and instead become agents of social and political change. We want to have a male or female indigenous president as well as a black president in Colombia, not because ethnicity constitutes a value, but because when that experience becomes a reality we will have reached our dream of building a government that guarantees the agrarian reforms sought by activists like Luis Fernando Arias or the political reforms advocated by political activists.
The third challenge is constructing a plan for non-repetition. This is an issue that all victims agree on. This plan revolves around several points, the first of which is that this peace process must be based on the truth. Currently in Colombia, we don’t know all of the truth nor do we recognize all of the truth. I am a victim of a crime committed by the state. However, I, like other victims of state crimes, am not recognized as being a victim because crimes committed by the Colombian state do not officially “exist.” We, the victims of state crimes, assert our existence and hope that the international community will commit themselves to the truth in Colombia so that our existence can be reaffirmed and our rights can be recognized.
This means that the U.S. government must do all it can to help us by declassifying documents that allow us to know all of the truth about the crimes committed by the state during this long and bloody conflict.
The fourth and final challenge is the reformation of the country’s military doctrine. Colombia’s armed forces still operate under a Cold War mentality; they believe that social movements are internal enemies that sponsor either communism or terrorism. This has to stop. We want an army that guarantees the rights of the Colombian people, not an army that considers the Colombian people a threat.
We want a truth commission to be established. One that encompasses all the elements we have discussed. We want that truth commission to have the support of the entire international community so it we can build a stronger democracy in Colombia. We do not want a truth commission that simply publishes a report that will only be read by activists and college students.
Furthermore, we want reparations to be more transformative and to give victims access to education, healthcare, land, and a job. The greatest reparation that must be made in Colombia is the promise of non-repetition. This promise can only be met by enacting the necessary institutional reforms in Colombia. We want social organizations and the international community to work together in order guarantee this so that there can finally be real peace in Colombia.