Colombian journalist Mónica Herrera Irurita on the peace process in her country
Last month at a conference at the Universidad Externado de Colombia, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ High Commissioner for Peace Sergio Jaramillo underscored the importance of understanding transition. According to the commissioner, a grasp of the concept is necessary to understand the “legal dilemmas inherent in the peace process and transitional justice”.
At first glance, the text of the speech can appear to be little more than philosophical jargon and diplomatic platitudes that expose the government’s notoriously ineffective approach to peacemaking.
However, to the Colombian ear, refined through 60 years of such talks, the speech touched on topics previously off-limits. Commissioner Jaramillo did not present the Colombian government, or even the peace talks themselves, as some panacea.
Rather, his talk acknowledged that peace cannot be achieved by decree, nor can it be won by signing a series of documents. Instead, he presented the nascent agreements as capable of creating conditions in which the Colombian people can build peace.
According to the high commissioner, any such significant peace would not even be broached until ‘Phase III’ of the process, which both sides are calling ‘the transition.’ In essence, the agreements to this point have been about laying a foundation, not about building peace itself.
I wonder if Colombians understand this notion of transition.
I find it painful and selfish that peace, as a concept, is debated in public mostly by academics, government officials and elites. The Colombian masses do not have a seat at the table. This is a problem, especially if Colombia were to arrive at the much vaunted ‘Phase III’. The folks that will make or break the actual peace are not writing from think tanks, consultancies or government bureaucracies. Thus, they remain outside of the discourse.
Moreover, the concept of transition is by no means agreed upon; in fact, it is the subject of much debate. Both on TV and behind closed doors, insiders debate concepts such as a “a legal framework for peace” and “post-conflict reconciliation”.
It can sound like a Masters dissertation. No wonder Colombians have been quick to tune out.
Consider Colombians in the conflict zones that have lost loved ones but have never attended high school, how can they participate in this process? For working class citizens of Bogotá who have not directly experienced the war in years, can they relate to the urgency of the issues?
It seems that understanding the current peace process requires advanced degrees in conflict resolution and law. Maybe this is why Colombians have been so distant and disinterested in the process. They do not feel that they belong. The debate about peace in post-conflict Colombia must include everyone. Anything less will be unsustainable.
How can Colombia have a successful peace agreement that is not understood by Colombians?
Mónica Herrera Irurita is writer and frequent contributo to Semana, a Colombia-based weekly magazine.
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