Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Peace in our time?

Over the past few weeks all of Colombia has been abuzz with the prospects of upcoming peace negotiations between the government and the major armed insurgent groups.  I was in Nariño giving my sustainability workshops when I saw an important announcement by President Santos describing the process, and for the next few days the news was almost exclusively dedicated to covering preparations for the peace negotiations.  At times I even felt the coverage was too much; in their search for content and differing viewpoints, the media was interviewing any idiot who wanted to undercut the peace process (Uribe chief among them), any victim who felt that his or her personal suffering should be a determining factor in talks between two political factions, any zero-concession pundit who saw no solution to the war other than total erradication of the enemy.  I worried that the media might somehow give credence to the morally indefensible position of hindering peace.

According to Santos's first speech that I saw, it seems that the FARC and the Colombian government have agreed on rules for the game of peace negotiations.  Unlike the failed peace attempt in the late 90s, this time there will be no military ceasefire during negotiations.  This goes hand in hand with the fact that the negotiations will be held outside of Colombia, in Norway, I believe, and with the presence of many third-country observers.  This way, within the conflict zone of Colombia, military engagements and strategy will continue from both sides, unaffected by and (most importantly) unaffecting of the political peace dialogue.

Anyway, I am enthusiastic.  I really respect President Santos.  Despite my referring to him as a cryptoNazi piggy or something like that when he was running for office, he has gradually won my confidence.  He is a sincere politician that seems to have it clear that, whatever his own political leanings, he is governing an entire country, and has to try to look out for the interests of everyone, rich and poor, Right and Left.  This is a stark departure from his predecessor, Uribe, who seemed to believe that being president of Colombia was all about looking out for your fatcat cattle rancher buddies.  For Uribe I think the presidency was a sort of country club where you cater to the rich, and the poor are just there working and obeying.  So Santos, despite his mild neoliberal bent, is a breath of fresh air.  In his two years in office he has created ambitious policies to address Colombia's interrelated problems of land inequality, of victimhood and forced displacement, and now of the 60-year-old civil war.  He is really trying to make Colombia a better place, and not just a better garbage heap for the elite vultures to pick over.  I have heard frustration from my Colombian peers that sometimes Santos has such lofty, enlightened plans that he never thinks of the practical angle of how to implement them on the ground, which sometimes leads to even worse screwups or atrocities than Uribe committed, as bureaucrats rush to get things done by any means necessary.  But I still give him props.

If I remember correctly, peace talks will center on five points.  I don't recall all of them, but alternative development figures prominently.  Alternative development is the replacement of illegal crops like coca with legal ones, and improving all the social infrastructure like police, roads, schools, and courts in the isolated zones where the government has traditionally been absent and armed groups have held sway.  My wife works in the field of alternative development, and she posits that the Leftist insurgents groups might actually be on board with the idea of fighting illicit crops through economic development.  Her reasoning is that, despite the fact that the FARC has long charged a tax on coca production in their zones of influence (and thus profits greatly from that cultivation), by now they have seen the awful effects that drug production brings with it.  Wherever cocaine is produced, right-wing mafias and paramilitary squads become interested in the area, and this leads to armed engagements, constant disputes, massacres, and worsened living conditions for the peasants that many in the FARC still believe in serving.  So it could be that the FARC and other leftist groups want to get rid of cocaine in Colombia as much as the government does, especially if these groups are looking to end their own existence thanks to the peace process.

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