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What Will Happen to Colombia's Youth in the Aftermath of War?

Screenshot from the video “For a Peace with Opportunities for Colombian Youth” posted April 12, 2016 by YouTuber Joe Espinosa Marmolejo

Screenshot from the YouTube video “For a Peace with Opportunities for Colombian Youth” posted on April 12, 2016 by Joe Espinosa Marmolejo.

All is ready for the signing of a peace agreement between the Colombian government and the militant group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which will be made official in Cartagena city on September 26, 2016. This is the first phase of a process that will put to an end the 52-year-old conflict. The second phase is set for October 2, when Colombian citizens will have the last word via the ballot box during a highly debated, countrywide referendum to affirm the peace agreement.

For Colombians, this process is of utmost interest, especially since the futures of the country's young people are at stake.

Section 6 of the final agreement describes the process for verification, victim authentication, and the mechanisms for dispensing and monitoring compensation through the “Committee for Implementing, Monitoring, and Verifying the Final Peace Agreement and the Resolution of Differences.” The verification process is both a fulfillment of the peace agreement, as well as a means of ensuring that displaced Colombians return to their lands, obtain subsidies and compensation for damages, and receive professional psychological care.

This process includes youth and children. According to the Only Victim Register, the number of younger victims (from 0 to 28 years) has climbed to 4,007,136 due to assassinations, displacements, and disappearances.

Even if peace is won, however, there will still remain many open wounds. Those who went into exile still have not been able to return. Many Colombians refuse forgiveness and reconciliation, in spite of the educational campaigns involving activities and conferences for open discussions. These campaigns are put on by the government and the private sector, as well as by educational institutions and public sites. They are especially directed at youth from different locations and walks of life — including those who feel apathetic — and those who were not directly affected by the conflict, but have it sown into the collective subconscious.

Although difficult, the work continues progressing and is proceeding according to the final agreement's written stipulations. The presidency of the Republic announced on Twitter that UNICEF will receive those under 15 who left the ranks of the FARC into transitional homes while they are reincorporated into civilian life. Consequently, on September 10, UNICEF received 13 boys and girls as a part of the integrated mission of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

ANNOUNCEMENT | Sept. 10 will begin the exit process of minors from the Farc camps

Voices from the conflict

At a meeting scheduled by ex-President Álvaro Uribe Vélez (the main opponent of the peace process), Leonard Rentería, a community youth leader from the port of Buenaventura in the Valle del Cauca Department, courageously expressed himself in favor of the “yes” vote and the peace agreement because, according to him, he does not want to continue living in war:

[…] El territorio de Buenaventura donde la guerra ha sido marcada, donde el paramilitarismo asesinó a 12 jóvenes del barrio en el 2005, masacres que venimos conmemorando a lo largo de 12 ó 20 años […]  Es importante que las comunidades no sigan sufriendo, que sigan siendo envenenadas por el odio. Yo pienso que si algo nos merecemos nosotros es empezar a caminar para construir la paz. Parte de Buenaventura no lo ha visto, porque paramilitares se encargaron de arrasar en lo urbano un sinnúmero de gente joven y de gente que nada tenía que ver sino que simplemente fue víctima de este sistema […]

¿Quiénes son los soldados de las Farc y del Ejército colombiano? Muchachos pobres, empobrecidos… porque los hijos de los ricos no van a la guerra, a la guerra vamos nosotros […] yo soy una víctima directa de la guerra, del conflicto armado, pero a pesar de eso, si yo tengo que darle la mano a los victimarios estoy dispuesto a hacerlo porque creo en el perdón”.

[…] The territory of Buenaventura where the war has left its mark, where paramilitarism murdered 12 neighborhood youth in 2005, massacres that we continue to commemorate over 12 or 20 years […] It is important that the communities do not keep on suffering, continue being poisoned by hatred. I think that if there is something we deserve, it is to start walking towards creating peace. Part of Buenaventura has not seen peace because the paramilitaries ordered countless youth to destroy its urban areas, people who could do nothing but were simply victims of the system […]

Who are the soldiers of the FARC and of the Colombian army? Poor, impoverished men… because the sons of the rich do not go to war, to war we go […] I am a direct victim of the war, of the armed conflict, but despite this, if I have to give my hand to the murderers, I am ready to do so because I believe in forgiveness.

But there are also other youth who have not been directly affected by the conflict, yet they too seek peace. For example, José Antequera Guzmán expressed optimism on his blog before the announcement of the war's end when he stated:

Cada solución de un problema implica un problema nuevo, dijo el activista Saul Alinsky. Teniendo las cosas claras, nadie nos puede negar que celebremos hoy por todo lo que nos ha costado este momento. Yo hoy, sobre todo, celebro que cada día estemos siendo más un solo país. Que Colombia cada día nos parezca menos ajena.

Every solution to a problem involves another problem, said the activist Saul Alinsky. Keeping things in perspective, no one can keep us from celebrating today all which this moment has cost us. I today, above all, celebrate that each day we are becoming more and more a single country; that each day Columbia appears less alien to us.

And in his last publication, he declared his inclination for the “yes” vote:

Vote Si y comienza esta paz o prepárese para poner su cabeza y a la de sus hijos en la incertidumbre y en otras guerras!

Vote Yes and start this peace or prepare yourself to place your head and the head of your children into uncertainty and into other wars!

International support for the process

Colombia will not have to navigate this road to peace alone, and the postwar period will have international oversight through the Committee for Implementing, Monitoring, and Verifying the Final Peace Agreement and the Resolution of Differences. It will also have the help of the United Nations, not only for the political mission of verification, but also with the continuation of its development programs, such as Hands for Peace, a project that helps college youth which began with a post-conflict Colombia in mind.

Other international entities continue their work for future generations, as is the case with the Spanish organization Help in Action, which reaffirmed its support for those under 18 in the postwar period. The organization mentions, for example, the dangers that could still plague youth in rural areas:

Entre los hechos víctimizantes que más les afectan, se encuentran el reclutamiento, la orfandad a causa del conflicto armado, el desplazamiento forzado, la desaparición forzada, el secuestro, el ser víctimas de minas antipersona (MAP), municiones sin explotar (MUSE) o artefactos explosivos improvisados (AEI), los homicidios, las masacres, el confinamiento, la violencia sexual, y la vulneración de los derechos a la educación y a la salud entre otros.

Among the victimizing acts that affect them most, one finds recruitment, becoming orphans from the armed conflict, forced displacements, forced disappearances, kidnappings, becoming victims of anti-personnel mines (APM), unexploded ordnances (UXO), or improvised explosive devices (IED), homicides, massacres, confinement, sexual violence, violations of rights regarding education and health, and more.

After more than five decades, Colombian youth will now be responsible for their own destiny and will have the opportunity to decide a new path. But the parents of minors who are too young to vote have a greater responsibility: to decide for themselves and for their children in the next vote.

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