Colombia is currently waiting on a historic referendum that could draw a line under a horrific armed conflict that has dominated the country's narrative for more than 50 years, waged between the government and the militant group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
On October 2, 2016, Colombians both inside and outside the country will vote to either accept or reject the signed agreement between the government and the FARC that would bring an end to the violence that has consumed over 200,000 lives. The long-winded negotiation process has been the subject of much public discussion, reflecting enduring divisions within Colombian society.
How have we arrived here? How was a country able to function for so long under conditions of war and how did the war impact the way Colombians think? How does the current peace process in Colombia compare to others around the world? What would the upcoming referendum's result mean for the future of Colombia? How can common purposes and ways forward be forged after the war?
We looked at all these questions in a vibrant conversation with Robert Valencia, Global Voices author, political analyst and National Urban Fellow; Diego Osorio, advisor, consultant and researcher at the Raoul-Dandurand Chair in Strategic and Diplomatic Studies at Université de Quebec in Montreal; and Andrés Lombana-Bermúdez, researcher and designer at Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.
Speaking about the frequent and stereotyped conflation of FARC — a left-wing militant group founded in 1964 — and the drug cartels that have wrought tremendous damage on the country, Robert Valencia answered:
Comparing FARC with the Mexican cartels is a bit too much of a stretch for one big reason. Since the inception of FARC they had a political purpose. Mexican drug cartels do not have a political purpose, their only purpose is to make money.
Andrés Lomaba-Bermúdez added:
These comparisons, of the FARC and drug cartels, come after the FARC evolved precisely because the war in Colombia became sustainable through narcotraffic, and this happened in the 1980s. So the origins were farmers trying to fight for political participation, for land redistribution […] but in the 80s the narcotraffic as a global phenomena entered the country finding a great setting or stage not only for cultivation and production of drugs but also for building laboratories.
Other Global Voices authors also gave their input. Cati Restrepo said:
En la zona donde estoy trabajando ahora la gente dice que vota sí a ojo cerrado. Pero en Medellín mucha gente dice que vota no. Es la polarización de la que te hablo. Ciertos sectores dicen que votar para aprobar los acuerdos es vender el país.
Hay una idea de: “Sí vota sí, el próximo presidente va a ser un guerrillero” porque parte de los acuerdos es que ellos van a tener curules en el congreso.
In the region where I am working some people say they'll vote “yes” with their eyes closed. But in Medellin many people say they'll vote “no”. This is the polarization I am talking about. Some sectors say that a vote to approve the deal is to sell the country.
There's an idea that, if you vote yes, the next president will be a guerrilla, because part of the agreement is to give them seats in the Congress.
Regarding the agreement itself, Robert Valencia reflected:
The agreement that was signed yesterday is not just a piece of paper that was signed. The biggest challenge for many Colombians today is going to be tolerance. Being able to understand this is a pluralistic society where everybody has different ideas and yes, that includes those of the FARC.
While Diego Osorio pointed out:
This is not a military victory, it is a negotiation.[…] People in certain parts of Colombia say: why don't they [FARC] just request forgiveness? Why are they getting this things? Because we are convincing them to get out of the mountains and be part of the political process. Otherwise you would have to force them, and that is 20 more years of war.
As a final thought Osorio added:
This is the only case in which I only see a positive way out. I've seen so many others [peace processes] where it is basically at best just about keeping the patient alive. This patient can just walk away from the hospital, if only Colombians get their act together. The main problem with the situation in Colombia is the distrust and the ability to organize themselves. […] Peace is possible and it is proven because if you compare it to other places you see all the conditions to make it happen in Colombia, because Colombians have the capital, because Colombians made this peace possible, and because Colombians are already so close, that it would be crazy not to [go through with it].