Written by Carela Mendez, Government Major (C'19)
On Thursday, February 16, the Center for Latin American Studies hosted an event on the peace processes in Colombia as part of the Americas in Flux speaker series. Students and staff of all ages and nationalities arrived promptly to hear from the experienced panel and ask questions.
Mr. Daniel Avila, minister of political affairs and acting DCM for the embassy of Colombia to the United States started his presentation by emphasizing the importance of knowing why the peace accords are possible today. He went briefly into the history of Colombia's bilateral relationship with the United States and the role Colombia has played in the creation of multilateral institutions such as the United Nations and the Organization of American States. Mr. Avila then went on to discuss Plan Colombia. Specifically, he explained how this American bipartisan initiative, coupled with the determination and sacrifice of the Colombian people and the accomplishments of Colombia’s Armed Forces, opened the door to lasting change and peace.
According to Mr. Avila, sustainability, good governance and national ownership of both the challenges and solutions were key for the initiative’s success in Colombia. He also stressed the important role the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations had in supporting the inititative's gradual and continued success. For Mr. Avila, the initiative's continued success is important not only for Colombia, but also for the region, as Colombians seek to resolve the last standing conflict in the hemisphere. Mr. Avila concluded by expressing that the Colombian government looks forward to collaborating with the Trump administration to continue the next phase of cooperation under Peace Colombia while also diversifying the two countries' bilateral agenda.
Afterwards, Dr. Virginia Bouvier from the United States Institute for Peace (USIP) talked about some of the implementation details of the peace accords. Dr. Bouvier mentioned the challenges Colombia faces with implementation, ranging from economic challenges to physical challenges. For example, nineteen transition zones have been set up throughout Colombia to start the process of reintegrating FARC members into society. However, 95% of the FARC members have already made it to their designated sites but the remaining few find it increasingly difficult to travel to the remote zones. Such accesibility issues pose many challenges for full implementation of the peace plan. Additionally, Dr. Bouvier spoke of the economic challenges associated with financing the complete transformation of the social and political structure of a country in addition to managing the concerns and biases of Colombian citizens who have suffered decades of violence from the FARC. All in all, Dr. Bouvier stressed that so long as there is good will at the table she believes many of the stated goals of the peace accords will be achieved.
Finally, Dr. Dorly Castañeda talked about the difference between implementation and peacebuilding. She differentiated the two categories mainly along the line that implementation consists of immediate action and is short term whereas peacebuilding is a long term process. Dr. Castañeda said that Colombia faced many challenges in implementation as a result of divisions inside the government, lack of recources, and an unrealistically ambitious plan. In addition, implementation and peacebuilding has been increasingly difficult because of a badly informed and highly polarized urban society that has refused to cooperate. Dr. Castañeda concluded by saying that she does believe that peacebuilding can be achieved with a lot of effort and time. However, she reiterated that this is only the first step in a long transition from war to peace.
The event was extremely informative and the different perspectives of the speakers made the conversation very interesting as they bounced off each other’s ideas and agreed or failed to agree on different points. Every speaker had a unique opinion and relevant experience to add to the table, which made the conversation very thought provoking. At the end of it all, I am left with optimism regarding Colombia’s future with the FARC and hopefully the peace of the region as a whole. I think that the peace oricess in Colombia could become a great model for the rest of the region. I do realize that it will take time, but it is refreshing to see a beacon of hope amongst the various difficulties in the region.