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In conflict resolution, common practice in both academia and ‘real-life’ politics is to compare different regions that have experienced or are experiencing violent problems. While no two conflicts are exactly the same, broadly speaking there is a common blueprint to follow to go from war to peace.
In this regard, and as has been written about here before, Northern Ireland’s peace process has provided Colombia with plenty of food for thought — in theory if nothing else. In fact, Holy Week has been chosen as the defining moment for Colombia’s current peace talks, discussions that have been ongoing for three-and-a-half years. It may be just purely coincidental, but you could see it as a nod towards the agreement that signalled a new, more peaceful direction for Ireland, signed on Good Friday (Viernes Santo) 1998 and named after that historic day.
Yet even the day picked by the Colombian government, March 23rd, in the English religious vernacular in any case, is somewhat ominous: Spy Wednesday. It might be a bit of a stretch to portray President Juan Manuel Santos as Jesus, but it’s not stretching it to state that a grand betrayal of the peace deal he seems so desperate to sign may be on the cards; without any miraculous resurrection in the days, months and years to follow.
It comes back to one of those principal points in conflict resolution: that all parties involved see a greater benefit in a new way rather than continuing with the old.
If you look at the Northern Ireland situation in 1998, it’s pretty fair to say that the agreement signed promised a better, more ‘legitimate’ life ahead for the main protagonists involved and their cohorts. In contrast, and this has always been the issue, what brighter, legitimate future can be assured for Farc guerrillas should a ‘permanent’ peace deal be signed?
For the movement’s heads, things might improve somewhat; there may even be some political participation, despite the right-leaning nature of the Colombian electorate. Yet for the foot soldiers on the ground — and this applies for hard-pressed civilian Colombians, too — the money that can be made from underground activities such as illegal mining and narcotics is far more attractive than anything the state and its foreign helpers can provide.
On top of all this, even if Farc en masse accepted a final peace deal, there is still the question of the other, not insignificant guerrilla group, ELN. It hasn’t been privy to these exact talks, so there’s a chance that its hand could be strengthened at the expense of the Colombian state, a process that has already started according to some reports.
Throw in a still present paramilitary element on the other side of the divide that also profits well from illegal trade and it’s not difficult to see the huge problems with ‘Santos’ Peace’, as some Colombians call it.
There aren’t too many out there who still see this conflict as a simple ‘guerrilla left’ versus a government and military that are more right of centre, as its origins may have been. It’s more complex than that. As long as large sums of ‘easier money’ are to be made by illegal methods that neither the national government nor foreign powers seem capable of tackling, a meaningful, lasting peace for Colombia seems a long way off.
A bold new blueprint is needed for conflict resolution here, one that goes well beyond the country’s borders.
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