Originally published in El Espectador, December 6, 2012
A holistic agrarian reform, deconcentration of property ownership, policies for food and land sovereignty, strengthening of peasant and indigenous economies, technical training and rural education with a focus on livestock, regulation of mining and of land sales to foreign interests, are among the proposals that nearly 3,000 people put forth on the issue of land – the first point in the dialogue between the Colombian government and FARC guerrillas – in regional work groups organized by the United Nations and Congressional peace committees.
After nine regional gatherings attended by 2,990 people and 1,333 organizations, in which proposals were gathered to “contribute to the end of the conflict,” the peace committees of the Colombian House and Senate, as well as UN representatives, turned over the ideas for resolving the conflict to ambassadors from the “guarantor countries,” Cuba and Norway, which were to bring them to the government and FARCnegotiating committees on December 8.
“They are not the opinions of Congress or parliamentarians. It is the voice of peace of the Colombians,” said Congress president Roy Barreras. “They are not only proposals, but the effort of resistance, the experiences and hopes of those who live among the bullets. It is an encyclopedia of peace,” added Iván Cepeda, co-chair of the House Peace Committee.
“Peace will be more sustainable and enduring if the people’s proposals are considered. Colombia is one of the countries with the largest number of organizations carrying out peace initiatives,” said Bruno Moro, resident coordinator of the UN in Colombia. And it was the United Nations that moderated the working groups and organized all the information that came from them into a nine-volume book that will go to Havana, where the government and guerrillas seek a peace accord.
The working groups occurred between October 24 and November 24, and included the participation of organizations from throughout the country. They discussed three items on the agenda of the government-FARC dialogue: holistic agrarian development, political participation, and the substitution of illegal crops. In each region participants worked for two days, the first in issue groups with 25 people each, and the second in plenaries, where spokespeople for each group brought forward the main proposals. But beyond being a laboratory for seeking ideal ways to silence the guns, the groups were also a space where people described the Colombia they dream of, and many times also remembered the offenses of violence and neglect of the illegal armed groups and of the State.
“While you do not recognize us and while the State offers us no opportunities, we will go to the cities and the land will remain in the hands of big landowners who abuse our rights,” one youth said at the top of his lungs at a workshop in Villavicencio, Meta. An old peasant answered him: “You are right, we must educate our children in the countryside and for the countryside.” It was an intergenerational exchange – as representative Angela Maria Robledo characterized it – founded on legitimate concerns about the migration of youth to the cities.
“Among the most frequent claims are those of the victims of the political conflict, who have transformed their pain into dignity, demand clarity in the process of reparations, especially those related to the restitution of land, remove the civilian population from the armed conflict and a prompt and effective ceasefire. They ask that their spokespeople be heard in the government-FARC negotiations,” said Robledo, who is also co-chair of the House of Representatives Peace Committee.
Nearly 3,000 citizen proposals have been submitted.Without a doubt, the volumes that will go to Havana make concrete the first exercise of civil society participation in the peace dialogue. An effort that will continue in fora on agrarian development to take place in Bogota from December 17 to 19. [Editor’s note: these fora reached many of the same recommendations for addressing excessive concentration of land ownership, recognition of indigenous and Afro-Colombian collective rights, and the need for investment in rural communities.] It also continues in the web page that will receive peace proposals (the first agreement of the dialogue during the first round of negotiation), and with the second phase of regional peace gatherings, in which another nine workshops will be held around the country to continue gathering ideas, hopes, and words of peace of the people without weapons.
The FARC continues its political offensive from Havana, and again on December 8, before the start of talks with the government, they were quick to deny the voices heard from Colombia asking them to take responsibility in relation to the victims.
“The FARC demand that those who in the mass media advise us to speak frankly and take a position on the important issue of victims of the conflict, be accountable to the country for their undeniable responsibility in the imposition of the war tragedy that has submerged Colombia into a deep humanitarian crisis, only to satisfy the economic interests of the richest,” the guerrilla group said in a statement read by Jesús Santrich, one of the negotiators.
In the same statement, the guerrillas stated that in Colombia “the existence of prisoners of war and of conscience and political prisoners is denied. They number around 8,000 men and women who survive cramped into jails suffering terrible conditions that we denounce today with an SOS, so that humanitarian groups intervene urgently.”
The guerrillas said also that they delivered to the Ecuadorean ambassador in Cuba a request to the governments of Ecuador and Colombia and International Red Cross for the repatriation of the mortal remains of their combatants killed in Sucumbios, Ecuador in March 2008, during the Colombian Army’s bombing of the camp of [guerrilla commander] Raúl Reyes.
Translated by John Lindsay-Poland.