Colombia: Between surrealism and peace

Cover Picture: A man places a flower on a Colombian national flag during a march along the streets of Cali, Colombia, on July 15, 2016, in support of the peace talks between the government of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC guerrillas (AFP Photo/Luis Robayo)

By Ollantay Itzamná

We watched with astonishment the announcement of the peace agreement between the Colombian state and military with FARC, as contagious joy spread through Latin America’s officialdom. Then we watched the widespread frustration after the “unexpected” results of the vote.


Renowned Latin American scholars assumed that “peace for Colombia” meant “peace for Latin America.” From this perspective, the result of the October 2nd vote was interpreted as, “catastrophic polarization of the country” and “a lost historic opportunity for the pacification and reform of the country.”


How did they come to these illusory conclusions?


Their first fallacy. It is not true that “NO” won the vote in Colombia, a country mired in permanent conflict. It was ABSTENTION that won again, with more than 60% not voting. Only 18% of the electorate voted “NO”.


Their second fallacy. It is not true that the result of the vote shows polarization. Only one in three eligible Colombian voters went to the polls to vote. The “catastrophic tie” of this one-third of the electorate does not represent the country, much less the country’s supposed polarization.


Their third fallacy. It is not true that the peace accords would end the internal war in Colombia. To believe this is to confuse FARC-related violence with the totality of violence in the country.


The current Colombian violence has an infinitude of perpetrators: the state/military, drug traffickers, assassins, insurgents, organized crime, plantation owners, the extractive industry, etc. FARC may lay down their arms, but the others will continue to prey on the public, and with yet more intense truculence. Guatemala signed its own peace accords in 1996, and Peru “defeated” its guerrillas in the 90s, but these and other “defeats” for guerrilla movements did not lead to “eras of peace” in these countries. Today in Guatemala, twice as many people die violently daily than did during all but the most violent years of Guatemala’s 36-year “internal armed conflict.”


Their fourth fallacy. Peace in Colombia would not mean peace for Latin America, not only because “peace” would not be the effect of the “peace agreement,” but also because this supposed peace would strengthen a reinvigorated neoliberal economic system. Now, yes, the agents of the reified neoliberal economy have carte blanche to continue to pillage the country’s peoples without having to worry about the inconvenience of guerrillas in the hills that occasionally kidnap them. We see, again, the case of Guatemala, in which, two decades after its lauded peace accords, 60% of its people live in poverty, while the few old rich and the few new rich few hoard almost all of the country’s wealth. This “peace” we do not want in Latin America.


An important truth: With insufficient citizen participation, the liberal Colombian elites with the blessing of the US government managed to sign a peace agreement to reach every bit of Colombia’s territory in search of its wealth. These avaricious interests sweetened their appearance by speaking of peace. And many of us, especially the emasculated pacifists, drank this Kool-aid. Where in history have band-aid “fixes” to social structures that exclude and pillage actually worked to lift those they’re supposed to assist? We believed in it again anyway.


In any event, after having celebrated with joy the “defeat” of the guerrillas in Peru (Sendero Luminso and MRTA), and later enduring the horrible consequences of neoliberal dictatorship for decades, I keep myself from thinking and feeling conventionally about this Colombian surrealism. Indeed, I can’t from this Guatemala that accelerated its violent march toward social disintegration and government malfeasance, even with more “leftist” neoliberal policies, thanks to its lauded “Peace Accords.”