‘It has been too long time since we began sacrificing innocent Colombians’

Colombians on Sunday are voting “Yes” or “No” on a historic peace accord signed by the government and FARC rebels. Jimena Morales-Velasco, a Colombian writer and translator, gives her view on the decades-old conflict and the peace deal from Paris.

I was born in times of war, both here and there. My “here” back then was Colombia. It has gradually become my “there” now that I live in exile, and while war appears to be spreading to unexpected places, Colombia seems to be taking another path. But it’s not quite there yet.

The process will be long, and even though it has already started, there seem to be as many obstacles as proponents in the big battle for peace. There is much more than the official signatures on an accord. On Sunday, Colombians are being asked to vote “Yes” or “No” to the peace deal in referendum that aims to put the final touch to the end of the civil war.

The big step was taken in 2012 by the two main actors of our current conflict (the government of Colombia and FARC rebels) when they decided to sit down, and to talk.

Jimena Morales-Velasco is a writer and translator in Paris. She was born in Cali, Colombia in 1983.

It might sound crazy for some. To sit and talk, such easy actions that have taken more than 50 years, and that yet failed on four previous tries. There had to be a very big effort from both sides to face their longtime enemy, the one they had been hunting in the mountains of Colombia, the one that had made a nightmare out of every single journey into the jungle, a nightmare they couldn’t wake up from. So they sat and talked.

As is necessary in every peace process, the parties started discussing the subjects that raised the least political acrimony. But each subject was vital for the construction of the post-war Colombia: rural reform, victims’ rights, political participation, illicit drugs, implementation and end of the conflict. In that sense, the talks went in crescendo. In intensity, in demands, in threats, in concessions. And in risk. There were several times when talks appeared on the verge of collapse during the four years, threats of a return to violence from both sides, arrogance from both sides too. In the end the two sides proved they were willing to stay at the peace table and finally signed the agreement this August 24.

It is difficult as humans in a competitive society to accept that at the end of a debate there is no winner. That’s exactly where the core of our peace process resides. There cannot be any winners this time and, if there are any, they are the victims of the war and the general population.

This is the reason why, at this point, we still cannot say that the victory of peace has come. Because many Colombians want a winner from this race. And full punishment for the rebels. Yes, there were thousands of people celebrating in the streets of Bogota, Cali and Medellin on that 24th of August. Yes, I want to keep hope that Colombians are more likely to say “Yes” to the peace deal, as imperfect as it might be. But I also remain frustrated because so many of my compatriots have rejected this big effort.

Focus on victims

Are we “handing the country to terrorists”? That question seems to be driving the fear of those who have campaigned against the peace process, followed by the conviction that rebels deserve full legal punishment, proportional to the atrocities they committed.

The FARC guerillas have committed wrongs. They have hurt the dignity of the population, they’ve played with life and death, they’ve used the worst ways of defending a political position and they actually got lost while doing it. They also lost the civilian support they once had. But now, seeing themselves weakened by the actions of the army, by the death of some of their mythical leaders and by the pressure of the national and international community, they have finally agreed to stop. They built, alongside the Colombian government, one of the most groundbreaking peace processes in the history of conflict resolution, having the victims as the core of the negotiation and focusing its attention on the reparation of the astonishing number of 8,000,000 people, registered by the presidency’s “Unidad de Víctimas”, the organisation in charge of collecting all of the data, protecting and monitoring the restitution of lands.

This process is not flawless, but the intention of forgiveness and reparation from and to the victims cannot be wrong. Everything is going in the direction of a real transformation of Colombia’s social structure, which in times of war cannot and would never happen.

For now, it pains me to hear some of what I call the Cold War-frozen arguments from my fellow citizens who still panic about the “ascendancy of the communist monster” if the ex-guerrilla men get a place on the political scene, and who prefer to continue sending soldiers to war – poor, disadvantaged young soldiers – and keep fighting other poor, disadvantaged young peasants, guerrilla men, so when we do the maths it’s only the same social group who is sending the victims to war.

Couldn’t we just understand and accept the origins of our conflict, of the social injustice that has only grown since the foundation of the South American republics?

All of this, without justifying the actions of the rebels, but accepting that it has been too long a time since we began sacrificing innocent people. And that if we, the people, do not ratify this peace process, the unbearable violence could continue for another generation. It’s about time that arguments arrive to our ears in the wavelengths of spoken words, and not in the bomb blasts and gunshot clatters. It’s about time that we, as Colombians, decide that only peace and nothing else can lead us to social justice.

This Sunday October 2 the eyes of the world will be wide open with the hope that the answer from the people will be an overwhelming Yes to peace, but for now it is still nonsensical that the idea of peace is actually dividing us.

Date created : 2016-10-01

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