by Stewart Vriesinga  (from Christian Peacemaker Teams)

“The fruits of this meeting are exclusive the product of our collective sacrifice and effort and desire to find paths to peace.” –Article 2 of the Manifesto

Those most impacted by the conflict in Colombia are seldom heard from and almost never consulted. They are the indigenous, Afro-Colombian and campesinos from rural sectors all over the country. They have long understood that the social root-causes of the conflict must first be addressed before there can ever be a real peaceful resolution. They travelled great distances in order to get together in Barrancabermeja from the 12thto 15th of August, to work out and propose their own solution to a conflict that continues to threaten their lives, their traditional lands, their livelihoods and their very cultural identities. According to Miguel Cifuentes, one of the organizers:

“We have verified that there are over 15 thousand people from all regions of the country, with the active participation of over 600 social organizations in Colombia to share their organizational processes, their work towards creating the conditions for peace, and the defence of their territory.”

Over the course of the weekend participants shared experiences, participated in workshops, presented and attended theatrical and musical presentations. Each sector was responsible for organizing their own kitchens (huge kettles on open fires), and accommodated themselves as best they could in tents, or on the floors of the coliseum and football stadium. By the end of the weekend they had come up with their own manifesto for peace in Colombia.

The manifesto was published and sent to Colombian society (through different media), to the central government and other branches of government, the guerrillas of the FARC-EP and ELN, “in order to express our willingness and desire to dialogue because actions are urgently needed to untie the knot of confrontation and move towards a political solution and peace.”

Videos and statements by both the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia -Popular Army (FARC-EP) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas were also briefly presented during the forum. Both guerrilla groups expressed their desire to enter into negotiations to find a solution to the conflict. The Colombian State, however, seems to be investing all of its resources into a military solution, and has not so far expressed any willingness to dialogue with the guerrilla. The people’s manifesto made mention of this:

We are concerned that, despite the formal recognition of the Colombian conflict by the present government, … the pursuit of a military solution is at the top of the government agenda and relates to a misguided concept of a peace between ‘victors and vanquished.’ …”

Whether the State is more willing to negotiate with the indigenous, Afro-Colombian and campesino victims of the conflict than it is with the armed insurgents remains to be seen. These three groups continue to be the primary victims of the conflict. The massacres and targeted killing of these groups by all armed actors, including state security forces, remain in impunity. More are killed every day. There has been no reparation to the victims, and millions of those dispossessed of their land never got it back. New displacements continue, some because of further violence, and others because of State legal maneuverings that dispossess indigenous people, Afro-Colombians, and campesinos of their traditional territories to make way for transnational mining interests, palm oil plantations, and other mega projects.

Clearly if the Colombian State were to agree to negotiate a new social contract that protects the rights, cultural identity and territory of all indigenous, Afro-Colombian and campesino Colombians, many powerful business interests here in Colombia and abroad would lose their easy access to Colombia’s mineral wealth and natural resources. So far the Colombia state’s preferred solution to the conflict seems to be eliminating both the armed resistance and the civil resistance in favour of powerful national and international economic interests that seek to gain control over local wealth and resources in the traditional territories of indigenous, Afro-Colombian and campesino peoples. The challenge for the allies of Colombia’s victims of violence is to do what the armed resistance could not: transform the balance of power to such an extent that civil society can actually force the State to come the bargaining table!

(The entire Peoples’ Forum for Peace manifesto can be found online here.)

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