COLOMBIA: Peoples' Forum for Peace in Colombia--"Dialogue is the Answer"

1 September 2011
COLOMBIA:  Peoples' Forum for Peace in Colombia—“Dialogue is the Answer”

by Stewart Vriesinga     

 [Note: the following release has been edited for length.  People may view the original release here.]

 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 travelled great distances to meet in Barrancabermeja from 12-15  August, to work out and propose their own solution to a conflict that continues to threaten their lives, their traditional lands, their livelihoods, and cultural identities.

  Miguel Cifuentes, one of the organizers, announced to the participants during the conference,

The visitors to Barrancabermeja accommodated themselves as best they could in tents, or on the floors of the coliseum and football stadium "We have verified that there are over fifteen 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."

By the end of the weekend, participants had come up with their own manifesto for peace in Colombia, which they sent to Colombian society (via the media), the central government, other branches of government, and 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."

Both the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia -Popular Army (FARC-EP) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) sent statements expressing their desire to enter into negotiations to find a solution to the conflict.  The People's Manifesto noted, however,  "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.' ..."

The massacres and targeted killing of indigenous, Afro-Colombian and campesino groups by all armed actors, including state security forces, continue with impunity.  New displacements also persist, some because of further violence, and others because of State legal maneuverings that dispossess them of their traditional territories to make way for transnational mining interests, palm oil plantations, and other mega projects.

Clearly if the Colombian State agreed 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 Colombian 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.  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 on line here.

(Some CPT Colombia team members attended the Forum, but did not actively participate in the dialogue.  The Colombia team’s primary contributions were (1) Accompanying people in and out of Segovia, Remedios, and surrounding villages along with our Colombian partner organization CAHUCOPANA, (2) Taking part in a public action in July by a CPT international delegation in Remedios during which the event was promoted, and (3) Accompanying people from CAHUCOPANA as they visited different cities in north-east Antioquia to invite them to participate in the event.)