DEMOCRACY AND PARTICIPATION IN THE COLOMBIAN PEACE PROCESS: AN OPPORTUNITY FOR POST-LIBERAL PEACE
Author: Mauricio Abraham Rosales Schettini
The Colombian armed conflict was one of the longest and the latest to reach a negotiation phase between the parties to put an end to it. With more than 50 years of history, this conflict went through important and decisive moments that shaped its characteristics of adaptability, and reached the moment of a ceasefire.
Although peace seems to be a reality in the medium term for the Colombian people, it is important to take a critical look at this idea of peace, as well as a process that has been shaped since the 1990s by the interference and influence of international actors.
These initiatives, as well as the internal dynamics between the guerrilla groups, the government and paramilitary forces, conceived the end of the conflict from a securitizing vision and attached to the Liberal Democracy plan directed from the local and international bureaucratic elite.
In 2012, the Colombian Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People's Army (FARC-EP) held so-called exploratory meetings, with the aim of putting an end to the national armed conflict. Starting with the exploratory talks and going forward, the General Agreement for the End of the Conflict and the Construction of a Stable and Lasting Peace marked the agenda of the talks between the parties that took place in Havana (Cuba). After four years of negotiations, in August 2016 the parties finally signed the Final Agreement (Puello-Socarrás, 2019. pp. 289-290)
The design of this agreement contemplates six fundamental points: 1) the Integral Rural Reform; 2) political participation and democracy opening; 3) the end of the armed conflict; 4) solution to the drug problem; 5) agreement on the victims of the conflict; 6) general principles for the implementation of the Final Agreement (Ríos, 2017, p. 594).
Complementary to the "points", the Final Agreement is structured in a systemic and comprehensive manner based on cross-cutting approaches (gender, ethnic, territorial) and implicitly framed in a Human Rights perspective in a broad sense (Puello-Socarrás, 2019. page 292).
This article raises the need to analyze pillar number 2 of the Final Agreement, on participation and democracy, in light of the criticisms of liberal peace from the theory of conflict resolution, its interrelation with new models of inclusiveness and proposals for the improvement of the plans that are currently being carried out.
ROLE OF THE UNITED NATIONS
When looking at the historical processes that the Colombian conflict has gone through, it is essential to talk about the role that international actors have played in contributing to the construction of peace. In this sense, it is important to mention the high participation of the United Nations in the attempts to resolve the conflict. From the Good Offices, which failed and were ended up by the General Secretary of the organization in 2005, to the development of two Verification Missions in Colombia, approved after 2016, under the idea of support from international institutions that could help find the exits to the conflict.
It is important to consider the role of the most successful international project of multilateralism, diplomacy and institutional liberalism in a context as troubled as that of Colombia. Its legitimacy in the conflict, especially in the 2 Political Verification Missions, has been immersed in the unanimity of all the Member States of the Security Council for maintaining a presence on the ground. This legitimacy -but also power-, together with the autonomy of the Missions, have made them an efficient project and have had a positive impact in the public sphere, gaining trust and territorial presence throughout the Republic (Nijmeijer, 2019, pp. 402-406).
But isn't this presence an imposition of peace from above? That is, from the international bureaucracy, an imposition with ideas that show the asymmetry of power in the International System of those who retain better positions than other States. The results of Missions I and II of the United Nations have shown that they have tried -at least- to overcome mistakes learned from the past in similar interventions. So, according to Rambsothan et al. (2011) balances have been struck to empower people in affected communities for reconstruction as well as production-based networking to generate nonviolent social change (pp. 347-348).
Mission II has been in charge of making important critical pronouncements on a variety of crucial issues for peace. It has spoken out to make recommendations, but also to denounce human rights violations and to ensure strict respect for the legal certainty of peacebuilding processes. Today, the United Nations is the organization with the largest territorial presence in Colombia, which makes it an ally for communities and civil society (Nimeijer, 2019, p. 407; Ríos, 2017).
The role of the United Nations, as we have seen, has been attempted to consolidate from the empowerment of the community, of the social bases. From what Lederach (cited in Ramsbothan et al, 2011, p. 348) would call indigenous empowerment. One where the construction of peace was from below, from the liberation of communities from oppression and violence towards the cultivation of cultures and structures of peace.
In 2018, Mission II made an important statement calling to preserve legal security for the reincorporation of all people to civil life in Colombia. This decision was supported by a series of local actors and with the legitimacy of international actors, who support the decisions that arise as a result of monitoring compliance with the Final Agreement (Nimeijer, 2019, p. 406).
This action confirms the virtue of the United Nations of its trust in institutionality, a neoliberal logic of trusting in institutional incentives that allow legal certainty and the normativity of a better future based on agreements (Richmond, 2011).
This element raises the discussion of the existence of a hybrid model or via media as detailed by Richmond (2011). Where a clearly liberal actor of International Relations, based on faith in the institutions and the liberality of the system, combines complementary practices related to the local and self-determination, the empowerment of the bases and the needs of a Rule of Law; that for the specific Colombian case, contributes to the common persecution of the agency, democracy, Human Rights and peace (p. 39).
It is evident, due to its characteristics of accompaniment, verification and support, that the United Nations has become a facilitator and not a director of peace processes (Campbell, 2011).
THE ROLE OF DEMOCRACY
As has been developed so far, the role of democracy in the Final Agreement's peace route is essential to reach the long-term scenario proposed in that peacebuilding. However, it is crucial to clarify that, in terms of Richmond (2011), we are talking about a liberal democracy, that is, a democracy based on those values and principles of faith in institutions, life in general and the Nation-State (pp. 27-30). It is evident that the final agreement supposes the search for peace through this model of Western democracy, the project of high citizen participation, construction of the Rule of Law and the liberalization of markets.
The view of the Final Agreement seeks to base the best international practices in democratic matters. With this, there is a look at the context of international -western- regimes that have successfully sold the democratic model, which contributes to the strengthening of liberal peace through the inclusion of external actors and the search for values imported from abroad (Government of Colombia, 2016, page 37; Richmond, 2011, page 29; Campbell, 2011, page 90).
In this sense, the Agreement contemplates the approval/constitution of regulations and laws as part of these institutional incentives to achieve peace - again in Western terms - by ensuring citizen participation, the electoral system and the role of public administration ( Government of Colombia, 2016, page 37). Evidently, here there is a liberal democratic aspiration that is satisfied in the institutions of the State and does not contemplate the role of the agency and the local in the most daily and self-determination (Richmond, 2011, p. 28).
In this order of ideas, it is important to put on this discussion the role of the political parties that, within the aspirations of the parties to the conflict, outline them as liberal institutions through which it is possible to reach power in a context of peace and full democracy. Once again, critics of liberal peace would consider one more attempt at the centrality of power in a State-centric logic, under the paradox of the Nation-State, sovereignty and territory. An attempt to politicize everyday life and the imposition of models where the least benefited are the locals (Richmond, 2011, p. 18; Rambsbotham et al, 2011).
From this, due to the context of more than five decades of conflict, there is a big tendency to securitize democracy. It is not only an idea of Western import, but also, with its nuances, it has found a referent object to its link with security, arms control and the incursion of illicit activities (Government of Colombia, 2016, p. 38; Rivers, 2017, page 603).
Richmond (2011) alludes to the use of coercion by those liberal agents who fear the failure of their ambitions, or the so-called “colonial anxiety” (p. 21). That is, an unfounded use of force that perpetuates practices that, in the case in question, have been associated with those reluctance to democracy and that seek to permeate a model for the future.
However, within the elements of the democracy component of the Final Agreement, it seems important to highlight the creation of 16 Special Transitory Districts of Peace in the regions hardest hit by the conflict, so their inhabitants can choose during the transition phase and temporarily, representatives to the congress. Parties with representation in Congress may not nominate candidates for these constituencies, but rather significant groups of citizens and social organizations in the territory, such as women, victims, peasants, and ethnic minorities (Government of Colombia, 2016, p. 37).
These Circumscriptions shed light and hope towards the establishment of integrative practices of a hybrid model, where institutional elements are combined but also the inclusion of a broad vision and empowerment towards the bases, or from below, as Lederach would define it (cited in Rambsbothan et al, 2011, p 348). An effort by what Richmond (2011) would define as the efforts of democracy, the Rule of Law and Human Rights to connect the everyday with the institutional framework (p. 22).
This positive element is, furthermore, an example of an alternate route that allows those local communities who are victims of the conflict to be brought closer to that social contract that seeks to emancipate and make them autonomous using practices that can restore these relationships from the micro to the macro (Campbell, 2011).
Although the peace processes in Colombia have led, after so long, to the establishment of practices with great hope and follow-up at the global level in terms of conflict resolution, it is important to keep an open critical and constructive eye for the future.
In the component of democracy and citizen participation that has been addressed in this article, it is important to emphasize the need to turn our gaze towards a true political system that guarantees full and genuine participation; adequate to the particularities of the Colombian case and not based on a universal recipe that could lead to the failure of innovative and integrating practices of a broken, polarized society and victim of heinous acts resulting from systematic violence.
In this sense, it is essential to take advantage of the resources and help of international actors to strengthen capacities and the involvement of local actors. That is, a true transformation of the paradigm of interventionism that turns the proposal to give true prominence to the local, to that space of emancipation and self-determination capable of transforming daily life into a positive one. Doing so will allow the construction of peace led by the locals, with the full support of international organizations where resistance will not be possible.
Empowering these communities, redefining the role of international actors and looking towards direct work with the grassroots will make democratic and participatory work to assist, negotiate and rediscover the local without colonial or racist patterns from that international bureaucracy.
On the other hand, it is essential not to securitize the idea and concepts for peacebuilding. For the true existence of a middle way, with full participation and self-determination, it is necessary to put aside all the erroneous conceptions about building peace from human security that hinder development and focus on the poor enjoyment of Human Rights and reparations to move towards the non-territorial and non-sovereign of peace.
However, the need to see democracy as more than just a vehicle to permeate power and the state institutional scaffolding, it is necessary to build processes of full participation in Colombia from below, where there is trust between actors and that goes far beyond the liberal recipes of Western democracy in a country with a particular context.
An empowerment of the local, from all fronts, as well as the recognition of the needs of the population in its space and autonomy can make the Colombian Government a fundamental ally to reach those sustainable peace agreements that involve genuine unity; a peace that comes from below and with integrative practices with direction and determination
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Mauricio Abraham Rosales Schettini is Guatemalan. Professional in International Relations, with Cum Laude mention from the Rafael Landívar University. University professor.
He has a Diploma in Political and Citizen Education from the José Simeón Cañas Central American University in El Salvador. He has represented Guatemala in the United Nations Organization in Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico, Guatemala and New York.
He has been recognized by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, for leading development management projects focused on governance, urbanism and advocacy.
He has work experience in the field of development cooperation, focused on donors from the European Union and the United States government.
From August 2020 to September 2021, he was an official of the United Nations system in Guatemala at the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
Currently, he is a scholarship holder of the German Exchange Service -DAAD- and a student in the Master's Degree in Conflict Resolution, Peace and Development at the United Nations University for Peace, Costa Rica.