By Frank Varelas
Last March 30 the Government of Colombia announced publicly that it will start peace negotiations with the ELN guerrilla in order to put an end to the internal armed conflict by way of a political solution. The conflict in Colombia is more than 50 years old and it has left more than 5 million victims. http://www.semana.com/especiales/proyectovictimas/
This peace process will have a 6-point agenda to be discussed by the negotiators. The participation of civil society is one of these points, and it is very important in this process because it has been a source of discord in previous peace processes between these parties, which ended unsuccessfully.
The other points in these negotiations are: “Democracy for peace”, “Transformations for peace”, “Victims”, “security for peace and disarmament” and “guarantees for exercising political action”.
The participation of civil society in this process definitely generates a lot of expectations about how this participation will be implemented. Also, who will represent civil society and ensure that this participation meets the needs of the process? Regional participation should be the backbone of civil society’s participation in this process. For example, people from rural areas should be included, as already expressed by the Jesuit priest Francisco de Roux on April 3 in El Tiempo, an important newspaper in Colombia. http://www.eltiempo.com/politica/proceso-de-paz/entrevista-con-el-padre-jesuita-francisco-de-roux/16553157
Regional participation should be composed of community leaders and farmers, grassroots people who have lived all their lives in war zones facing and confronting the horror that this entails.
For the selection of people who could participate as civil society representatives in this process Francisco de Roux gives some important advice that should be taken into account by the Colombian government and the ELN guerrilla when structuring this agenda item. For example, the priest says that such representatives should include “women and men who lead projects of civil resistance, peasant farms, markets and microcredit organizations, projects of culture and education, roundtables for dialogue and to combat illegal mining, organizations of indigenous people, Afro-Colombians and farmers for the protection of their territory”. (Original text in Spanish)
The start of the peace process and the active participation of civil society bring hope of an end to the conflict and of social, political and economic changes needed by the Colombian people. Many expect that the representation of civil society at the negotiating table will communicate the need of the Colombian people not to suffer any more war, inequality and exploitation in their territories. Representatives of civil society in these peace talks should be above petty politics, personal egos and they should have a strong mandate to represent their communities.