These days, everyone has an opinion on such a prickly topic. Some will say it is a waste of time and resources, while others hail it as a great effort to end the conflict. Many, however, will label it as a campaign act from President Santos to remain in power for four more years, and nothing else.
Be that as it may, the ramifications of a peace process, including the integration into society of the former fighters, must be evaluated and weighed before, during and after any exercise of opinion.
Peace processes are intrinsically unpopular because of the former fighter integration into society. In Colombia’s case, the fighting has been going on since 1961, which means that nowadays most fighters have been insurgents all their lives. These are people who do not know how to do anything else, save fighting. To integrate these people into society life would mean to teach them a craft and then create enterprises to employ them, since only few or no business owners would hire them. That means that it would be the state that would be in the position of creating companies to create jobs for the former fighters, thus perpetuating the social isolation they have been subject to all their lives. Who, then, is to say that this isolation will not breed a new generation of resentful insurgents? What, then, is the alternative?
But it goes beyond that. The FARC militants, and those who sympathize with them have proposed their transition into a political party. This makes sense, and has already seen good results in Colombia in the case of the M-19, the leftist guerrilla group that in 1990 deposed its arms and became a political party. Many former members of this group are still part of Colombia’s political scene today, the most prominent of whom is Gustavo Petro Urrego, current Mayor of Bogotá, the Colombian capital. It is precisely Mr. Petro who has been selected to lead the transition process. But with all the crimes and the delinquent history these prospective future politicians carry, the public opinion cannot help but frown at the thought of investing legislative powers upon them. However, what else can be done? The fighters must be relocated somehow into the social weaving, and that includes political power in some measure.
My perspective is that, if a demobilisation is really going to take place, the militants must be allowed to become a political movement and must also be allowed to be elected for public office, much as it happened with the M-19 former fighters. It must be noted that the M-19 obtained a pardon for all their crimes, to the point which they cannot even be mentioned in the news or in any judicial sentence.
We are not prepared, as a people, to let this happen. We are not prepared to allow these fighters to become part of our daily lives. This is not an issue of forgiving or of not having it in us to forgive. It is matter of it being impossible, as the wounds are still too fresh.
There is another issue complicating things in this regard, and it is that the President and FARC have both confirmed that military operations from either side will not cease during the peace talks. Some have called this the “logic of war”, and I subscribe to this understanding. Some others have viewed it as the strength declaration from both sides, that part of the negotiation that is to take place on the field rather than on the tables. If military operations do not cease, the civilian population will have little to no reasons or justifications to begin the forgiving process, vital to the success of the social integration. But if operations cease, there is a historical referent to deny that mere possibility. It was done once back in 1999 with fatal results to the peace process then undertook, and the area cleared by the government to that end was retaken violently by the Colombian Armed Forces. So, since military operations and skirmishes will not cease, the civilians will have to trust their lives and futures on the negotiations alone. This is seen by many as reelecting the President in order to give continuity to the process, which takes the discussion back to the reelection debate: Is this a real process or merely a reelecting vehicle?In my view it is an honest attempt at something nearly impossible to accomplish.
If, for whatever reason, this process falls through, the alternative is one the Colombian people already know and hate: the military option. This eliminates the possibility of social integration, and further deepens the division between victims and victimaries.
The hope that Colombia now embraces is that the negotiations will render good fruits, and that violence can cease. As far as political integration goes, the truth must be told: There has always been, and there always will be, corruption. No one likes corruption. But is it preferred over violence? I am sure many would agree with me on the affirmative. Corporations have their money invested in war, even Big Oil. The corruption is there and it already happens, much like violence. But thinking in terms of globalization, foreign investment is needed, even beyond the multple FTAs Colombia is part of and those that are being negotiated. It must be noted that such FTAs have been signed and are about to be signed in spite of violence and corruption.
What really, then, should matter here is to end violence. If welcoming these criminals into Congress is what that takes, so be it.