The paralysis of the coronavirus threatens to spread peace in Colombia | International

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Colombia has had a hard time turning the page of more than half a century of armed conflict. The world-shaking pandemic may slow the ongoing implementation of a hard-negotiated peace accord that nonetheless still stirs up public debate. Despite the fact that he was elected with the support of the sectors that opposed the Havana talks, President Iván Duque is responsible for fulfilling a pact that has had strong support from the international community. Now, to the formidable obstacles that peacebuilding has faced, there is also an unprecedented health emergency with an uncertain outcome.

In addition to the disarmament of the extinct FARC guerrilla –converted into a political party–, the pact aims to transform the territories hardest hit by the war, as well as close the historic gaps between the countryside and the city. The implementation may lose traction, with delays and lags in its development, warns the analysis of the Ideas for Peace Foundation (FIP). Restrictions to mobility and isolation due to the health emergency pose a complex scenario that will not only impact the execution of small infrastructure works and the provision of goods and services in the territories, but also larger projects. The budgetary limitations that the implementation has faced "could deepen as a result of the redirection of resources to respond to the pandemic," he warns.

The Government, permanently questioned about its real degree of commitment, has promised to continue making progress in those regions affected by violence. "We continue working to protect, care for, compensate, repair our victims," ​​declared Emilio Archila, presidential advisor for Consolidation (previously post-conflict). From the beginning, his office has been mobilized to guarantee health care, food and economic support to former combatants during the national quarantine extended, in principle, until April 26. Especially the nearly 3,000 who still live in the former Territorial Training and Reintegration Spaces (ETCR), several of which are in remote places with difficult access. Some instances, such as the reinstatement council, have managed to function virtually.

But the challenges remain. To begin with, in his most recent report on the verification mission in Colombia, the UN Secretary General stresses that more than 9,400 ex-combatants live outside the former ETCR. "The reincorporation process will only be successful if each and every one of the ex-combatants who remain committed to the peace process are given opportunities, protection and security, regardless of where they live," the report said. There is a growing demand for more attention.

By January, more than half of the ex-combatants were not linked to a productive project, according to Congresswoman Juanita Goebertus, who worked with the previous government's team during the negotiations and is monitoring the implementation judiciously. "With an aggravating factor", he warns, "the Duque Government has been promoting individual projects and not collective ones", as was the spirit of the agreement.

"If those of us who defend the peace agreement had a challenge of not falling into irrelevance before the pandemic, this means exponentially multiplying that challenge," warns Goebertus. He emphasizes that the gap between the countryside and the cities that the pact seeks to resolve is more alive than ever, with the risks it implies at this juncture. "Although it is in urban conglomerations where the pandemic is growing in Colombia today, if it reaches these remote areas the health system has no way of responding," he emphasizes. “If, as a result of this pandemic, resources are concentrated in urban areas and do not take this gap into account, we will be destined to repeat that a new emergency – or even more serious, the continuation of violence – will take us with such low institutional capacity to rural level ”.

40 percent of the regulations required for the implementation of the agreement are still missing, according to the report Peace in emergency, a count of a group of congressmen from various parties. Some old threats remain even in quarantine, such as the incessant murder of social leaders -34 in 2020- and ex-combatants who signed the peace -22 so far this year, according to FARC party legislators. New obstacles are added to them. The economic onslaught of the coronavirus will be felt in the ETCRs that have opted for tourism projects, such as Miravalle (Caquetá) or Pondores (Guajira), for example.

"Where we see bigger clouds is in areas where there is concurrence with the problem of illicit crops, because the substitution program was lagging behind and at the same time the Government will continue with its strategy of forced eradication," says María Victoria Llorente, director of the IFJ. "This peace agenda must continue to be a priority, and it will become an emergency once we get out of this emergency," he says.

In the areas of justice and memory, the country has been able to look at a truth that is as painful as it is restorative, with advances such as the exhumations of alleged victims of extrajudicial executions in Dabeiba, Antioquia, at the beginning of the year. This process has also lost momentum with the measures of social isolation, since both the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) and the other entities grouped in the Comprehensive System of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Non-Repetition had to suspend face-to-face proceedings and events. public. The Truth Commission, which must deliver its final report in a year and a half, modified its schedule to privilege documentary study instead of the dialogues and meetings that it had been organizing in different regions. His field work includes collecting testimonies in remote villages and indigenous reservations. The Missing Persons Search Unit, for its part, warned that the handling of the bodies by Covid-19 must be careful not to put at risk the preservation of the thousands of unidentified remains that remain in cemeteries in the country.

Inspired by the principle of expanding Colombian democracy, the peace agreement also has an important component of political participation. The prohibition of agglomerations to prevent the spread of Covid-19 has not only prevented the plenary sessions of Congress from meeting, it has also disrupted the agendas of several parties, including the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force, which emerged from the agreements. The FARC, amid internal divisions, has also had to face the siren songs of the dissidents that strayed from the path of peace, such as the one headed by Iván Márquez, the chief negotiator of the defunct guerrilla who decided to take up arms together to a group of ex-commanders.

Having kept the acronym of the defunct Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia has been an electoral burden for the new party, which has ten seats guaranteed for two terms. There were huge expectations around his National Assembly, originally convened for April 16, 17, 18 and 19. A name change was going to be debated there, in a meeting that was also a litmus test for the leadership of Rodrigo Londoño, Timochenko. However, due to the emergency, the FARC leadership decided to postpone its second meeting "until this situation is overcome." Nobody dares to put a date on it.

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