Last week, I came to Bogotá to participate in the Peace Summit of Mayors and Governors. The event was sponsored by Gustavo Petro, the Mayor of Bogotá, and included the participation of local and regional authorities from some of the most war-torn parts of Colombia. International guarantors for the event included three representatives from the U.S. Institute of Peace (yours truly), the French Embassy, and the Organization of American States' Mission to Support the Peace Process, respectively.
The peace summit was in the planning for some three months, before the news that national peace talks between the FARC and the Colombian government would open in Oslo this month. The Oslo talks have now been postponed by a week for technical reasons having to do with the need to suspend arrest warrants in order to guarantee safe transit for the FARC leaders who will participate in the talks. Without this protection, the insurgents could be legally detained (or worse) before they reach the negotiating table.
The agenda for the summit of mayors and governors was adapted to this new context of imminent peace talks. Jorge Rojas, the private secretary of the Mayor of Bogotá, underscored that this peace summit, the first of many to come, would explore ways to support the national peace process, ensure the protection of the civilian population and the rights of victims while peace is being negotiated, and promote the construction of regional agendas for peace and development.
“We don't want a spot at the table in Oslo or Havana,” Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro announced. “We want to accompany the process locally. … It would be disingenuous to assume that the social conflicts of the regions will be resolved in Oslo or Havana.”
The drive for peace has been strong in the regions. (See my post, “Approaching a Tipping Point in Colombia“). The mayors of Valledupar and Caquetá underscore that a small minority wages war but the majority want peace. The mayor of Magdalena spoke of the need for development in the regions and the mandate for peace. “Without peace, there is no development,” he noted. The mayor of Quibdó (Chocó) convened a consultation with youth, and her representative at the summit discussed the role of young people in the conflict and their stake in a future peace.
During the last ten years, in the absence of a national peace process, war has raged in many of the regions outside of the capital city of Bogotá–the “territories,” as they are called here. Each region has experienced the war differently. Far from being a national war, in Colombia there are “innumerable territorial conflicts marked by violence,” noted Mayor Petro.
Over time, the regions have had to find ways to coexist with insurgent groups, paramilitary groups, government troops, drug traffickers, criminal gangs, or combinations thereof. Some 10,000 Colombians have been affected by land mines, which have been sown by government and insurgent forces alike. Forced displacement has impacted the entire country, with Bogotá and Medellín being the recipients of the largest numbers of displaced persons from the regions. Some 366,000 internally displaced people, including more than a thousand members of the Embera indigenous communities, have been displaced to Bogotá alone. Local authorities as well as the general citizenry have increasingly been caught in the middle of the war. The mayor of Florencia told how she was the victim of an attack that left her in a wheelchair for two years and on crutches for a third.
The options for communities plagued by armed actors are few–leave the zone, try to stay under the radar, negotiate pacts of co-existence with one or more armed groups, seek protection from one side or another, or organize as communities to pressure the armed groups to stay out of the communities. In order for these latter peace zones (sometimes called humanitarian zones or any variety of other names) to survive, all of the armed groups must agree to stay out of the zones–an especially problematic posture for government forces. Such has been the dynamic in Cauca, where indigenous and government authorities continue to be locked in a debate over whether government forces can be excluded from any part of the national territory or if indigenous autonomy is guaranteed. (See “Al Jazeera Discussion on Cauca”). An insightful new book by Christopher Mitchell and Landon Hancock, Local Peacebuilding and National Peace: Interaction Between Grassroots and Elite Processes explores these local-national dynamics through a number of case studies, including Colombia.
Mayor Petro used the peace summit to call on the international community, especially the United States, to support the process. He also called on his fellow mayors and governors to establish a “group of friends” to support the national peace process through local pacts and agreements in the territories. Petro underscored the role of local leaders–who are already being called on to implement the new land restitution law, protect victims' rights, and implement rural land reform–to nurture an environment for peace and to prepare themselves to implement the anticipated peace accords, activating local structures such as the municipal peace councils. All of the leaders seem eager to take advantage of the historic moment offered by peace talks to help their communities move toward recovery from long years of war. They agreed to meet again next month in Florencia in the department of Caquetá for another peace summit.
Following is the official statement (translation mine ) from the Peace Summit of Leaders. (For the original Spanish version, click here). The signatories to the document include the governors and their representatives of Caquetá, Guajira, Vaupés, Nariño, Arauca, Tolima, and Putumayo, as well as mayors of Bogotá, Florencia, Valledupar, Santa Marta, Ciénaga Magdalena, San Juanito (Meta), Soacha (Cundinamarca), San Juanito, and representatives of the mayors from Tumaco and Buga (Valle del Cauca).
We welcome the launch of peace negotiations in Oslo and Havana and share the hope that at last a peace agreement between the government and the guerrillas might be reached. From territories of the armed conflict we feel an obligation to help make these agreements realities, such that the peace that is proposed will lead to social investment, justice, democracy and a restoration of rights. Strengthened democratic local institutions and a reflective and active civil society contribute to the legitimacy of the peace process. We do not want to contemplate passively peace negotiations between armed adversaries. The governance of peace requires local consensus, grounding peace in the regions (territories), it requires regional agendas. We therefore propose:
1. To the National Government and the guerrillas: Facilitate and support humanitarian agreements in the territories that guarantee the exclusion of the civilian population from the armed conflict while the peace is being signed (Protocol II of the Geneva Conventions). War declared while negotiating peace has is limited.
2. To the National Government: Strengthen local institutions as a legitimate and democratic expression of the State in the territories, make the general budget of the nation an equitable instrument for building peace from the localities, secure resources for the restoration of the rights of victims and their effective protection, take into account the regional agendas of peace at the negotiating table.
3. The convening of the Peace Councils and the reactivation of the Constituent Assemblies (constituyentes) for Peace, these are scenarios for local participation and social consensus that have full authority.
4. To the citizenry (plural and diverse expression of Colombian society): Participate and act in a constructive manner to build regional peace agendas and proposals, to make the eventual peace agreements a reality in the territories. Youth is the protagonist of this moment of national life. Peace initiatives and human rights organizations, as well as women, indigenous and Afro-descent communities are a reference point for this participation.
5. To the international community: Verify the humanitarian agreements to protect the civilian population, contribute to citizen participation at the local level, and accompany the victims, giving special consideration to the border zones.
6. To the media: Help build a language of peace, reverse the disregard for the territories that are suffering the war, identify the people who are suffering the rigors of the armed conflict as actors for peace.
We will maintain a Permanent Roundtable of Authorities for Peace to support the peace process and to ensure that the voices of mayors and governors, as well as those of the communities in the territories of armed conflict, are heard. We must learn from the successes and mistakes of the past but, above all, we have the right to transform are Article 22 of the Constitution into reality. We will meet for a second summit on 9 November in the city of Florence, the capital of the department of Caquetá.