The national strike that erupted on 28 April 2021, following a proposed tax reform by the current administration, was met with state repression of protests. That repression and the impasse of dialogue since late April have revealed deep grievances and polarization in Colombia. As discussed at a virtual panel a week earlier on 19 April, many stakeholders had signalled the persistence of such divisions despite advances since the Havana Peace Accords were signed by the State of Colombia and the FARC-EP guerrillas in 2016.
According to panellist Wade Davis of the University of British Columbia: “Rarely in history has a nation-state been given such an opportunity to envision its future and such a reprieve from the industrial forces that have devastated so much of the world over the past half-century.” He and other panellists noted that key provisions of the Accords had been implemented, for example, the demobilization and legalization of the FARC-EP and the creation of a particular transitional jurisdiction that brings guerrillas and state officials accused of grave human rights violations to justice. Yet particularly since the election of President Ivan Duque in 2018, many indigenous, environmental, human rights and community leaders have been assassinated, and the socio-economic situation of many Colombians has deteriorated. The global pandemic has not helped.
Against that backdrop, in April, the Duque government introduced a fiscal reform package that would have increased taxes on public services for all, as well as rising income taxes for middle-class Colombians. Labour unions called a general strike; students and other sectors joined mass protests against the reforms; others joined to protest violence against activists and the apparent abandonment of the peace accords. In May, the government’s widespread use of militarized police to repress primarily peaceful protests caused an estimated 70 fatalities, thousands of injuries and considerable property damage, particularly in the city of Cali. Church-mediated dialogue efforts have failed to find enough common ground to end protests and stop the repression.
Nonetheless, panellists underscored the transformative vision and significant advances enabled by the Peace Accords. Nelson Ovalle Diaz of the University of Ottawa stressed the contributions made by the Truth Commission, since 2017, in documenting and publicizing grave human rights violations by different parties across the nation’s vast territory. As he explains in his blog in this CIPS series, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace has also begun to investigate emblematic cases of crimes committed in the context of the armed conflicts by former FARC-EP combatants, state security forces, civilian officials and civilians.
For her part, panellist Paola Jiménez of the Just Governance Group reviewed the evolution of gender and other differential approaches in reparation mechanisms, which were initially created in the Justice and Peace process for victims of former members of paramilitary groups in 2005. As she explains in her blog in this series, collective reparations represent a more transformative process. Groups, including women’s organizations, actively participate in the characterization and assessment of joint harm to define a plan for collective reparation.
Read more on this topic by Stephen Baranyi and Kimberly Inksater on this topic in English or Spanish in the latest edition of Multiples
In conclusion, the moderators underlined the tensions between the promise of the Peace Accords and advances on issues like truth versus the decade or more it will take to get justice through the Special Jurisdiction for Peace and compensation or other recognition of harm through the Collective Reparations framework. They also warned of the risks of letting commitments to socio-economic equity fall off the plan, not knowing that protests and repression would bring those issues into focus just one week later.
Two months later, as the national strike continues amidst the Covid-19 pandemic and economic crisis, the gulf between the promise of the peace accords and the current situation demands a reexamination of investments for peace.
For Canada, the limited implementation of transitional justice and reparations commitments and the recent regression of the broader situation on the ground suggest that Ottawa should rethink its claim that Colombia is a “likeminded” country. Since 2016, Ottawa has invested an average of CA$ 40 million per year in development and the rule of law, including support to transitional justice, gender equality, de-mining and other vital projects (see also details of support for peace under the Feminist International Assistance Policy — FIAP.)
Yet as critics note, Canada also continues to provide military and police training to the Colombian state. Continued security support in the face of grave human rights violations seems antithetical to the FIAP. This policy seeks to transform the status quo and empower women and other marginalized groups to demand security and development. The Canadian government also actively supports measures to increase Canadian investment in controversial mining ventures in conflict-affected zones.
Yet Ottawa has avoided public criticism of the Duque government, despite its backing away from the peace accords and its authorization of repression against civilian protests. Barring an early election, a parliamentary review of this “likeminded” Canada-Colombia partnership could be timely this autumn to ensure that Canada is associated with peace rather than with police brutality.
Featured photo by: Humano Salvaje