Colombia: Local Peace Communities

Colombia has a history of nearly five decades of internal armed conflict between the Colombian government and various guerilla groups such as the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and ELN (National Liberation Army). Historically, the conflict is rooted in what is known as La Violencia, which was triggered by the 1948 assassination of the populist politician Gaitan. There have been at least 250,000 casualties and millions of displaced people. [I]   
 
The Peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC, which have been taking place since November 2012, have made progress in ending the conflict, and a Ceasefire Accord has been agreed upon by both parties on 23 June 2016. Nevertheless, various obstacles remain in order to achieve peace, such as the possibility of Colombian citizens voting against the Accord during a referendum, the risks of demobilization and reintegration by the FARC, economic difficulties in funding the implementation of the Accord and the conflict's continuation by the ELN. 
 
Local Peace Communities, Peace Committees, Peace Laboratories, Zones of Peace have been flourishing in some of the most vulnerable conflict zones. Objectives were to get protection from the surrounding violence, but also to establish participatory democracy and encourage local development. Often community leaders started such a process, but mayors or local administration also took the initiative. Many organized themselves into associations of peace communities to obtain more bargaining power with the armed actors.
 
There have been hundreds of LPCs; most of them were active between 1998 and 2002. In 1998 Andrés Pastrana Arango was elected President. He had promised to negotiate peace with the guerrilla groups. That year, Bogota-based peace organization REDEPAZ – a network of mostly local and regional peace initiatives – began a project to help establish and support new and existing local peace communities, calling it One Hundred Municipalities for Peace. Four years later the project came to an end and was replaced by one that sought to develop local democracy. Under Pastrana's successor, president Alvaro Uribe, government policy changed, aiming for a military solution and peace communities became targets for the security forces.
 
Most LPCs established institutions to ensure maximum participation in decision making. They had a Constituent Assembly, open General Assemblies or Municipal Forums for all members of the community. Working committees met every month, on specific issues, with representatives of unions, the church, youth & women organizations, etc. Such forums started to identify the causes of violence and poverty in each community and to draw up a development and peace plan for the community.
 
The success – be it limited - of LPCs has been largely connected to the degree of involvement by all the community's various groups and sectors. Also contributing to their success have been the relationship between LPCs and existing local power and governance structures (without becoming too dependent). Many LPCs managed to establish (temporarily) increased security. They empowered their members and local civil society. In the absence of strong leadership for peace at the national level, local and regional initiatives were temporarily filling a gap. 
 
Literature:
Colombian peace communities: Active non-cooperation rather than passive acquiescence; by Pedro Valenzuela, New Routes, December 2010. 
ACCORD magazine about Colombia, 2004
http://www.c-r.org/resources/alternatives-war-colombia's-peace-process
http://www.c-r.org/sites/c-r.org/files/Part1_ColombiaAccord.pdf
 
Note
[i] - Virginia M. Bouvier (2009), Colombia: Building Peace in a time of war; USIP 
- Catalina Rojas, Islands in the Stream: a Comparative Analysis of Zones of Peace within Colombia's Civil War; (2007); in: Zones of Peace, ed. by Landon E. Hancock and Christopher Mitchell; Kumarian Press, p.71-90.
 

The Peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC, which have taken place since November 2012, have made progress in ending the conflict, and a Ceasefire Accord has been agreed upon by both parties on 23 June 2016. Nevertheless, various obstacles remain in order to achieve peace, such as the possibility of Colombian citizens voting against the Accord during a referendum, the risks of demobilization and reintegration by the FARC, economic difficulties in funding the implementation of the Accord and the existence of the ELN.