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By Sergio Ferrari
The fighting continues, the mining, the confinement of communities, the massive displacements, the murders. It is an indicator that counteracts, by itself, the triumphalist speeches that are projected abroad.
Although in some areas of the country the situation seems to be slowly improving, the armed conflict continues to be a “dramatic reality”. We must bet that achievable paradigms of a lasting peace are strengthened from below, says Irma Perilla in this exclusive interview. An option that in the future should be imposed as the only alternative in that South American country, exhausted by almost 50 years of conflict.
Irma Perilla, economist, specialist in International Cooperation and project management for development, with long experience working in institutional strengthening of social organizations, works as co-head of SUIPPCOL in Colombia.
The Swiss Program for the Promotion of Peace in Colombia (SUIPPCOL) is promoted by a dozen non-governmental organizations with the active support of the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It was established in 2001 and its third phase, currently underway, will conclude in 2011.
It is made up of: Caritas; the Lenten Action; EPER; Swissaid; Amnesty International / CH; the Switzerland-Colombia Working Group; Land of Men / Switzerland; the Brigades for Peace; E-CHANGER and the Bethlehem Mission of Immensee.
Q: There is a lot of talk abroad about the progress of the pacification of Colombia. What is your reading of what your country is experiencing today?
Irma Perilla: If the territories are visited, it is evident that the conflict continues to prevail. The publicized pacification is not felt. The confrontations, the combats, the mining, the confinement of communities, the massive displacements, the murders continue. Women are still considered, in many places, as spoils of war. I have just returned from the city of Pasto (Nariño) and the organization with which I was meeting had to interrupt our discussion to attend to two cases of 13 and 15 year old girls who had been raped.
The "two" Colombias
Q: How do you explain that there are two such different visions of the same country abroad?
A: The reality is one and very dramatic. The figures from the Office for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES), in its latest newsletter. They indicate that there are more than 4 million displaced people, more than a million of which occurred in the last four years. It is an indicator that counteracts, by itself, the triumphalist speeches that are projected abroad.
Q: What, then, prevails in the current political situation?
A: Militarized civil life. That it has nothing to do with the peace that the communities want. This is nowhere to be seen.
We note that there is an absence of a peace policy in the country. I am referring to what should be a guideline from the State, from the Government. The strategy is to wage war to achieve peace. For this reason, the central component of the "democratic security" policy is military. Far from the real expectations of the people who in the regions must endure the pain of violence on a daily basis.
Clear message to power
Q: In such a complex situation, what are the main axes of SUIPPCOL's current work?
A: There are two essential aspects. The first is the challenge of strengthening the protection and self-protection mechanisms of the peace processes, initiatives and communities with which we work in conflict regions.
SUIPPCOL seeks to support, accompany, and reinforce those initiatives that run so many risks but that resist war. So that they do not allow themselves to be co-opted by any of the actors, so that they do not wane in the conviction of their peace proposals, so that they continue to promote what they are building with such dignity.
It must be remembered that we support a Network of Peace Initiatives from the base, which brings together more than twenty communities, networks or processes from the most remote regions of the country.
The second axis of our work tries to continue strengthening the articulation between all those communities, networks and initiatives that experience similar realities. It is very important that they get to know each other, support each other, exchange experiences, and encourage each other.
Q: Is that the basic philosophy of SUIPPCOL?
A: Indeed. May all these peace initiatives, which are developing concrete proposals, be able to send their message to civil society and the Government. That very clear message is the end of the war, the need for a negotiated political solution and the construction of a solid and lasting peace.
Q: And the international community?
A: It is very important! All these peace initiatives need a lot of international support so that their proposals are heard by the Colombian Government, by the United Nations system and understood as a mandate from the communities that are suffering, as direct victims and most exposed to the conflict. .
The Peaceful Route of Women, whom we have supported since the first stage of SUIPPCOL, for example, organizes on June 24 and 25, in Bogotá, an international forum on truth, justice and comprehensive reparation. It is also an example of the importance assigned to the international community, making it part of the outstanding debt that still exists with women victims of violence.
Q: Other sectors of Colombian life, such as the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, in recent months have explicitly spoken in favor of the negotiated political solution ...
A: It is an important position. The reflection of the Episcopal Conference goes in the direction of a negotiated solution and humanitarian agreements. This is how she positions herself against the Government and the armed groups, offering herself institutionally as a mediator.
Q: Are you saying that there are signs of hope in the negotiated solution?
A: We feel a little light of hope since today important sectors of Colombian society are wondering if it is time to seek paths of peace, to evaluate, at least, the conditions to start dialogues with the armed actors. Sectors that did not ask before. At a particular time, as the presidential elections approach. And along with that, the issue of civil society entering this eventual dialogue as a third main actor. And hence the importance of reinforcing all initiatives from below, so that civil society is strong and when that negotiation opens it can promote its own vision of a just and sustainable peace.
Sergio Ferrari, back from Colombia - E-CHANGER and swissinfo collaboration
Processes and Initiatives
Among the peace initiatives, from civil society itself, which have the support of the Swiss program, is the Network of Peace Initiatives and Communities from the Base, peoples and communities that oppose the presence or permanence in their territories of armed actors and the military confrontation.
The Territories of Peace are also strongly emerging. It is a proposal promoted particularly by the indigenous communities of Cauca (south-east of the country) who offer their territories to facilitate political negotiation between the Government and the guerrilla groups. Already in the late 1980s there had been a similar initiative to ensure, then, dialogue between the Government and the M19 guerrilla.
There are regional Peace Agendas, such as that of Chocó, which was born from the confluence of the work of three dioceses of the Catholic Church together with 87 Afro-Colombian and indigenous organizations. They promote not only a proposal for peace for the region but also a concept of development, based on their own worldviews and cultures.
From its first phase, SUIPPCOL supports networks such as the Peaceful Route of Women, a feminist and pacifist movement with political, cultural and social action aimed at strengthening the feminist vision of pacifism, non-violence and civil resistance. Promotes the inclusion of political and social proposals of Colombian women (Sergio Ferrari)