For young Colombians like me, all we have ever known is a country at war. After more than 60 years of armed conflict, we have grown up in a country struggling desperately with drug lords, right wing paramilitaries and left wing guerrilla groups.
Bogotá has been at the center of the Colombian conflict for decades. Be it as a victim of terrorist attacks or as the epicenter of security efforts to bring stability to eh country.
Moreover, Bogota is home to the largest population of displaced victims of violence in Colombia.
After successful security campaigns by state forces and several peace processes, FARC, the oldest guerrilla group in the world today, is the only significant irregular army operating in the country. Finally, it seems as if peace can be achieved within the next few months.
Once the peace process succeeds, Colombia will be in a position to write a new chapter in its history. It is not as simple as signing a piece of paper, however. The process of reconciliation will be an even tougher fight.
But what has to be done to put the wind in our sails in this critical process of building trust and reconciliation? Great minds say that there are two kinds of peace: negative peace, defined as the absence of war; and positive peace. This last one implies a social and educational nature; it is built through recognition, memory and sympathy; but most important, it stands the test of time.
On the one hand, education will be decisive in this peace building process. How do we educate children living in a post conflict society? Children who grow up in violent contexts are more likely to legitimize aggressive beliefs, tend to be less empathetic towards other people’s feelings, and are less able to constructively manage their emotions. Therefore, these children tend to be more aggressive in the short and long-term, thus contributing to a harmful cycle of violence. Schools play an essential role in stopping this cycle, as they have the potential to be safe environments where children can learn how to be active citizens peacefully coexisting with others.
On the other hand, the role of business will be also crucial. How can the private sector drive post-conflict, peace building and peace keeping? Corporate participation in post-conflict centres is critical to achieving sustainable peace, since victims and perpetrators of violence must be incorporated back into society. For this reason, strong partnerships among the private sector, government, international organizations and civil society are necessary. In order to contribute to economic recovery in our country, Colombia needs to promote private investments in former conflict zones, and to create employment opportunities for all affected citizens.
Once our public and private stakeholders are ready to embrace the peace process, a transitional justice model has to be ensured. Specifically shaped for the context of Colombia’s conflict, the model needs to integrate national and international actors, from different sectors such as academia, international justice, and armed and unarmed parts of the conflict. And very importantly, the line between justice and peace has to be drawn.
On the legislative side of the process, the law also plays a leading role in our post conflict scenario. Colombia has gone through many conflicts in the last 60 years, and during these varying conflicts there has been one common factor: the victim. The country has seen more than 200,000 violent deaths; 4 million displaced citizens and armed groups have taken millions of hectares from farmers.
Up until 2011, the former various attempts to build peace virtually ignored victims and were centered on the armed participants. Victims need to be redressed and to be given the opportunity to truly begin their life after suffering violence. In that regard, social inclusion of those with disabilities also becomes a key factor in a peaceful society. Casualties and disabled citizens are a natural consequence of conflict, and full and effective reintegration of all people in society should be a right of all Colombians.
Sustainable economic growth will definitely contribute to smoothing the peace process, moving from poverty and war to prosperity and economic development. But, how can the Colombian economy innovate to ensure delivery on the post-2015 sustainable development goals? The Colombian peace process creates economic challenges and opportunities for the country and for the international community. The government has been investing over 3% of GDP on defense in order to combat illegal groups. With the current peace process, the government could turn these resources into productive investment with a high return for our society. This transition is not simple, however, as innovation and productivity derive from strategic investments.
And finally, certainly the cornerstone of our dream will be the reconciliation in society. There is no real peace without forgiveness and reconciliation. The havoc caused by this ruthless six decade long war has tainted us, all Colombians, if not by way of a personal tragedy, at least in the form of shared sorrow. Thousands of mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and friends have been killed, disappeared, hurt, abducted and displaced. Millions of Colombians have lived in fear, anger, resentment and pain for more than six decades.
Thus far, peace has been reduced to a political notion, a concept. However, it is a path that demands society to act, to incorporate non-violent cultural practices and transform the psychosocial dynamics that legitimize and reproduce conflict. Peace is not only about the ones in camouflage, it is not only about weapons. It is also about inequality, hunger and apathy. It is a process of collective construction and it will not be a reality until it becomes social. Before this is achieved, a treaty is just a piece of paper and peace is just a word.
The World Economic Forum on Latin America is taking place in Medellin, Colombia from 16 to 17 June.