As Colombia nears a proposed deal with guerrilla group the FARC on March 23, all eyes remain firmly fixed on the negotiating table in Havana. Yet how will inking an agreement affect those rural areas caught up in over 50-years of internal armed conflict?
Far removed from Bogotá and President Santos’ new and revised ‘Plan Colombia’, made possible thanks to a healthy cash injection from northern neighbor the U.S., what of the areas in which peace is an almost daily struggle? The communities from which thousands have faced displacement, in addition to losing valuable cash crops and family members, as innocent civilians remain caught in the crossfire.
Certainly Colombia is moving in the right direction. Homicide rates have continued to drop at a steady rate during the past few years, and with talks with fellow insurgent group the ELN on the cards, peace could at last be in sight.
Doctor of political sciences, André-Noël Roth from Bogotá’s Universidad Nacional seems to think so.
“It’s expected. People hope that there will be peace even though they know that this won’t be achieved overnight,” he told Swissinfo.
But there is a darker side to obtaining peace of Colombia, much of which remains overshadowed by events in Havana. In fact, Colombia remains the world’s most dangerous country for workers in the human rights sector, even more so if they are operating in rural areas according to the Permanent Committee for the Defense of Human Rights (CPDDH). In 2015 alone, 54 workers were murdered while six out of every 10 workers in rural areas claim to have received threats, daily El Espectador reports.
Furthermore, those guilty of committing crimes against NGOs and those acting on their behalf also remains murky. Paramilitary groups are the worst offenders, followed by the army and guerrilla groups.
Yet it is these hidden heroes who play a crucial role in improving relations and ensuring that peace is truly restored.
“Colombia will need to maintain it’s level of investment within municipalities,” Roth added. “Peace won’t be played out in Bogotá, but it will be in rural areas.”
Santos certainly seems aware that Colombia’s rural areas are worst hit by violence, as demonstrated by his recent reaction to actions committed by the ELN, yet is enough being done to improve relations between peace organizations and insurgent groups? It would appear not.
Yes, the signing of a peace accord provides government and the FARC with something much more concrete, but hundreds of kilometers from Bogotá there remains a far bloodier story.