Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Keeping the Peace in Colombia

On September 27, 2016, I had blogged about the peace process in Colombia.

But Colombians needed to ratify the peace accord between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the government.

On October 02, the ‘no’ vote won by the narrowest of margins – 50.2 to 49.8 percent. The result was devastating but thankfully, those who were for peace did not give up.

After the referendum, FARC leader Rodrigo LondoƱo (‘Timochenko’) said that peace was ‘a constitutional right’ and that the rebels would remain faithful to the accord.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos confirmed that both parties would maintain the ceasefire and continue to work together. The ceasefire was extended until the end of October.

And there were rallies across the country calling for the peace process to continue.

Progressive groups, women, indigenous and farmer communities, who for years had worked hard to popularize the idea of a peace agreement, organized to take a role in the process again.

They reminded us that democracy is not only exercised at the polls; that we need to take it to the streets to culturally transform the country and to continue on the road to peace.
 
Return to violence is a terrifying prospect. Colombians know only too well what it means. For 52 years, the longest armed conflict in the western hemisphere has scarred the lives of more than eight million people – 15 percent of the country’s population.
 
Though comparable in numbers to Afghanistan, Colombia’s conflict has attracted far less international attention.

Official figures show 280,619 people killed and more than seven million internally displaced.1 In addition, there were over 29,000 kidnappings, 45,000 forced disappearances, 11,000 victims of landmines, 10,000 victims of torture, and 13,000 victims of sexual violence.
 
Finally, the Colombian government and the country’s main rebel group signed a revised peace deal on November 24, 2016  salvaging the peace accord and skipping the ballot box.
 
The Senate unanimously passed the deal six days later in a 75-0 vote. The House of Representatives followed suit and gave approval 130-0.

And on December 10, Santos (left) was awarded the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his efforts to find peace in Colombia.
 
Reaction in his country so far has been largely positive, with many seeing the prize as a sign of support for the country and faith in the peace process.
 
Still, the government faces the daunting task of rebuilding post-conflict Colombia. The real challenge of keeping the peace has begun. And it won’t be easy.
 
On Monday, I was at the KL Advanced Toastmasters meeting in Bangsar, KL to present another CC #10 titled “Taking Off Our Masks”.
 
This was my first Toastmasters speech for 2017, my project speech #509 and my CC Round 37 – and it took me 119 days to finish the said manual.

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