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Petro seeks a peace of the size of his ambition

Gustavo Petro argues that Colombia is not a complete democracy or a republic based on the problems of violence it has suffered throughout its two hundred years of history. The nation has experienced a series of armed conflicts, superimposed on each other, which have spread the dead over its territory. It is not easy to find a Colombian, especially in rural areas, who does not have a father, a brother, a cousin or an uncle who has not been kidnapped, murdered or robbed at some time. The new president, with just two weeks in office, has set out to guide the country towards a total peace as he himself calls it, which ends once and for all with this perverse cycle that not even top-level security experts, presidents with different approaches, nor the public force have been able to put a stop to it. The challenge seems to match Petro’s self-confidence.

To achieve this, he must negotiate and subdue guerrillas, paramilitaries, drug traffickers and organized crime bosses. Some are all of these things at once, hiding in remote jungles and mountains where the state presence is weak. That dense network of armed agents is what the president is determined to deactivate with a transversal policy that affects all ministries, from Defense to Education. Petro wants characters like Pablo Escobar, the Castaño brothers or Manuel Marulanda, all of them responsible for cycles of violence, to be just a bad memory from the history books.

All the decisions he has made so far are aimed at building that comprehensive peace. It is what he wants to occupy his entire mandate. In the chancellery he has placed Álvaro Leyva, a 79-year-old economist who has participated in all the dialogue processes with armed groups that the Colombian State has carried out in the last 40 years. Nobody has more context than him and that is why he has been entrusted with the negotiation with the ELN, the last active guerrilla. The tax reform he plans to push through, he says, will bring about greater social justice that will ultimately help reduce crime rates. The agrarian reform that he has in mind will serve to distribute the land more equitably and put an end to one of the most recurring conflicts, that of the landowners and their armies of armed men against the peasants.

There is still no political engineering that threads all these issues. In the Casa de Nariño they are working on it. It is known that from time to time there will be meetings of ministers in which the only point will be progress in terms of peace. Any public policy is directed in this direction. “This is an old desire of Colombians and should attract the support of the whole world. It is a fundamental purpose,” says Police General Óscar Naranjo, a former vice president and security expert.

In his view, waiting for Petro to specify a clear roadmap, the Government must launch four ways simultaneously: negotiation with the ELN; subjugation and negotiation with armed groups such as the Clan del Golfo (narco-paramilitaries); devise a way to put an end to the dissidents of the FARC, guerrillas who did not accept President Santos’ peace process; and do the same with the fighters of the Marquetalia, the deserters of that process. Naranjo, who participated in the disarmament of the FARC, a political milestone of a global dimension, advises Petro to take that agreement as a guide because legal mechanisms and constitutional levers that facilitate this type of complex negotiations were left in writing there. Can something like this be achieved in four years, which is how long the presidential term lasts? “If this president has the ability to study where the successes and failures of the previous negotiation processes lay, we could move forward very quickly. There are obstacles in which we are clearly delayed and it could be done in a simpler way”.

In Colombia, peace processes have been carried out by specific armed groups, such as the M-19 (in which Petro participated as a guerrilla) or the FARC. But never one that involves all the protagonists. It is what Senator Iván Cepeda calls radical peace. “Experience shows that this successive peace, added to the fact that the Government does not comply with the agreements, makes residual groups emerge that prolong the conflict. It is time to make a global and simultaneous effort with armed groups and with the reception of criminal groups to justice. At the same time,” he explains over the phone.

In this process, he considers that the regions cannot be turned away. Bogotá, the capital, is a political and economic bubble, an island that does not experience the same problems as the rest of the country. The root and causality of the violence is found in the territories, Cepeda adds, and it is there where the dialogues and the strengthening of the institutions must take place, often invisible the further along the road. In addition, he is convinced that general policies, beyond those of a police and military nature, have always been left out of the negotiations. “Peace must advance in the field of social changes. This means that the peace policy becomes a State policy for the first time”.

Petro left some clues in his bilateral meeting with Spanish President Pedro Sánchez about the mechanisms he plans to use to bring drug lords to justice. Colombia is the first producer of cocaine in the world. He has often used extradition to the United States as a tool to round up criminals. Drug trafficking is a transnational crime, which involves both countries, the one that produces and sends it and the one that receives and trades it. “Narco that does not negotiate with the Government of Colombia, will be extradited. Narco who negotiates and reoffends, is extradited. Narco who negotiates and does not become a narco again, is not extradited, ”he said about it.

To bring to fruition a project of this size, surely only comparable to that of the National Front, the agreement between liberals and conservatives to end a civil war at the end of the 1950s that totaled tens of thousands of dead, Petro knows that he must have some from his longtime enemies, such as Álvaro Uribe Vélez, the conservative president who, since 2000, deployed a very forceful security policy against the guerrillas and negotiated with paramilitaries. The now president dedicated at least half an hour of his long rallies during the electoral campaign to criticizing Uribe, despite the fact that his main advisers begged him not to do so. However, shortly after winning the elections he summoned him to a meeting and asked him to be part of a great national agreement. The image of one and the other at the sides of a table and with a crucifix behind impressed the Colombians.

The presidents of Uribe and Petro, in a meeting they held in June in Bogotá.
The presidents of Uribe and Petro, in a meeting they held in June in Bogotá.GUSTAVO PETRO PRESS TEAM (Reuters)

“Of course, you have to count on Uribe,” adds Cepeda, despite the fact that the two have been waging a legal battle for years that initially trapped Cepeda, but that has ended with Uribe in a legal labyrinth of which he does not know. how to get out. Uribe has a lot of prestige in some sectors of the country, such as the landowners, ranchers and the security forces, all of whom are key players in pacifying the country. Moreover, a good part of the Colombian army can be considered Uribista.

Although that will not be a problem, according to retired general Eduardo Herrera Berbel, now dedicated to consulting tasks. “The military are going to accompany Petro,” he says emphatically, despite the fact that the last general in command resigned so as not to walk with him at the inauguration. The president, for the most recalcitrant soldiers, is nothing more than a guerrilla (despite the fact that he has been in politics for more than half his life working for peace) who wants to turn Colombia into Venezuela. “The army has great respect for the Constitution, the commander in chief (in this case, Petro) and the decisions of the people,” he insists when in doubt. That is why he believes that for total peace to be successful he needs the involvement of the military. First, to advise on how to execute a ceasefire, and second, to consolidate peace in the territories, where criminals rule right now.

The purpose is a major challenge. For the moment, all the steps that Petro has taken as president have been aimed at seeking a total, sudden, radical peace. As a candidate he spoke of turning Colombia into a world power of life, a phrase that raised some eyebrows. It remains to be seen whether this is a possible undertaking or a definitive step for which the country is not yet ready.

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