The Magazine

A Peace Grows in Colombia

After two generations of civil war, will the fighting really stop?

Mar 15, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 25 • By VANESSA NEUMANN
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The AUC was demobilized under the 2005 Justice and Peace Law. Now los muchachos pick coffee beans alongside the villagers to produce El Café de la Reconciliación, (“Reconciliation Coffee”), which is then packaged, sold, and marketed by Colombia’s powerful Coffee Growers Federation (they of the Juan Valdez brand). 

The Justice and Peace Law has been widely criticized by Human Rights Watch and other NGOs as inadequate punishment for the paramilitaries. But it was specifically designed to give demobilized fighters who have committed crimes against humanity while members of a “recognized armed group at the margins of the law”—namely, the AUC which has demobilized collectively—reduced sentences in exchange for full disclosure and reparations to the affected families. (They serve five and eight years instead of cumulative sentences that could easily run more than 40.) It’s Colombia’s version of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and has led to knowledge of 257,089 registered victims, 32,909 specific crimes—of which 14,612 have been confessed to—and 2,182 exhumed graves. Last year the government approved reparations (more will be done by the judiciary, for there are always two routes to peace in Colombia) of $100 million, and there is $500 million in aid budgeted for the internally displaced. The demobilization process has also greatly increased government intelligence about the armed groups. Murders have dropped from 30,000 in 2002 (when Alvaro Uribe was elected president) to 16,000 in 2009 and kidnappings from 3,000 to 213 over the same period. 

The other common accusation is that the law is simply a convenient whitewash of the Parapolitical Scandal, which revealed that the AUC had political ties reaching deep into the Uribe administration. Along with corruption charges, there have been allegations that the Colombian military passed on intelligence to the AUC to support its battles against the FARC, committing at-arms-length massacres the government could not sanction directly. 

Though many facts of the scandal remain sketchy, Colombia’s judicial institutions appear to be working better than those in most of the rest of Latin America (and nearly any country with continued armed conflict): The Parapolitical Scandal has resulted in numerous prosecutions, and Colombia claims that its DDR process will prosecute more fighters than in all previous such efforts put together, including the Nuremberg trials. Such are the Graham Greene-esque contradictions of Colombia: a revolution alongside a state, forgiveness with prosecution, peace-building without peace accords, and a peace process driven by military prowess.

The 2005 law also set up the vast program of the Presidential High Commission for Peace and Reintegration (ACR is its Spanish acronym) to offer a chance for leftist FARC guerrillas to individually demobilize. It grants them forgiveness of their political crimes—rebellion, treason, and riot (though not kidnapping or rape)—in exchange for their entering a government program of psychosocial assistance and vocational training.

This process is the result of a shift in 2006 from “reinsertion” to “reintegration,” as a consequence of the Justice and Peace Law and the demobilization agreement made  with the AUC. Prior to 2006, reinsertion was centralized, short-term, and focused on the individual fighter. Reintegration is managed by state and local political entities and includes the individual’s family and community in hopes of creating an environment for long-term success. Security, life insurance, and economic aid are considered the main motivating factors for the demobilized to remain civilians. Aside from counseling for the entire family, the former fighters receive vocational training and basic education. The reintegration process is part of the Colombian government’s realization that it needs to address the deeper issues behind armed groups for peace to be lasting after so many decades of war. 

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