Colombia’s stakes at the polls: from pervasive fear to "Vivir Sabroso"

By Roosbelinda Cárdenas

Colombia is a paradigmatic example of the failures of the current international approach to security that focuses on strengthening state-run apparatuses of violence. The current Presidential election offers a choice between deepening the security-state and the structures that perpetuate inequality, and a desecuritizing social justice alternative.

 

Colombia is a paradigmatic example of the failures of the current international approach to security that focuses on strengthening state-run apparatuses of violence. After a steady and gargantuan inflow of both national and international monies into the Colombian armed forces in their effort to eradicate political insurgence, the balance sheet of the decades long conflict, the longest in the Western Hemisphere, is grim: more than 260,000 dead, 80,000 disappeared[i], and the largest accumulated number of internally displaced people in the world—7.8 million according to statistics from the United Nations High Commission on Refugees. In fact, Plan Colombia, the massive U.S. foreign aid package that funded military spending in Colombia between 1999 and 2015 was a major factor in escalating—rather than abating—the war and deepening human rights violations under the pretext of eradicating illicit crops and eliminating insurgent guerrilla groups.

 

While it may be unsurprising that this investment in the war on terror has generated more terror, what is perhaps more puzzling is the persistence of violence in the aftermath of the 2016 Peace Accords. On some fronts, armed violence in Colombia has not only not abated, but actually deepened. Such is the case with the targeting of human rights activists, who are so routinely intimidated, threatened, forcibly displaced, murdered, and disappeared, that Colombia has become the most dangerous place in the world to be a human rights defender. The explanation for this can be partly found in the fact that more than five years after the signing of the Peace Accords, their implementation has been slow and uneven, characterized by the current Duque administration’s foot dragging and overt obstruction of the process. But despite all their virtues on paper, the Peace Accords—even if fully implemented—will not guarantee peace in Colombia. A full peace can only be attained when the structures that perpetuate violence in all its forms are eradicated and re-designed. Crucial transformations should include a deep disinvestment in the state’s apparatuses of violence—like the army—but also a radical shift in the national plan for development—which in its current neoliberal form has deepened the racial and economic inequality in Colombia that is at the root of this protracted armed conflict. This is indeed a tall order, but it is one that Francia Márquez, Colombia’s vice-presidential candidate for the left-wing coalition Pacto Histórico, understands full well.

 

This Sunday, June 19, Colombians will go to the polls for the second round of presidential and vice-presidential elections. The air on the streets, rivers, and mountains in Colombia is practically electric. The polarization is palpable. The two remaining tickets who will contend for the presidency and vice-presidency in the run-off are profoundly dissimilar—despite the fact that they are both presenting themselves as anti-establishment and choices that will bring about deep political change. Rodolfo Hernández, the right-wing presidential candidate from the Ligade gobernantes anticorrupción has promised to carry forward the implementation commitments of his predecessors and to extend the accords to the National Liberation Army or ELN—the oldest-standing guerrilla armed group in the Western Hemisphere—without undertaking a negotiation process. Gustavo Petro, on his part, has promised an integral approach to peace, which would immediately set out to fulfill the implementation of the accords while resuming negotiations with the ELN, and initiating new dialogues with other remaining dissident groups on both sides of the political spectrum. But what makes the Petro-Márquez ticket distinct, and a serious option for a peaceful Colombia, is not only Petro’s commitment to the current, if unfulfilled, peace process, but Márquez’s embodied experiences of racialized dispossession and her steadfast vision of a comprehensive vision of peace, which is driven by a commitment to care for all life. This was the vision that got Márquez the third highest number of votes during the primary elections on March 13, when she was still running with her movement Soy Porque Somos, a Spanish translation of the Bantu concept Ubuntu, “I am because we are.”

 

Francia’s record as an environmental activist and anti-racist warrior shows that she has worked relentlessly to create a world that is truly safe, meaning a world free of sexism, racism, and poverty. In practice, Francia’s vision will likely be constrained by the negotiations required of her integration into the Pacto Histórico; it will require entering into complex alliances and contending with the formidable security apparatuses laid by generations of leaders before her—in a country where a left-wing president has never been elected before. But if her vision, which is sedimented on her embodied experience to defend all forms of life, persists, it has the powerful potential to interrupt the current forces of death that permeate Colombian society—the deep commitment to neoliberalism as a plan for national development and the persistence of a highly militarized society. If Francia’s vision of Vivir Sabroso (Living Deliciously) persists, Colombians might begin to know what it’s like to live free of fear.  In addition to emphasizing joy and the cultivation and life, the notion of Vivir Sabroso is precisely imagined as an antidote to living in fear.  In Francia’s own words, it is her community’s strategic fight “to survive in order not to die, to die of sadness, to die of disease, or because they declare us military targets.”  This is Francia’s comprehensive vision of peace and the stakes to defend it are high. As the numbers of human rights defenders murdered shows, the contention surrounding how to bring about peace in Colombia is a matter of life and death.

 

Roosbelinda Cárdenas is a member of Security in Context’s core team and an Associate Professor of Latin American Studies & Cultural Anthropology at Hampshire College


[i] These figures were collected by the Observatorio de Memoriay Conflicto, a data collection mechanism of the Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica, a government-funded but autonomous entity established by decree following the 2011 passage of the Victim’s Law.

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