Since the Colombian government initiated peace talks with the FARC, the phrase “enemies of the peace” has become a regular occurrence. However six months down the line, the question of exactly who this phrase is directed at remains unanswered, while the implications of the ever increasing usage of the term present serious cause for concern.
The phrase is reminiscent of the “useful idiots” label that became synonymous with dissidents of former President Alvaro Uribe’s aggressive “democratic security” policy of military action against the FARC. In the case of Uribe, the term appeared to describe those who were promoting a softer approach or criticized the massive human rights violations committed by the army while pushing the FARC away from economically important areas.
This time around the shoe is on the other foot, so to speak, and this new phrase has been used by both sides of the negotiating table not just to describe armed actors, but also to denounce critics of the peace process seeking to bring to an end the armed conflict which has been ravaging Colombia for nearly five decades.
I called the President’s Office to ask for the definition of an “enemy of peace” — Is this a person who violently disturbs the peace, a person who for personal interest opposes peace in Colombia, or simply any critic of the current peace talks?
The President’s Office was unable to give any definition.
Santos most recently resorted to the term in capital Bogota on Tuesday, at a celebration of the Afro-Colombian community, where he accused the “enemies” of “demonizing those of us who want peace…and poisoning the minds of Colombians.” “They are not many, but they are active” he said before going into more *detail* in revealing the identity of the aforementioned enemies.
“They are not against peace, per se, because standing against peace is like standing against beauty, against freedom and that is counterproductive” said Santos, while specifying that these unnamed enemies are the people responsible for “the falsehoods that we keep hearing: that total impunity has already been negotiated in Havana [where the negotiations are being held] and that we don’t want to tell the truth to the people of Colombia.”
The concern of critics — like myself — is that the phrase is being used as an instrument, to the mutual benefit of the Santos government and the rebel group FARC, to suppress and undermine critics of the negotiations; addressing all concerns made over how the peace talks are being carried out with a vague and dramatic rhetoric, dividing the country into those “for” peace and those “against” it, the same way former U.S. President George W. Bush argued “you’re either with us, or against us.”
In this way, any critics of the process or parts of the process must be concerned that instead of seriously considering and engaging with any concerns or criticisms, the government will instead simply denounce them as “enemies of the peace”, before ignoring them.
Negotiating the end of fifty years of armed conflict is clearly not a simple affair; after six months of discussions, the two parties have only just come to an agreement over the first point of six in an agenda which includes the political participation and social reintegration of a rebel group that has committed massive human rights violations, left millions of victims and, along with the several governments that the conflict has outlived, for years made the country one of the most dangerous places in the world. Evidently the issue of the accountability of the FARC is a key element to consider in analyzing the rise of the “enemies of peace” tag line and its implications.
The subject is perhaps the most controversial and divisive to come out of the negotiations and more often than not, government usage of the term “enemies of peace” is accompanied by a stringent denial that peace talks will result in impunity being granted, though on Tuesday the president confirmed that while impunity had definitely not been discussed, the same “transitional justice” that was applied to the (“unsuccessful”) demobilization of Colombia’s paramilitaries between 2004 and 2006, “had been mentioned.”
To oppose this, or even to promote a temporary continuation of armed offensives against the FARC is not only a constitutional right of Colombians, it is also fair criticism on a peace process that — as all peace processes — is far from perfect. There is no gain for peace by stigmatizing those who criticize the process or the contents of the talks.
Instead, Santos needs to clarify his position and acknowledge the difference between the people indiscriminately sabotaging the steps Colombia is making towards peace, such as the the self-proclaimed “Anti-Restitution Army,” and those who are trying to improve the peace that Colombia is fighting for. Such black and white distinctions as the head of state has seen fit to make in defining the voices of dissent from his mandate have bordered on the disrespectful and the Colombian people will have to decide to what extent they allow themselves to be marginalized in the creation of a “peace” that they will have to live with.
Another aspect of the issue which presents cause for concern is the fact that the FARC have not left Santos alone in denouncing the critics of the peace talks. The rebels in March demanded that President Santos “identify the enemies of peace” within his own cabinet before claiming a “blow to the enemies of the peace, led by [strident FARC critic] Alvaro Uribe” after two more FARC members were added to the negotiations in early April.
The rebels’ use of the phrase is less frequent than that of Santos and his government, nevertheless the fact that they indulge in the same terminology as the government paints an unsettling picture of both of the warring parties working together to deceive the population they each vie to represent.
This image is one that takes on a more sinister tone when we consider the clear personal interests that both sides have in being able to reduce or belittle public questioning of what is being conceded in the peace negotiations. The FARC’s motivations for increasing the chances of impunity are fairly obvious and it has not gone unmentioned by his critics that Santos has a Nobel Peace Prize and possible reelection campaign to consider.
This may be a disservice to both sides, both of whom are endeavoring to make the most of what is arguably Colombia’s most realistic chance for peace since the conflict began. However it is not difficult to entertain the thought that both sides would want to keep the population at arm’s length from the negotiations; President Santos even dared demand in April that the peace talks be subjected to “less speculation”.
An unlikely proposal; Sunday’s announcement of the “historic” agrarian reform agreed between the two sides will do nothing but add to the intensity of the scrutiny of the negotiations, the country knows what is at stake.
President Santos declared on Tuesday that “Peace is constructed through the resolve of all of us [Colombians].” However, if Colombia is to achieve a lasting peace which can be accepted by the people and which can finally allow the country to begin to rebuild and move on from the armed conflict, it is imperative that the opinions of the population be represented at the negotiating table. The arguments of “the enemies of peace” must be heard.