Foreigners with opinions on Colombia are as divided about the peace process with the FARC as Colombians themselves. But there could be a unified role we can play to support Colombia while it defines its future.
Ever since peace talks between the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC began, Colombians have been divided fundamentally about to what extent concessions should be given to the guerrillas.
With the upcoming plebiscite on the talks, Colombians will have to judge whether they accept the made concessions or whether they think they go too far and must be renegotiated.
This decision puts Colombians before both a major moral and a practical dilemma, because — while the vast majority of Colombians want peace — it doesn’t come free.
The concessions made during the negotiations are bitter pills to swallow as there exists the possibility that perpetrators of atrocities can evade prison altogether and even be elected into public office.
The outcome of this plebiscite is of tremendous importance for the future of Colombia; it will either mean the end of one of the hemisphere’s most powerful rebel groups in history or a period of major uncertainty over whether peace can be reached in Colombia within the foreseeable future.
If you’ve come this far reading you probably love Colombia as much as I do and you probably are as engaged as I am.
At the same time it’s quite possible that you oppose the current peace deal while I reluctantly support it. Assuming you’re also not a Colombian citizen, neither of us will be able to vote.
But our limited rights do not stop with our inability to vote. We should impose other limitations on ourselves in regards to how much we want to influence Colombians’ determination of their own future.
At the same time, we should consider how we can contribute, being born in countries privileged with prosperity and without having lived through the fear, terror and violence that has affected if not traumatized almost all Colombians, not just victims.
Our disassociation from Colombia’s traumatic past gives us the opportunity to think differently, maybe even more rationally.
However, before we do engage in the debate on whether Colombia should vote “Yes” or “No” it is important to recognize our ignorance of crucial facts.
To illustrate this, the vast majority of us foreigners doesn’t even know the year Colombia was founded. Hardly any of us has ever been to Corinto, Cauca, the town that’s been victim to the most FARC attacks in the entire conflict.
Our ignorance goes further than the basic stuff Colombians learn at History in school, it is also in our limited knowledge of what’s been going on in the more recent past, be it only for the language barrier. If I sometimes have to use Google Translator to understand what somebody said, you probably do too. We should both admit how this limits our comprehension.
If we are able to admit our ignorance, only then we could be of contribution to this country and the ongoing debate about whether to approve or reject Santos’ peace deal with the FARC.
And only if we are able to translate the fortune of never having lived through terror to contributing to a rational debate, we might be able to contribute with something valuable.
Online resources on Colombia’s conflict and peace talks
However, even still it is key we first educate ourselves about the history of the conflict. And when it comes to the peace talks, it is important we get our information from a variety of news sources, not just the ones that confirm what we already believe.
And even then we must realize that what might be an abstract or ideological debate for us, is a discussion that can open major wounds and defines the future physical integrity of tens of millions of Colombians, particularly those living in the countryside.
I suggest we recognize our place and primarily leave Colombians have the debate about their own future in relative autonomy. Remember it is their kids that are fighting in the jungles, not ours.
If we do contribute to the debate about the pending vote, let it be informed, rationally, sensitively and compassionately. Rather than using emotional arguments, let’s try to contribute arguments based on fact, reason and logic.
If you support the “Yes” vote, please understand that what your opinion implies is a lot to ask of a people who will have to accept peace with very little justice and only hopefully truth over an almost unimaginable amount of suffering. A peace deal might change the lives of millions, but many other millions are being disenfranchised in the process and have even insultingly been called “enemies of peace.”
If you support the “No” vote, understand that your opinion implies the immediate risk of prolonged suffering of millions of Colombians living in FARC territory. It will perpetuate an armed conflict that, even though you don’t see it in your immediate surroundings, will continue to cause death and destruction until eventually some kind of agreement is signed, and even then we don’t know how well justice will be served.
If we debate about peace and the plebiscite, let’s more than anything contribute facts and dismiss the disinformation and false expectations used in the political campaigns we hear echoed by our Colombian friends or family. This way we will support Colombians take a more educated guess about what future they are choosing, whatever they choose.