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COLOMBIA A VIEW FROM AN AVERAGE CITIZEN

Novel By: Alvaro Bautista
Editorial and opinion



Colombia a View from an Average Citizen deals with the development of a coflict which rather than a novel is tells us about the tragedy of a society which needs to re-tie is roots to finally grow in liberty. View table of contents...


Chapters:

1 2 3 4

Submitted:Jan 21, 2008    Reads: 130    Comments: 1    Likes: 1   


FACTS THAT ENHANCE THE CONFLICT

Unlike myths, facts represent reality and there are some situations� that hinder a peace process to come to a successful end in this country:

1) Politico-administrative corruption and� geo-politic organization :

Perhaps the worst problem in the country is political and administrative corruption; during the year 2000, a scandal of corruption� in the womb of congress was brought to public light; the had over charged the state for cleaning and maintenance services; that extra charge was authorized by people from congress and it was not a slight one, there wee thousands of millions of pesos at stake. But this is not it, there have been many administrative frauds against the public finances; FONCOLPUERTOS, EL GUAVIO, DRAGACOL, etc, were all cases of administrative corruption costing thousands of millions of dollars to Colombian taxpayers.

�It seems that we, Colombians, suffer from amnesia, when there is a case of corruption such as a mayor stealing money from the city, we hear about it on the radio, read about it in the newspaper, talk about it at the cafes, and condemn the crime; but a short time later, the criminal returns to the political arena and we re-elect him to represent us in a government� office.

If one adds up all the money that has been stolen from the state by corrupted people, it will certainly be enough to provide thousands of families with decent houses to live in or perhaps invest it in education or health programmes.

�In the political sphere, it is mandatory to provide a more pluralist system which allows all kinds of political trends to participate more openly in the democratic confrontation for government offices.

�In the geopolitical sphere,� the organization by departamentos, has been questioned; they are institutions that� were imported from the French administrative model in the nineteenth century.

The validity of this geopolitical model has been discussed at universities and several lectures have taken place regarding the need of its modernization; According to Professor Julio Enrrique Ortiz� Cuenca, these are some of the most recurrent problems the departamentos are facing:

��������� Departamentos are part of centralist governments and the latest modernizing tendencies are oriented to strengthening decentralization processes and design of a federalist model.

��������� Departamentos are bureaucratic� institutions which do not respond to the necessities of the community.

��������� Municipalities can have direct access to central government.

��������� Departamentos reflect an on going deficit.

��������� Departamentos are highly indebted and� do not have financial resources to pay their credits.

��������� There is a duality of functions between the nation and municipalities.

��������� In many departamentos, the monopoly of liquors and cigarettes are fortresses of corruption and bureaucracy..

��������� There is not a clear will from the government nor from congress to define and approve the new territorial law.

�What caused all this crisis at the womb of departamentos?

�������� The income system for departamentos is obsolete , it comes from the 19th century.

�������� The free market policy which ended the monopoly of liquors� and the taxation measures at the national level with the reduction of taxes for beer, tobacco, and cigarettes.

�������� Absence of regional development policies lead some departamentos to become richer and the others, poorer.

�������� The excessive centralism which imposes rules and ties to municipal and provincial ( departamental) income and resources.

�������� Money transference from the central government to the regions have specific destiny for investment ( investment for those areas which the nation is responsible for) , this affects the planning processes of the regions.

�������� Lack of autonomy at the regional level.

�������� Low capacity of negotiation.

Colombia is a country with differentiated� regions in the sociological, economical, and geographic fields, if regions are conformed with these criteria, Colombians will be facing a re-integration of the country from the local level.

2) Passive attitude from many Colombians towards the conflict:

In countries like Spain, when a terrorist action takes place, the whole country goes out to the streets to protest against violence; in Colombia, one can watch the most unspeakable news abut massacres, assassinations, bombs, etc and nobody does anything about it; the most you can listen to is "poor people"; there are about� forty million Colombians who are intimidated by violence, it has become the unbearable country in which everybody lives but no one says anything or does anything about the situation.

�Some people may argue that one can not say anything because if you do, you are risking your life; they are probably right, but there are many people who have means to cooperate to the solution of the social crisis, there are many people who can speak and do not do it simply because the conflict has not knocked at their doors, they know they are Colombians but have their minds on their own business, not on the bombs or bullets that are killing people.

These Colombians will not open their eyes to the conflict until a bomb explodes in their back yard; there is no need for this to happen, Colombians must say� "no" to violent expressions regarding the conflict.�

I should also add that the drug dealing problem, is not a Colombian domestic issue, this problem has also caused thousands of deaths in the United States and Europe, and� these countries shall help not only by supplying military and technical support but uniting efforts at home to diminish the consumption of illicit substances and the exportation of raw chemicals for the production of cocaine or� preparation of other illegal substances.

3) International financial and trading system:

�Colombia is a poor country (in financial terms), its foreign debt is basically� not payable at least in the foreseeable future, the development of the conflict and the increase of public expenses (especially security), have worsen the financial situation of the country which has been obliged to look for credit at the international banking system.

�We have been granted the credits but the conditions demanded from the W.B and the IMF have led the country to an unstoppable race of tributary and financial reforms;� during the year 2000, several new taxes were approved by congress in order to fulfil the� requirements demanded by the international banking system and to obtain higher� levels of income.

�Colombia is essentially a developing agro-industrial country, if organizations like WTO want to cooperate with a peaceful solution to the conflict, it should be promoting just and fair commercialising conditions for the products, not only from Colombia, but from the rest of Latin-America and developing countries around the world. This sort of measures� will help reactivation of local agriculture and become an efficient source of employment.

�The free market policy and the globalization of economy …" applied

since 1980 in the developing countries, has not led to economical growing, they have gotten deficit in their trading balance instead; this fact demonstrates that commercial integration does not necessarily lead to a higher economical growth, commerce does not generate development due to the increase of imports and dependence; for most of developing countries, there is no relation between the raise in efficiency and the level of exports…"

In one of his interviews, Gabriel Misas analyses the current economical crisis of the country.

�NG: Which do you consider to be the causes of the economical crisis in the country?

�GM: The current economical crisis in Colombia has to be analysed in three basic blocks of factors. One of them is conformed by the armed confrontation, violation of human rights, corruption, and drug-dealing.� Regarding these three factors, it is advisable to say that they are not a passing fact, they have been present in Colombia for decades, including drug-dealing that has been going on for more than thirty years. Its destabilizing� force could have been controlled, and it did not constitute a concern for our allies, especially the United States. For example, human rights violations was not a topic of discussion for the United States and at the same time, drug-dealing was a police issue in Colombia, this was faced by different governments which tried to control and reduce the illicit cargoes to the United States, the USA accepted that they� needed to control its entrance to the country and the domestic consumption levels.

�But once the socialist block fell down, the situation changed dramatically. Human rights became the first issue on the American agenda, which is reflected in their continuous critics to the Colombian army, along with the right of inherence issue.

Drug-dealing started to be considered a national security issue for the United States, its intermission in the domestic problems of the country has increased, guerrilla groups have strengthened their military power while the national army loses control of parts of the territory and paramilitary organizations financed with drug-dealing money, assume a combative position against guerrilla groups.

This combination of factors has destabilized the national economy.

A second block of factors is linked to the free market policy process of the 90's, the open economy of capitals and the balance of trade, brought about the revaluation of the Peso ( Colombian currency),� placing national production in disadvantage against international products,� which brought along the destruction of agriculture in the country and had terrible consequences in the textile sector.

Industrial goods that could survive the process of open market are those which are not transactional, it is to say, those which can not be imported due to the high costs of transportation like beer, brews, cement, bricks and other finished goods in the construction field. Nevertheless, these latter are also facing a crisis due to the inappropriate managing of monetary and financing policy on the side of the board of directors of the central bank (Banco de la Rep�blica), which raised the house-holding credits dramatically.

The third block of factors that explain the crisis is the current� constitution. The new constitution is contradictory. It recognizes new social rights that imply a higher level of public investment in health and education, but at the same time, it introduces the neo-liberal economic model, including the independence of the central bank which unique objective is to reduce inflation rates, this implies the reduction of public expenditures.

The result has been the privatization of the grand majority of health services and education, with the subsequent raise of tariffs and fees. This problem, in addition to the high unemployment rates of the country, has affected negatively the acquisition capacity levels of the working class, an additional reduction of the domestic demand, and a worsening of the situation with the deepening of the crisis and social protests.

NG: Do you think that the economic free-market policy has been equally inconvenient for the rest of Latin America?.

GM: In all the countries of the region, unemployment levels have raised, the deficit in the balance of trade is very high, destruction of the productive sectors is taking place, a higher level of income concentration has been evident, and a reduction of well-being has been observed.

That is why, the southern countries of Latin America (Cono Sur), political changes and opposition parties are reaching power. In Chile, Pinochet's parties have lost elections systematically. In Uruguay, the candidate of opposition led the neo-liberal oriented parties� to conform a coalition in order to keep the opposition from reaching the government. It is to highlight that Argentina and Uruguay used to have very efficient health and education models, today, these countries are facing a very peccary situation regarding these two social services.

NG: What is your opinion about the privatization� of basic public services in Colombia?.

GM: First of all, the selling of public enterprises to the strongest economical groups of the country does not constitute a raise in the levels of national investment, but� an allocation state assets to the private sector, and in the other hand, this means that the economical groups will benefit from the profits that the "natural monopolies" of public services of water supply, power, telephone, natural gas, etc.� In addition to that, privatization of public services, like the railroads in England, has had as a result dramatic accidents in the las years, due to the lack of investment in safety. In Colombia, we have the example the privatisation of Empresa de Energia del Distrito Capital, which became CODENSA and its quality of service has been lower than the one offered by the public enterprise, its tariffs have soared in the last years…

The free market policy has been successful in countries in which the levels of technology and industrialization are high; the domestic market is well structured or very scarce, when a country has a strong domestic market (Colombia does not have it, we are still trying to built an efficient transportation system and consolidate the domestic market. Neither the government nor the private sector have shown serious interest on investing in new technologies, if this eventually happens, it is only to adjust an eventual problem to the international requirements, -The parenthesis is mine-.), a free market model will certainly not affect as negatively the economy as in a country which does not have it, …"in places like Hong Kong or Singapore, where domestic market is very small and therefore their economies depend basically on their exports, a free market policy will be effective but such economies are way different to the Colombian."

��

On the other hand, the free market policy seems to be an issue that developed countries - E.U, USA, etc - profess to the rest of the countries in the world, they state that liberation of economies is the key to a sustained economic growth for the under-developed countries, but when one of these under developed countries opens its doors to all the products coming from the centre and reduces tariffs and taxes for their products and want to export their own products to the centre countries, the response they get is not one of the free market policy they support but on the contrary, they say that our products are of low quality or because of sanitary regulations they can not allow any non-native� products to enter their countries, in short, the free market policy has been very successful for some countries that have a high level of industrialization and technology but has been a disaster for the countries on the way to development.

4) Confusing peace process:

The peace process is the best scenario that Colombians could have created ever to solve the internal conflict;� nevertheless, there are some issues that show totally contradictory facts regarding peace:

The peace talks are being held while confrontation and hostilities continue; I would add that the process with FARC so far has not produced its first results, only discussions have taken place.

By this time (about 2� years), Colombians would have expected at least a humanitarian agreement, or a temporary cease fire or anything of the sort, the demilitarised area� with FARC has not been productive in that direction; many people argue that this territory has become the hiding place for guerrilla and the place where many victims of kidnapping are kept.

� A peace process necessarily involves many parties and interests, and each of the parties will fight for its own benefits; that is why a third impartial party should be present. A negotiation without international verification is like playing a football game without referee.

� In spite of the fact that the peace process talks have already been started with the Elenos (ELN), on the other hand, it seems there is not a clear unified position of its leaders towards a peace talk process. It is necessary to sit with the paramilitary groups to negotiate; a peace process should include all the actors involved and sooner or later they all will have to sit at the same table and find a solution to the conflict in a civilized way.

The president has sent "his" negotiators to the table and guerrilla groups have sent "their" negotiators but we, the average citizens, have not been called or mentioned� to send "our" negotiators; one could argue that the president represents the people of the country, and be probably right, but we, the average Colombians are the ones who are suffering the consequences of the conflict in our bones and flesh and should have an active participation not only by being given ten minutes to talk about a project but to, at least, have the opportunity to discuss the way the confrontation is affecting civilians and propose solutions at the negotiation table. The recent developments of the peace process with paramilitary groups at least have produced a demobilisation of several hundreds of militants.

� The people of Colombia and the international community need to be informed and updated on what is going on at the negotiation table, occasionally,� news show the purposes of a meeting but I think a commission should be conformed to widely inform and keep people updated on what is happening with the process, after all it is not only the future of the Colombian state in itself� being discussed but the future of thousands of Colombian families.

5)The use of language:

�Spanish and its cousin languages provide the speaker with a wide range of possibilities to use it� and a flexible grammar structure and vocabulary wide enough as to confuse even those who are native speakers;� in Colombia, many people argue that there is not a real peace process but a dialogue� process; a peace process would be understood as the systematic mini-agreements� reached by the parties in conflict in order to find that final accord; Colombians are not witnessing any agreement reached at least at the basic scale, if this is not happening, we are not facing a peace process but a dialogue process which are two different things.

�" we do not kidnap people, we only retain them"; let us start by saying that kidnapping implies the abduction of a person against his will which necessarily involves the use of violence (psychological or physical); the second characteristic of kidnapping is that the raptors demand a ransom or any sort of payment in order to release the victim.

Some leaders of guerrilla groups argue that retentions performed by them have "a political purpose and that Colombian oligarchy is to pay for the costs of revolution"; statistics demonstrate that 100% of kidnapping victims have had to pay for their freedom ( those who do not pay are killed by their victimizers most of the time).

We would have to say then,� that, yes, it is� a retention, but not a political or legal retention;� it is kidnapping, and should be referred to as what it is.

�" The rascals", the "bandits"; are words frequently used to refer to members of guerrilla or paramilitary groups, it is true that their actions have the connotation of crime and terrorism, but once you sit at the table to negotiate with the "rascals", you have to start by creating an environment of mutual respect both at the negotiation table and with the mass media.

The use of language must be clear enough as for people to understand what the steps given in the negotiation process are and how these actions are going to affect their lives in the time to come.

SOME REFLECTIONS

��

1)���� On January� 22nd� 2001, governors from the provinces (departments), asked the president permission to hold regional talks with insurgent groups; it shows that there is excessive centralization in the process and this process can not be lead exclusively by the commission ad-hoc; if the conflict has effects everywhere,� problems should be discussed everywhere, the local level (especially rural), has been affected the most and regional talks will enrich the process.

2)���� Most of military fronts of guerrilla� groups and paramilitary groups act with a high level of autonomy, they attack towns following the guerrilla war strategy but� these decisions are taken by the commanders in the area; therefore, if they have a wide decision taking autonomy, public authorities should be provided with the legal tools and the necessary autonomy to hold regional conversations, following the peace policy the government has.

3)���� During the first stage of Plan Colombia, thousands of illicit plantations were eradicated in the southern province of Putumayo (nearly 30.000 thousand hectares were eradicated); there were military confrontations and thousands of peasants fled from the region, the main objective was achieved, more than thirty thousand hectares of cocaine were cleared, it was a demonstration of force and effectiveness; many peasants committed themselves to eradicate their illicit plants manually within a year. These actions in the south are a clear sign that Colombians are willing to work hard to eradicate the drug dealing problem from the country but the social price has been high; it would be interesting to see the implementation of a parallel strategy in a different region of the country� but this time not with a high military component but with a high social investment component;� the idea is to compare which of the two are more effective and which is less costly monetarily and� socially speaking.

����� FARC and government agreed that even though the average Colombian had not seen a real product out of the negotiation table after more than two years of the demilitarized zone, they� were still negotiating and that people had to be patient, that a conflict that has lasted more than four decades can� not be solved in a year or two. Perhaps the average citizen is simply disappointed because in spite of the fact that "they" are negotiating, we, Colombians and the international community are still going through the same situation,� hearing the same bad news everyday. Nothing has gotten better, bombs are still exploding, people are still being kidnapped, motion in the country is still restricted in some areas although president Uribe has really given Colombians a sense of governess and public order has improved a lot thanks to his determination and willingness of his officials , only� areas with heavy military influence and big cities are still safe... we have been waiting for� years for this situation to come to an end; we want to move as free citizens in the land in which one day we were born.

������� Many Colombians are still blaming the political and socio-economic problems we are facing today, on the ruling class of long ago (which is the same ruling class of today; let us just mention the fact that the same families have been running for president for more than a year; to name the most recent cases, Alfonso L�pez Michelsen was elected president twice, his father, former president Alfonso L�pez pumarejo� had been the head of the executive branch in the thirties;� Andr�s Pastrana Arango was the president of the country, his father, Misael Pastrana Borrero was the president from 1970 to 1974 ); one could easily argue that they are to blame for not having implemented the social changes and reforms the country needed when they had the opportunity to do so. It is important for a society to know its history in order to not make the same mistakes of the past, but Colombians have certainly been illustrated deeply enough on this aspect, it is time to think of the present and the construction of a better future. We can not keep on thinking of the past as the ghost that haunts our present, former president Pastrana made� extraordinary efforts to lead the conflict and the social crisis to a political and civilized end, the current government has shown to be tough with terrorists but some analysts insist on the need of humanitarian agreements from both parts as to liberate or release members of the two confronting parts; that is to say, people who have been kidnapped, including former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, senators, city council representatives etc, who have been held captive for several years now. The official sector should also look for ways to release some of guerrilla members without affecting the legal system nor providing a sense of impunity. In a nut shell, �Colombian society needs to peacefully find a political solution to the conflict.

� Armed confrontation has caused thousands� of deaths in the country, made ������the government spend millions of dollars keeping� the peace and order; if confrontation ceases, authorities will have more financial sources to invest in the construction of a better social order and the blood shed will come to and end.

����� Modern administration considers problems at organizations to be not a crisis but an opportunity, this is the opportunity and the time for Colombian leaders to overcome the crisis and mark the beginning of a new era for the people of� Colombia at all levels.

����� Colombian society claims to be very religious, "Colombians believe in God, we preach the Lord, we all think of ourselves to be good people, we are good Christians, etc"; Martin Luther King back in 1949, wrote that it was possible for communism to be in the world because "we" Christians have not been Christians enough, I guess this statement does not� differ much from the reality in Colombia.� It seems that we have forgotten during weekdays, what we have learnt on weekends,� Many wealthy Colombians forget that their wealth� is a blessing from God, be it by providing them with a prosperous business or simply by allowing them to be born in the womb of a wealthy family, and, that they are the administrators of the wealth the Lord has provided them with……" And the people of all nations will be gathered before� him, then He will divide them into two groups, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the righteous people at his right and the others at his left,� then the Lord will say to people at his right, come, you that are blessed by my father! come and possess the kingdom which has been prepared for you ever since the creation of the world. I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you received me� in your homes, naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me. The righteous will answer him, when Lord, did we ever see you hungry and fed you?, when did we ever see you a stranger and welcomed you in our homes, or naked and clothed you?, when did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?, then the King will reply: I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least important of these brothers of mine, you did it� for me…" Apparently, many wealthy Colombians have forgotten the teaching above and let our brothers die of hunger and illnesses in the countryside and in the city. On the other hand, we, people who believe in God, Colombians, have also forgotten the teachings regarding the respect for the life of others…" THOU SHALL NOT KILL…" commands the Lord, the Lord in which we, Colombians, believe. Colombians; we, have been killing Colombians for decades, some kill slowly by not allowing the others to have a decent modus vivendi, others, kill with fire and bullets, but perhaps the most worrying issue is the killing of the youth by means of invading the market with drugs and illicit substances or by forcing them to be active actors of the conflict. We, Colombians, believers in God, criticize the rich and kill the poor; we, Colombians, criticize the violence on the news and in our countryside but have more important issues to solve. I want to clarify that� the reflections above, exclude the grand majority of Colombian citizens which are people whose faith in God is coherent with their good actions and disagree with any manifestation of violence.

What do people around the word read or hear about Colombia?

��

If you read a newspaper in another language, another country, about Colombia, the news will certainly not differ much.� Perhaps, the headlines would be: "New Massacre in the North of Colombia, Paramilitary Groups Assassinated Twenty Peasants,� FARC Destroyed a Small Town and Took Fifteen Policemen Hostages, A New Case of Political Corruption Has Been Discovered in Congress,� Twenty People Were Kidnapped at a "Miraculous Fishing" by ELN/FARC, Ten Power Towers Were Blown Up by Guerrilla Members, Nearly Thirty Children Belonging to FARC Escaped From Their Commanders and Gave in Their Weapons to The Army, etc".

Colombians and the international community are aware of the consequences of the conflict, everybody has been aware of it for years but nobody has really stepped forward with concrete actions to solve the problem, the actions taken are "pre-action processes" in which the average man has been the last guest.

The government of Colombia has made many efforts to find a peaceful� solution to the conflict, armed groups have also shown interest in the political solution of the conflict; as an average citizen, there is no other option than believing that this story will certainly have a happy ending.

Henceforth, proposals and postures for the construction of peace will be discussed.

CONSTRUCTION OF PEACE FROM THE LOCAL PERSPECTIVE

..."In� just fourteen months, 11Colombian� mayors were assassinated and 25 kidnapped. About 40% of the municipalities have presence of illegal armed groups and 10% of mayors in the country have been� directly threatened. Apart from it, these insurgent groups, obtain money from the decentralisation process, this money has specific� destination for health, education and public services in the towns.

It is not a secret for any of the mayors in the country that the consolidation of peace in the regions, is the general objective for local leaders even though�� this objective cannot be reached in the foreseeable future.

Violence caused by the armed confrontation between the state and the guerrilla and anti-guerrilla groups, affects directly in the battlefield, the municipalities in the rural and urban areas; the arena of the conflict is the small town.

�The map of the conflict shows that more than 400 municipalities in the country have high rates of assassinations and/or kidnapping as a result of the development of the armed conflict, and these high rates of crime require the presence of only one of the actors of the conflict, to worsen the violent processes in the regions.

�The main external factor that affects government at the local level is the violence caused by the armed confrontation, and this determines the need of strengthening the capacity of management at the municipality level to face the problem. In this context, mayors are obliged to look for solutions, propose the government and the actors of the conflict, the tools required from the local perspectives, to improve the situation in case a serious peace process occurs; to generate the necessary conditions to abide by the international humanitarian law amidst the conflict. Each municipality is the state at a lower scale, in which public action is manifested and the concept of a Colombian nation is really constructed.

�Each territory shall then propose the best alternative for public actions� to reconstruct a society that has been destroyed by effects of the armed conflict.

Context:

On June 1998, when the executive committee of the Colombian federation of municipalities gathered, mayors of the country conformed a peace commission, representing all the (departamentos) regions of the country with the purpose of creating a political space to discuss the peace process proposed by president Pastrana.

As a result,� the CESPAZ (Comisi�n Especial de Alcaldes por la Paz) was� created.

Facing the� need� of establishing the criteria of mayors in the peace process, the executive committee of the federation of municipalities proposed the creation of a work group to build consensus at the national level� regarding the role of municipalities in the peace process; the basic idea is to establish a set of principles which will orient the actions of mayors, to let the actors of the conflict at the peace talks know what municipalities expect from this process and ask for participation in the discussion.

The committee defines, not only its eventual participation in the process, but concrete proposals for an institutional, financial, and political change that regions require to lead the pacification process of the country:

In the political area:

It is necessary to determine� the role of municipalities in the political decision-taking process to strengthen their capacity to solve conflicts. Political autonomy of the mayor will strengthen the action of the state at the regional level and therefore, will� empower the mayor in order to lead the community to achieve their expectations.

The responsibility that the law passes onto the mayor shall be accompanied with the necessary legal and administrative tools to lead mayors to the accomplishment of their duties.

In the administrative area:

It is necessary for the mayor, as local administrator, to have a level of autonomy wide enough to canalise the execution of programs and projects. Today, mayors still depend on what the central government and congress determine, mayors do not take part in the creation of mechanisms that assure the administrative feasibility required to turn their government intentions into government decisions.

In the financial area:

It is not a secret for anyone that the capacity of a mayor to obtain funds and invest them in those projects to satisfy the needs of the community, is limited by a system that ignoring the national reality, has not created but a wide range of technical requirements that hinders a fair distribution of resources accordingly with the needs of our regions, ignoring their distinctiveness.

That is the reason why, the peace proposal of mayors, their political project, includes redistribution of financial resources, the strengthening of� their administrative capacity and a wider range of financial autonomy which will provide them with better conditions to govern and distribute the resources of the nations equitably.

The first responsibility of mayors regarding the difficult situation of the country, consists of protecting their communities and plan an� agenda for the 21st century.

The municipalities of the country proposed the government and the armed groups in peace talks, an agenda which includes five major topics:

1) A� more dynamic territorial legislation and the strengthening of the decentralization process:

The strengthening of the decentralization process increases the capacity of mayors to propose a development model, which generates the conditions of peace and well being in the regions.� Mayors should be provided with legislation that gives them a real autonomy; autonomy shall be clearly defined as a fundamental tool to strengthen the process of appropriation of� resources.

The evaluation of criteria and principles that rule the public finances at the regional level, especially those related to financial processes; the evaluation of the transferences regime, the analysis of the objectives of the current system and the assignation of resources, the� restrictions to which the municipalities are subject; are necessary� to establish a reference frame in an agenda� for the achievement of peace.

2) Strengthening of participation mechanisms:

�With the purpose� of improving� the participation of the average citizen in the local� public issues, the municipal agenda for peace, proposes the revision and� evaluation of the instruments for participation in the elaboration of development plans and municipal programs, and the strengthening� of control and supervision� mechanisms.

The municipalities propose the inclusion of democratisation� in people's participation at the local level as the basis for the reconstruction of the nation.

3) Reforms to land legislation:

An integral solution to the problem of violence I Colombia has to deal with the social� redistribution of the resources. Municipalities propose the inclusion of a reform, which with the approval of the parties in conflict, establishes a real change� in the distribution of agricultural resources and proposes a scenario for the consecution of a structural reform in the distribution of land.

�A model of rural development is required, it must guarantee the productive sustainability of the� region and the possibility of equitable access to productive resources and public policy tools to improve the modus vivendi in the municipalities.

4) Environment:

The municipal agenda for peace includes the environment as a key issue for development. In the definition of a nation in peace, the necessity for a sustainable development �model is a must. The national strategy of conservation and development shall be constructed starting from the regional level, considering the distinctiveness of people in the regions and among regions.

5) Human rights:

The violence level that the country is facing, has involved the communities at the local sphere in the confrontation; bringing along the shattering of local structures. Forced displacement of communities in the rural areas, kidnapping, massacres, and selective assassinations conform the scenario I which mayors shall "keep order and peace"; this is a commandment from the constitution which can hardly be put into practice due to the constant violation of international humanitarian law. In most of the cases, actors of the conflict do not know the international humanitarian law that� protects civilians and demands respect for human integrity; the municipal agenda proposes the immediate adoption of the international humanitarian law by the actors of the conflict."

From a wider geopolitical perspective, departmentos should also be reorganised in order to decentralize� the administration of the country and grant the regions more autonomy to solve their problems in the different social fields; it is an issue that was established at in the constitution of the country but not implemented by the public administration.

Regarding autonomy, article 287 of the constitution states: " The territorial entities have their autonomy to administer their interests", and within the limits of constitution and law. In consequence, they will have the following rights:

����� Be governed by local authorities

����� Exercise their correspondent competences

����� Administer resources and establish the necessary taxes for the accomplishment of their functions.

����� Have participation of the national income.

The constitution provides more decentralising tools;

Article 288, " The organic law of territorial organization will establish� the competences between the nation and the territorial entities.

These competences at the different territorial levels will be exercised accordingly with the principles of coordination, concurrence, and cooperation in the terms established by the law.� It has been more that ten years since the new constitution was approved and yet, Colombians ( Congress) have not had the time to reorganize the country, some people believe that by doing so, they will "lose" electors in their areas of influence.

Article 298, Departamentos� have autonomy to administer sectional issues, plan and promote social and economic development in their territories within the constitutional terms.

�I think the key word of the article above is social;� if one considers the fact that the conflict is not centralized in the big cities like Bogota , Cali or Medellin, but in the regions, it is easy to conclude that regional government needs the legal tools to solve the social problems regarding illicit plantations, guerrilla groups, and forced displacement;� it is in the constitution, why have not we taken the necessary steps to solve the problem?.

It has been almost a decade since the last constitution -in which decentralization and regional autonomy were established-� was approved, the process seems to have gone the opposite, what has really happened is that centralization has strengthened,� regional autonomy has not been successful -because it has not been applied-, and political willingness to reorganize the country has not been a pattern in the political scenario.

Decentralization in the� political, fiscal, and administrative fields will� strengthen the departamentos and their municipalities providing them with tools to solve their local conflicts, this will certainly be a major step towards a peaceful solution to the conflict.

It is necessary to reorganize the territory and provide the regions with a wider level of autonomy in the political, administrative, and social fields. In Colombia, facts show that� the country is politically decentralized but administratively and fiscally speaking the regions are tied to what the central government decides; it is important to have one head at the top, but delegation - with resources- has been proved and tested to be an excellent administrative tool.

The current territorial organization is not even a Colombian invention, it was copied from the French geopolitical spectrum; it has been successful there and in many other countries but considering the characteristics of ours, Colombians need to reorganize the territory in a way that people participation� in the administration of social goods becomes a means of democracy and control.

The government� and the leaders of this country should not be afraid of delegating functions to the regions; in countries like Spain, the conformation of autonomous regions strengthened the unification of the country as a territorial unit

The country needs a political reform that assures democratic confrontation for power; the two traditional parties have come to a point in which their premises and philosophy meet, the presence of new political parties will necessarily lead to a rethinking of the traditional parties along with a more pluralist access to power, if a political reform is to take place, real mechanisms of participation on an even conditions basis should be provided.

The aim of this proposal is not to enhance the creation of a thousand political parties in a rather small country, but to establish the necessary mechanisms of participation accordingly with constitutional and democratic principles, should this be so, people will have more choices at polls and the modus operandi of traditional parties and ruling class will have to offer voters real opportunities of participation in the decision-making process.

In the same line, the state spends too much money in its bureaucracy;� if one compares the number of congressmen in bigger countries with the number of congressmen in Colombia,� it is not difficult to infer that there are too many congressmen, departamento's assembly members, and city council members to administer the country.

The effectiveness of a democratic system does not depend on the number of people elected to represent the will of people but in the system itself,� If the system if democratically efficient and effective, it must have the following characteristics:

����� Division of powers

����� Control of powers

����� Direct access to power by expression of the will of people

����� Strong institutions to keep the peace and order and guarantee the well-being and liberties of citizens.

It is in this latter that I would like to appeal for the need of making the institutions of Colombia more efficient not for the quantity of people that conform these institutions but for the number of actions they have to take in order to achieve an acceptable democratic environment; from my� point of view, Colombians like to over-discuss and talk about problems, when it comes to the point that an action has to take place, then� a second round of discussions will take place, then a third one, and so on.

The leaders of a society, somewhere, somehow, need to make a decision; that is the goal of electors at polls, they� elect a person but they expect facts; they trust that the people they elect will lead a number of actions to improve a certain area of their lives or the community, to do so, a decision should be made; we have many requirements and many people discussing issues but few actions to solve our problems.

The number of representatives in Colombia at all levels can be reduced in at least 50% without affecting the normal functioning of the state., congress can easily be reduced to a house of representatives; we have to bodies of congress: the senate and the chamber of representatives.

Being pluralist does not mean that "everybody" has to conform a government� but that all levels of society in a country are satisfactorily represented; in order to do so, a transparent electoral system must be implemented and people at all levels must be given the opportunity to participate directly in the election and control of government actions.

This includes the conformation of a one-body congress, participation of non-traditional political parties with equality of conditions, and a steady legal system basis to fight political and administrative corruption.


FINAL CONSIDERATIONS AND CONCLUSIONS

The use of violence is under no circumstances justifiable, if poverty or economical crisis are the reasons why some people in Colombia have opted for dealing with drugs or joining illegal armed groups,�� there would be more than a hundred armed revolutionary groups in the world - one per each poor country- and certainly the use of drugs would have been accepted as a non-threatening issue because it would have been accepted by most of societies in the world.

Violence breeds violence; when the leaders of a society are only worried about their interests and forget the needs of the people who have trusted them, feelings of frustration will start to appear at all levels in the social scale and eventually become the seed of violent manifestations and groups.�

Being irresponsible with the mission a society entrusts to a person or organization becomes being responsible for the sprouts of violence�� for not fulfilling the aims and promises given to people.

Violence has been proved to be the cause of death and poverty, countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia have not been able to achieve economical success mainly because their governments have invested the money in the defence of the status quo and public order;� social inequities in these countries have enhanced the conformation of delinquent groups� and the sprouting of� illegal armed groups; countries with high rates of� internal violence -illegal violence-, are countries with low levels of economical growth.

If democratic institutions are strengthened enough as to allow citizens to become an active and determining part of the system,� the levels of violence would not be as high as they are today in Colombia.

The violence begotten as a result of the development of the conflict, not only has affected people but also the environment, it� has been negatively affected by the development of confrontation in the country, thousands of litters of crude oil have been shed into the rivers of Colombia and thousands of animals and trees have died because of deforestation of rainforest� to plant illicit� herbs. In the other hand, almost 40% of the electrical infrastructure of the country has been affected by terrorists attacks; many towns and cities have been left in the dark� temporarily� because many towers have been blown up by guerrilla members. Use of violence means must come to an end if Colombians want to find the way to reconciliation.

In the economical sphere,� the country needs a temporary protection system for products produced in Colombia that would give the domestic economy the opportunity to recover and update technologically and become more competitive in the international scenario;� it is true that many companies have become more efficient after a privatization process and that sometimes competition creates a wider spectrum of� prices and opportunities for customers; nevertheless, a privatization process in Colombia must regard the unemployment levels of the country ( 20%), and consider the fact that such a process will necessarily lead to thousands of� additional layoffs and therefore, to a more critical situation in the labour and social fields.

The state of Colombia must invest on education,� not only at the lower levels but at the technical and technological levels which are the ones that companies demand qualified personnel in the country, education in Colombia is no longer a right, it is a privilege, fees are very high at private universities and public universities are very difficult to enter.

Lack of education is a violence factor ; if people do not develop abilities and skills to work, they immediately become potential delinquents, especially when working opportunities are scarce; on the other side,� a country with low levels of education is a country with low levels of competitiveness. A well educated citizen will not be a corrupted citizen.

Even though there are many Colombians and international analysts who oppose the current and previous peace processes, the grand majority of� Colombians� support it because we all know that violence has not brought along progress nor improvement in the well-being of the population - The state, guerrilla groups, and paramilitary groups have always said that they are the defenders of� the rights of Colombian citizens but their actions, as a whole, in history, have affected negatively the lives of those they have claimed to defend-; on the contrary, this conflict has caused thousands of deaths, "internal" refugees, on-going� economical crisis, and, logically, more violence.

The fact that the parties have sat at the table to discuss and propose solutions for the conflict, is, if honest, and indication that a peaceful solution to the conflict may eventually materialize. The people of� Colombia have set their expectations� on such a process even when no concrete agreements have been reached; the peace process must go on, or start if it hasn't,� but never be stopped or postponed.

The average citizen of Colombia does not want to be involved in armed confrontations, kidnappings, or victimized by terrorists and be part of� the crime� statistics in the country. I would dare to say that people in Colombia are not happy; this is a nation victimized by its own people at all levels of society.

CONCLUSIONS

1 The Political Problem:

The conflict Colombia is facing is not a passing fact, it is the result of an endless confrontation process since the foundation of the state. Colombian citizens have been taught to solve their differences by means of violence; vested interests and the absence of an effective democratic system have been the common denominator in the history of the country.� Only in the 19th century, more than two civil wars took place in what is now the territory of� Colombia, wars caused by political disputes concerning the need for a federal or centralist organization of the country in some cases, and regional disputes in others.

�Participation of people in elections had been very reduced ; women for instance, were granted the right to vote in the late 50's and leaders from the two traditional parties would not allow the emersion of any political counterpart. This created resentment in people and eventually became the seed of many revolutionary groups. It is necessary to implement a political reform with direct participation tools and direct democratic access to power of political currents differing from the traditional parties.

2� The Land Tenancy Problem

The persisting colonial semi-feudal organization has hindered the development of agriculture in the country; the tenancy of land by a handful of families and the church without any productive purpose delayed the development of this sector in the country.

�Peasants have been expelled from their small farms or obliged to cultivate illicit plants in order to survive; drug-dealing has taken advantage of the situation and promoted deforestation in order to plant coca or marihuana to poison the youth from abroad and at home; some illegal groups have conformed alliances with drug-dealers to finance their violent actions in the rural areas of the country.

If a reform in the territorial organization takes place, a fair redistribution of land -especially� in the most affected areas by the conflict - should be considered; the creation of new territorial units must observe higher levels of autonomy in the administrative and financial fields.

3 Reduction� of Violence Levels:

In order to create confidence in civilians ( the� grand majority of Colombians) regarding the peace process, adoption of international humanitarian law by the armed groups is required to take place. Guerrilla and paramilitary groups (Including common delinquency) shall look for means of financing different to those that result harmful for the integrity of civilians, and topics like cease fire, "miraculous" fishing, and blackmailing must be discussed and brought to an end at the negotiation table.

Some government officers have to clarify the denounces made by NGO's regarding violations of human rights- many� former army officials are being judged for these charges-.

Peace processes with ongoing confrontation have not been successful; the Jews-Arab conflict has not come to an end because confrontation and casualties are still occurring; this creates resentment in people and unwillingness to solve the problem by conciliatory means.

Negotiation with confrontation is like trying to fly very high with the wings and body of a hen.

When people talk about violence, people are more inclined to think that whenever a� group or groups different from the state (guerrilla, paramilitary, religious fanatics, terrorists, etc) commit a crime, this latter is essentially a violent action performed by violent people; violence implies the use of force by one group or person in order to submit another group or person to its will or to force them to abide by the established social order and laws.

The state must have the monopoly of force (violence) in order to control the emerging violent forces, Colombian state� does not have the monopoly of violence (force) and therefore does not have the monopoly of violent "sub states" conformed by guerrilla and paramilitary groups which have a parallel government in many regions of the country.

If a group uses its force in the name of the state, it will be considered to be a legal use of force ( it will be called an operation, a plan, a strategy, etc); but if the same actions are carried out by a group different from it, then it will not be a military operation or anything of the sort, it will be an case of terrorism.

The point is that when people from the same country use force (violence) among themselves in order to make their believes prevail, eventually their believes will perhaps prevail; but the country won't, it will be divided into small other countries in which the strongest will survive; the use of violence leads to the darkest of nights where the light of civility will never shine and the word human will mean nothing but a believe from old that could not succeed.

4 All The Parties In Conflict Must Sit At The Negotiation Table Or Be Active Part Of The Peace Strategy:

In order to reach a peaceful political solution ( we have to change the policy of armed political solutions by that of civilized political solution), all the actors (violent actors) involved in the conflict must be part of the peace talks process, be it in a parallel program or at the same table. The government of Colombia needs to decentralize the peace process by allowing regional leaders (governors and mayors) to lead regional talks concerning relevant issues such as implementation of international humanitarian law and reduction of attacks against civilians; the central agenda must be monitored by the president but delegating some tasks will enrich the process.
5� Drug Dealing

The drug-dealing problem is perhaps the most critical issue for Colombians and the international community; it has caused thousands of deaths in the country and abroad, many families have been affected around the world,� millions of trees have been chopped in rainforests to grow cocaine or marihuana, a lot of blood has been shed with the weapons drug-dealers buy, and an entire country has received the worst part.

Drug dealing must come to an end one way or another but when trying to do so, the strategies nor the guns should specifically be pointed at Colombia, they should be pointing at the levels of consumption abroad, the establishment of� favourable commercializing conditions for peasants who make a living out of illicit activities so that they can substitute their products and have access to credits and promotion ( and protection) of their� activities.

���������������� 6 Education:

The levels of illiteracy in the country have increased since the beginning of� the nineties, access to college or universities has been reduced because young people have to leave their books at home and help with the family economy;� the constitution provides free education for the elementary levels (primary school) but the accomplishment of this commandment has turned into a very difficult issue because the government has centred its efforts in keeping the peace and order in the territory. Many public universities do not have subsidies of any sort anymore, and private universities are too expensive.

A society with low levels of education and research is a society which will be condemned to depend on others; depend technologically and� economically.

Colombia must concentrate efforts to guarantee the education of� its people; a peasant with basic training in the agricultural and administrative fields will be more efficient and self-dependent.�

It is time for the young of Colombia to drop the gun and grab the book, a country needs the young to assure its future and education is the best investment� for the future of a country.

It is my wish that Colombians find the way to peace and the creation of a new just social order.

About the Author

Alvaro Emilson Bautista was born in the city of Ibagu� (Tol) in 1973 studied at the faculty of Political and Administrative� Sciences at the Escuela Superior de Administraci�n P�blica - ESAP; graduated as a public administrator in 1999, he has an unedited book of poetry ( in Spanish) in which he tries to interpret the feelings and reality of his country.

This last work, is an effort of the author to give the English speaking people a deeper view of what the conflict� in Colombia is like, from the perspective of an average Colombian citizen who has been living the sad development of the conflict in his native land.





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