SOME TRAGIC FIGURES OF THE CONFLICT
One could write all the testimonies of people affected by violence in this country but there would not be space to store all the books that may come out, like these Colombians above, hundreds of thousands have been forced to leave their homelands, kidnapped, blackmailed, tortured or assassinated with “political” purposes; the situation has gotten worse not better, as some people may say; massacres are still taking place, many people are still captive, thousands are being displaced violently from their farms and houses, there is something that is really worrying: The involving of civilians (especially children) in the conflict.
Children represent the future of a country and that future is being uncertain because children are forced to be involved in the conflict one way or another; they could be victimized or forced to victimize others; according to Consultoria Para los Derechos Humanos y el Desplazamiento (Codhes) and Fondo de las Naciones Unidas Para la Infancia –(UNICEF), more than 1’100.000 boys and girls under 18 have suffered forced displacement running away from massacres, threatening, and death from 1985 to 1999.
According to the same source, the actions that motivated their displacement were:
Massacres and selective killings 22%
Armed confrontations 8%
Who caused all this displacement situation? : According to the report, the responsible groups are:
Paramilitary groups 48%
The army 9%
Common delinquency 9%
The situation is dramatic, if one considers that out of the 1900.000 displaced people, 1100.000 are children; it represents 86% of the total estimated displaced people; the figures show that there is a high level of responsibility from the armed actors, those who make children their objective as part of their strategies and with which they openly break the international laws that protect the children.
The problem is not only about children victimized by violence but children who have been forced to victimize others when compelled to conform armed groups; according to the Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar ICBF, about 2.000 children are part of the guerrilla groups and 3.000 were recruited by paramilitary groups. The official armed forces took the decision of removing from its troops all young men and women under 18.
According with the ICBF, It is estimated that those teenagers have killed at least once 18%, have seen assassinations 60%, have seen mutilated corpses, 25% have seen or taken part in kidnappings, 13% have kidnapped directly, 18% have seen tortures,, 40% have shot some one at least once and 28% have been wounded in combats.
The other field in which civilians are strongly involved in the conflict, is kidnapping; according to NGO Pais Libre, in Colombia, there is a victim of kidnapping or hijacking every three hours.
The assassination of people in captivity and the “miraculous fishing” confirm the drama.
According to Pais Libre, …“only in 1999, 2.945 people were taken against their will; in 1999, kidnapping increased in 33%; this high index, shows that the state is not prepared to face the problem…”. It is estimated that at least 10% of the victims are children.
1.243 of the victims are still captive, 1.073 were released, 437 were rescued by the government troops, and 38 recovered their liberty thanks to the pressure of government troops; 61 were assassinated in captivity, 42 died because of health problems, and 52 managed to escape.
The list of victimizers is led by FARC with 728 “retained” people, ELN with 695, common delinquency with 300(some common delinquents kidnap people and “sell” them to armed groups, which will collect the ransom at a higher price),EPL with 167, and paramilitary groups with 103. The situation in the year 2.000 did not change much, massive kidnapping and illicit retentions were still taking place all over the country, at churches, highways, restaurants, and at home.
All these consequences of the conflict have fallen upon Colombian people but there is something that is affecting Colombians and many people (especially young) around the world: Drug-dealing, it has been the worst of evils that could have reached the country and the world; it is a financial means for all the armed groups which later buy weapons in the black market to kill more Colombians and protect illicit plantations; it is not accidental that the areas in which paramilitary groups, guerrilla groups, and drug-lords are, are exactly the areas in which illicit plantations are and the conflict has developed the most; when people are forced to leave their farms behind, that land becomes property of the strongest group in the region and is used to plant cocaine, marihuana or any other illicit product. The geographic location of cocaine plantations is exactly the location of illegal armed groups in the south of the country, FARC has its strongest influence and there is where most cocaine plantations are, especially in the Putumayo and Guaviare regions; in Norte de Santander and mountainous areas of Antioquia, paramilitary groups and ELN are still disputing the territory; many illegal laboratories for processing cocaine have been destroyed in those regions.
The government has developed a strategy to fight the traffic of illegal substances and to diminish the hectares (about 130.000) cultivated with illegal plants; this strategy is clearly explained in the “Plan Colombia”.
Plan Colombia is a strategy that can be summarized in five basic components:
1. Peace Process: The government aims for this to be a key issue to fight drug-dealing, corruption, and violation of human rights. International help has been requested for safety, an alliance is recommended to diminish the levels of consumption and the traffic of weapons.
2. Reactivation of Economy: The financial adjustment plans need the creation of a Social Emergency Fund order to diminish the impact of the conflict at the low-class level. The Fund will carry out programmes such as Manos a La Obra “Hands to Work” which will generate employment; manos a la obra is the programme with which the government plans to reduce the levels of unemployment (20%) by replacing machinery for men in the infrastructure projects.
3. Anti-narcotics Strategy: It is the issue that requires military aid the most, it includes the creation of a stronger radar system, and provide the army with the necessary elements to operate faster and more effectively in the jungle and rivers in the areas of conflict.
4. Judicial Reform: The judicial personnel will receive training, the intelligence technical agency will be retrained and the administration of justice will be restructured.
5. Democratization and Social Development: This element contains the development projects, environmental sustainability, and attention to displacement victims.
The above, roughly illustrates the contents of Plan Colombia, nevertheless, many people argue that this is not a plan to construct peace but to enhance war; the military component is very strong and the eradication of plantations by force may cause unexpected reactions from the people affected; another issue to consider is the fact that many illegal armed organizations finance themselves with the money this industry produces.
The contributors to the plan are mainly the USA and the European Union but they have encountered opinions on how the eradication should be carried out:
The United States argue that the best way to eradicate the illicit plantations is by forcing peasants to abandon their practices and turn ti legal plantations.
The E.U believes that this peace process does not have an alternative nor a military solution, they will support anything that deals with logistics and financial issues for the process and those projects designed by the parties in conflict, keeping into account the programmes the international community is leading to strengthen the process; in other words, they “do not contribute to Plan Colombia but to Colombia itself”.
Many people argue that Plan Colombia is only fighting the effects of the socio-economical problems that have affected the people of Colombia for centuries, Tulio said :…“when I had a plantation of fruits, I could not even take them to the market to sell them, and if I did, it was only to buy some essential products to keep my family alive; when you work in the countryside, you want to sell your products a t a good price, have access roads to cities but we have to do all this on horses or our backs, it is really difficult because if you pay for transportation, then you will make less money; money is another problem, we, peasants can not afford to pay the interest rates that the bank charges or have access to credit, they ask for a thousand requirements and in the end they tell you that you do not qualify, on other words, you have to show them that you already have the money you want them to lend you…”; like Tulio, many people in the country do not have other alternatives to make a living with than growing illicit plants, “One gets more money, they pay you a lot for it and you do not have to worry about the transport or if you will sell enough, they buy everything you produce”.
Colombia is essentially an agricultural country; only few industries have survived to the free market policy established by former president Gaviria and his predecessors, the few industries that survived, were those monopolies of brews, and textiles; the agro-industry was affected the most, before 1990, the country imported basically machinery and technology now a country with a lot of fertile land has to import food and due to the problems in the countryside, the quantity of imported food has risen dramatically.
Prior to being a country with a free-market policy, the state protected the national industry with tariffs and taxes for foreign products but then monopolies took advantage of the situation and manipulated the market according to their own interests; the free-market policy certainly gave the opportunity to the average citizen to choose and buy better and cheaper products and brought along the need of modernization for the national industry, but technology has a price and the productive sector could not afford it; Colombia does not have a real industry, it is estimated that about 60% of the productive sector is informal, it is mainly conformed by family business or freelance workers; a family business can not compete with a multinational company which has higher levels of technology, produces more goods faster and at a lower price, it is not coincidental the fact that the conflict in Colombia worsened during the last decade; the levels of unemployment raised dramatically ( 20%), The highest in Latin-America; analysts believe that it will take at least 5 years to diminish the levels of unemployment to a 15% if the economy starts to grow, it means that the situation will continue the same for at least 10 years if efficient measures do not take place immediately, the bankruptcy of many family businesses and companies caused many lay-offs in the private sector; many companies closed down too.
In the public sector, the situation was not better if one considers the fact that the state is the biggest employer of the country, there were many shake-ups in the public institutions; the state, faithful to the neo-liberal policy, had to reduce its functions to “those which really concern the state: Justice, security, and provide a good environment for the economy”, and therefore had to reduce the number of public employees substantially.
When people do not have access to work, they have to look for new income means, and since there are not many opportunities to do so, they opt for delinquent activities to survive; the conflict in Colombia has increased the most in the rural areas because many peasants do not have access to work and the commercialisation of products has become more difficult, if the only alternative that they have is to plant illicit herbs or joining an armed group, the possibility of solving the conflict will remain aloof.
I personally think that the conflict shall end where it started: In the rural area; since 1960, the cities of Colombia experienced a demographical explosion, peasants from all aver the country moved to the cities in search of new opportunities of work and protection from the violence in the countryside; once in the cities, their children who did not have real opportunities to study or work, became part of streets gangs, delinquent groups or joined an illicit armed group.
The stage at which the state has its closest contact with people is the local administration in the provinces and it should be from there that peace could start to be constructed, especially if one considers the fact that the population of the country is concentrated in the capitals of the regions (departamentos) and that the countryside is still there for those people who want to return and work there if the security and safety conditions are created.
© Copyright 2016 Alvaro Bautista. All rights reserved.