Colombia: “A peace agreement will not convert all those demobilized into angels overnight”

Orsetta Bellani, Latinamerica Press

Efraín Jaramillo Jaramillo is a Colombian anthropologist who throughout four decades has helped indigenous, afro-Colombian and campesino communities in their fights for the defense of their land and culture. He is the director of Jenzera Collective of Work, an interdisciplinary and interethnic group founded in 1998. The name Jenzera, which in emberá language means “ant”, was given to the group by Kimy Pernía, emberá katío indigenous leader assassinated in 2001 by paramilitaries.

Orsetta Bellani, collaborator with Latinamerica Press, spoke with Jaramillo about the preoccupations and hopes the process of peace between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the government of President Juan Manuel Santos — that is being carried out in Havana, Cuba, since October 2012 —  is arousing in the indigenous peoples.

The indigenous villages are not represented at the negotiation table in Havana. There is the idea that the FARC could represent their interests, in addition to those of the campesinos. What opinions do you have in this respect?
Some left-sided analysts believe that the interests of the indigenous villages, the campesinos and afro-Colombians are well-represented by the FARC. This is genuine speculation. Like [the German-American philosopher] Hanna Arendt said, it’s a “truth of opinion” and not a “truth of facts”, because one thing is that the FARC and their supporters presume that they are representing the interests of the indigenous peoples and another thing is if those peoples feel represented by them. The indigenous peoples don’t believe that the parts in the dialogue are going to take into account their interests.

I feel certain pessimism in your words…
Could be. But you see, despite everything that has happened to them, the indigenous peoples are optimists. They hope that the negotiations conduct to the closure of the armed conflict which will allow entering into a period of transition for the reconstruction of the state. The Havana scenario does not have to be an exclusive space for the state and the FARC that don’t allow third parties; this is of capital importance for the indigenous peoples because for the first time since the Constitution of 1991 was approved, they will be making use of what constitutionally signifies to be an organic part of the Colombian nation that will allow them to participate in the collective construction and democracy of the State and the Colombian society. That is why is expected that the post-conflict era will be an open space for all the sectors of society to construct a new country.

The indigenous peoples suffered abuses by the both sides involved in the negotiations. Between January and August of this year, according to the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), 29 indigenous have been murdered. Do the indigenous peoples believe that with signing the peace agreement the peace can be reached?
The indigenous peoples are sure that the signing of a peace agreement will not convert all those demobilized into angels overnight. With this realism they decided to form the National Indigenous Humanitarian Commission to promote humanitarian dialogues with the implicated armed actors in infractions of the International Humanitarian Right and arrive at a public compromise with the respect to the life of the indigenous peoples. This commission looks for the recognition by the national government and the accompaniment of international facilitators, national guarantors and observers from friendly countries.

Do the peace agreements foresee some reparation of the damages caused to the indigenous peoples?
The indigenous people hope that the negotiations will arrive at some type of agreement about the rights of the victims. In respect there is a pessimistic air and growing hopelessness by the slowness of some of the government programs for their communities. Despite of the Law of Victims and Restitution of Land and the Decree Law 4633 of 2011— that dictates measurements of comprehensive reparation and restitution of territorial rights to the indigenous communities — in three years there has only been restitution of the land in an indigenous reserve in Chocó [northwest]. Furthermore, the indigenous people are afraid that the National Mining Agency (ATM) and the Ministry of Defense will not comply with the precautionary measures ordained by Administrative Court of Tolima to protect this territory from the damages caused by the mining activities of the South African gold mining company Anglo Gold Ashanti in Cajamarca, in the western central department of Tolima.

For the post-conflict era, the FARC is trying to arrogate a series of campesino reserves that are on indigenous territories. Do the indigenous peoples have concerns associated with the demobilization of armed groups?
At this stage of the development of the negotiations, we estimate that the movements that contain them have understood that in the post-conflict era all the social sectors have to politically converge to create a broad and participatory scenario. In Havana it is being discussed the possibility to establish territories for the demobilized, and analyzing if the figure of “Campesino Reserve Zone” (ZRC) will be the most adequate. Theoretically it’s an interesting proposal, because with the figure of ZRC, there will not continue to be the demand of a “distribution of land” in the framework of an agrarian reform, but look for the “recognition of campesino territories”, that as collective property — similar to indigenous reserves and collective territories of afro-descendant communities — will be left out of the land market and will be an obstacle for the concentration of land. However, in practice, it isn’t known how it will work.

It is not a secret that the majority of combatants cannot imagine living in that bucolic world so much promoted by the FARC, with families cultivating the land and eating the fruit of their labor. For those men hardened by the war, working the land is not their life, as has been pointed out by three demobilized combatants that I had the opportunity to interview.

We also refer to the level of acceptance of these campesino reserves will have in the case they are established in indigenous territories and afro-descendant communities; they will have to invent very creative formulas so that these campesino reserves can work.

But there is no need to be alarmed at the mention of these concerns, that more than just problems are challenges in a multicultural country. We have to deal with them if we want to construct a more democratic society and more in line with the principles of a multi-ethnic and multicultural nation like Colombia.

Article published by Latinamerica Press on 8.31.2015: