The subtle flutter of peace
21 Sep 2017 by Pablo Ruiz, Country Director, UNDP Colombia
Recently I was invited by the Government of Colombia to an event in Cesar, in the north of the country, in a beautiful place called La Paz. In the presence of President Juan Manuel Santos, a woman victim of the conflict pointed out some improvements in her community, so subtle, she said, like the flutter of butterflies. I want to briefly outline some of those improvements, inspired by one of the many survivors of the armed conflict.
First, Colombia has become a reference for a convulsive world, with thousands of lives saved since the beginning of the peace negotiations. After decades of conflict with the FARC-EP, and indescribable pain, the country has begun to close that chapter of its history.
On 15 August, we attended the UN-certified FARC-EP laying down of arms, and on 4 September we celebrated the agreement reached between the Government of Colombia and the National Liberation Army (ELN) to implement a bilateral and temporary ceasefire. How not to contrast this episode with the tragedy of Syria, a country that years ago I visited several times, where the dark side of mankind continues to be on display with terrible consequences.
The historic steps in Colombia are triggering a rich debate within society on other issues of public interest, such as social services, corruption, budget or visions of rural development, whose importance in the national agenda will no longer be overshadowed by the severity of the conflict.
After renouncing violence, the new party that succeeded the FARC will be one actor among many in a crowded social and political scene. Meanwhile, the Colombian Army is working with other social actors, such as the National University, on its transformation and future challenges. Little by little, words prevail over threats, bullets and anti-personnel mines.
Finally, I want to add that new conditions for development may emerge in a country that holds great economic potential. In the midst of a regional economic crisis, the net result of peace is a climate more favourable to international investment and, to some extent, to the farmers.
Not surprisingly, there has been progress in clearing mines in 166 municipalities (507 remain); tourism has increased – 46 percent in the first half of 2017; progress has been made in replacing illegal crops and in launching ambitious grassroots development plans.
If we see the glass half empty, a good part of these benefits are promises, not tangible commitments, and there is a certain degree of scepticism and insecurity in some corners of the country. If we want to see the glass half full, Colombia has reached the highest levels of agricultural production in its history – more than a million new hectares cultivated – and today the sector is progressing at a higher pace than the rest of the economy.
In any case, the challenges for human development are colossal. Ensuring the safety of social leaders and reincorporating former combatants, promoting rural development, reducing the weight of illicit economies and advancing reconciliation are just a few. As we reflect on the future of Colombia must ask: how do we take advantage of the current momentum to advance human development for all?
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