Colombian president seeks “total peace” with guerrillas and narco organisations

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Bogota, Colombia -

Throughout Colombia, a prolonged conflict involving leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries, trafficking organizations, and the government has resulted in over 9.5 million individuals, nearly 20% of the population, experiencing forced displacement, homicide, sexual violence, and other forms of victimization.

As the complexity of the conflict in Colombia continues to grow, with various armed groups vying for control, Gustavo Petro, who was formerly a rebel and now serves as the country’s president, has made a commitment to establish “total peace” and put an end to one of the world’s longest-lasting conflicts.

Petro intends to reshape how Colombia addresses the endemic violence, replacing military operations with social programmes that address the underlying causes of the conflict, including poverty in violence-plagued areas. The President is engaged in negotiations with Colombia’s most powerful armed groups, ranging from leftist guerrillas to smaller trafficking syndicates, in an effort to persuade them to demobilize simultaneously. According to government estimates, over 31,000 armed fighters are part of these militias, and while no groups have yet signed comprehensive peace agreements, the National Liberation Army (ELN) and Colombia recently agreed to a six-month ceasefire.

As part of the “total peace” plan, programmes aimed at preventing the recruitment of children will be implemented in cities with the highest levels of violence and poverty. These programmes are considered essential components of the overall strategy. The “Young People in Peace” initiative will provide a monthly stipend of one million pesos, roughly equivalent to $250, to 100,000 Colombians aged 14 to 28 who are either linked to criminal groups or at risk of such affiliation. Recipients will be required to pursue education and engage in some form of social service.

The Colombian government has long been working to persuade criminal groups to disarm, and in 2016, it received acclaim for signing a peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country’s most powerful guerrilla force at the time. Much of the accord focused on similar social programmes and reintegration opportunities for former rebels, earning then-President Juan Manuel Santos a Nobel Peace Prize for bringing an end to the world’s longest-running civil war. However, the peace was short-lived as the government failed to fully implement the agreement, allowing a variety of evolving criminal organisations to vie for control, resulting in a resurgence of violence.

Now, in the aftermath of the FARC accords, the government is attempting to negotiate similar agreements, but the complexity of Colombia’s conflict has grown to such an extent that it presents a significant challenge.

In the cities that are a major hub for narcotics trafficking, turf wars have spawned an exceptionally brutal conflict. Homicides, kidnappings, torture, and sexual abuse are commonplace, as are mass graves and locations where gangs dismember their adversaries. Many believe that the young people who lack opportunities and are coerced into joining gangs are both victims and victimizers.

Over the past year, several gangs have engaged in dialogues and sporadic ceasefires, sparking hope. But the gangs stated they will only demobilize if every armed group in Colombia does the same. The police admit that there are so many groups in contention in Colombia that they have lost count.

Decades of conflict have eroded citizens’ trust. This concern is shared throughout the country, as armed groups have expanded their territorial control, income sources, and recruitment efforts in the past year. Although confrontations with law enforcement have decreased, conflicts between rival groups have escalated resulting in a 77% increase in kidnappings and a 15% increase in extortion.

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