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Colombia to announce the agreement to end the war: reflections from a distance

Catalina Rojas

August 28, 2016


This picture was published by the office of the Colombia´s Peace Commissioner.  As a long-time gender specialist I have to ask what is wrong with it? Obviously the lack of female presence.  But this blogpost is not about that.  In fact, the Colombian agreement thus far has a pretty serious gender approach as expressed in its submission on gender and its utilization as a crosscutting theme in all the topics.  Pretty cool.

What I want to focus rather is that this is the picture that shows the negotiating teams as they conclude their arduous work of 4 years drafting an agreement that will end the longest most protracted internal conflicts in the Western Hemisphere and one of the longest conflicts of the twentieth century.

Im sharing the news here in this blog in case there are people like me here. Did you grow up in a country in conflict? Did you grow up listening to bombs as part of your daily life? War and conflict changes and shaped who we are. During my college years, I became a student peace activist. I distinctly remember participating in rallies to raise awareness to Colombians, especially in cities where the “war” could be easily ignored (not always). This rally in particular, after a bomb blast (and probably this was a result of the “drug war” rather than the insurgency armed conflict) a bunch of us walked for hours around the hole that was left from the blast. I also remember how my feet looked after a rally in which we marched barefooted in downtown Bogotá. No amount of soap would clean my feet.

The friendships that I met of people my age and all ages, leaders of NGOs, activists, former insurgents, academics. These are people that have been working ages before me to help Colombia arrive to a peace agreement, and these are people, now with more grey hair, wrinkles and a lifetime dedicated to this cause that remain committed to this cause. An agreement is just the beginning and this is far from done.

As for me, I continued my studies that were in great part influenced but this desire to understand and help solve Colombia’s armed conflict. I left to pursue a professional career as a conflict expert but I didn’t return. The work for peace in Colombia led me to a career in social change.

What I feel today once they announced that peace agreement is completed is a rush of emotions. First, I honestly never thought this was going to happen in my lifetime. I was doing this work for future generations so it is an incredible honor to witness this historical moment. I feel a huge sense of relief to know that the past two decades, all that I did, and most importantly all that SO MANY PEOPLE did paved the road to this moment. To be honest, working for peace is such a tirelessly ingrate occupation. You work with scarce resources, in a country filled with apathy, outside powers pouring billions on dollars to strengthen the war (yes, U.S. the Plan Colombia). Nothing happens for months, years, decades. Things get worse, much worse. To arrive to this moment is hard to describe but is nothing less of HUGE.

Don’t think for a minute that this peace was made 4 years ago in La Habana by the two negotiating teams and boatloads of experts. Every single one of we students, activists, artists, Colombian organizations, universities, NGOs, donor governments, international organizations and activists, journalists. What a huge honor to be a part of this generation that contributed and made possible for this day to arrive.

Many pictures will be taken, and hands will be shaken, what you can’t see in a peace agreement are the millions of people that helped create this path. If you feel your work is going nowhere, if you can’t make sense of what you are doing (which happened to me a lot) I give you this reminder today. We are always part of something bigger . Your work for social change is contributing to move things in a positive direction in the region or country where you live. Even now, as I witness peace in Colombia been done while I am thousands of miles away, I carry a deep satisfaction that two decades of work are there represented in this picture. I congratulate the negotiating teams for their endurance, commitment, creativity and tenacity. I hope everything goes well during the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration and reconstruction phases. I am more than happy that 67.5% of Colombians are supporting the initiative to vote YES to a peace agreement and I hope that my son’s generation is shaped not by bombs and blasts but by the fruits of growing in peace and diversity.

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