APlanning for War Will Not Bring Peace@


Ana Teresa Bernal, of Redepaz


Those of us in Colombia who are convinced of the need for international assistance for peace believe there is an extremely high risk that Plan Colombia, the current U.S. aid package, could escalate the war.

One troubling sign that I personally saw a few days ago was at a seminar for the Colombian armed forces at the Tequendama Hotel in Bogotá. Besides the participation of the President and the Defense Minister at the closing ceremony, there were Colombian generals and coronals, Spanish and Chilean officers, and U.S. generals actively involved throughout the several days of the conference. The seminar produced some very worrisome conclusions. For example, the first decision was to use international assistance to strengthen and modernize the Colombian armed forces for the purpose of militarily defeating the guerillas. They also discussed linking civilians to the military for assistance in intelligence and linking up with the press to shape public opinion in favor of the military=s efforts to defeat the guerillas.

The Defense Minister closed the event by saying that in 1997 when President Pastrana began the peace process, he had been in a defensive position relative to the guerillas. That year 79 percent of the public believed the guerillas could defeat the armed forces. In contrast, two years later 49 percent considered victory by the Colombian military possible. There was a transformation of public opinion that changed how the peace process was conducted. Our concern is that a peace process subjugated to the war effort, in which each actor has a peace plan and a war plan, quickly deteriorates. I think changing the logic is fundamental if we want peace. The peace process cannot be maintained under the logic of war, which is based on amassing more military force to defeat the enemy. This does not contribute to peace.

The FARC has strengthened itself militarily. Three or four days ago it launched the Movimiento Bolivariano political movement with a spectacular show of force as thousands of combatants participated in the public event.

The FARC has displayed two faces. FARC leader Mono Jojoy advocates war and aggressive offensive operations, calls for strengthening the FARC militarily and taxes businesses. The other face of the FARC is represented by Alfonso Cano, who was named director of Movimiento Bolivariano. He believes a strengthened political movement can help the peace process succeed.

I believe both the government and the FARC have a Plan A and a Plan B. It=s our responsibility as Colombian civil society to help strengthen Plan A B the peace effort B because it is the only way we will make any progress.

Regarding the ELN, there are major difficulties with the zone that has been chosen for demilitarization. It is important that the government has made a decision, but it did so after much opposition to the zone had already been organized One group that opposes the peace process and the demilitarized zone is the self-defense groups. The FARC also want to intervene because they have fronts in the region chosen for the demilitarized zone. They have complicated the process with the ELN by requesting a voice in decisions regarding the objectives of the negotiations with the ELN.

Just as citizen mobilization contributed to the decision to initiate negotiations, active citizen participation is necessary to maintain, broaden and strengthen the process. Peace in Colombia will only be possible if peace, human rights and democracy organizations succeed in establishing a common strategy.