LET 2016 BE A CALL TO ACTION

In the past six months, political decisions in several countries have stunned pundits and progressists alike, defied all political expectations, and set social justice and civil rights a few years back.  In England, after a reductionist and disinformation campaign, old white males from peripheral areas proved decisive in the Brexit referendum. In Spain, corruption on corruption scandal was not enough for the president to not be reelected. Not even a terrifying episode involving the minister of interior and the head of the anticorruption office in Catalonia in a fact-fabricating case against political opponents was sufficient to change the political landscape. In Colombia, after a lengthy and complex peace process, the country voted against the peace agreement. Now, in the U.S., Americans have elected a racist, misogynistic, accused-of-sexual-abuse, discriminatory male as President. The worst is that the most likely to be negatively affected by these outcomes are precisely the people who voted for the unpredicted result (with the exception of Colombia, where people affected by the conflict overwhelmingly voted in favor of concluding the peace agreement with the FARC-EP).

It’s time to come to terms with the reality that the social justice values that I and many people in my surroundings espouse are not shared by the majority of the population – in no continent in the world. “Traditional thinking” that is anathema to gender and racial equality, marriage equality and LGTBI rights, environmental justice, and respect and opportunities for people of all abilities is very much alive and influencing the results we are seeing. The fact of the matter is that we are not one percenters but we are certainly part of an intellectual elite who was too blinded by the idea that progress is linear. It is not, it has never been, and it can go in both directions. This American election is the last in a series of political events that demonstrate it.

The easiest reaction to this situation is to despair. Yes, voter dissatisfaction is evident and completely justified. We are doomed, there is nothing we can do against the will of the majority if we want to maintain democracy. But, is it so? During the civil rights movement, public opinion was also divided. In 1965 only 25 percent of Americans cited civil rights as a problem facing the nation. The Voting Rights Act was passed that year. According to Pew Research Center data, “in February 1965 that, when asked about the Civil Rights Act specifically, 42% overall believed the federal government was moving too fast in guaranteeing “Negro” voting rights and the right of “Negroes” (the term used in the question) to be served in public places such as restaurants, hotels and theaters, while just 25% thought it was not moving fast enough.” In England, during the suffragette movement, many women and men became actively involved in the anti-suffragette movement.

For years, as a result of these struggles that defied the status quo and the majority, we saw almost unremitting progress and as a result, we became too complacent. Now, we are left with Donald Trump, Mariano Rajoy, Brexit (and Boris Johnson), and an unstable peace in Colombia. Yet whether these politicians can set us back decades is up to us, the citizens. We need to stop thinking that things will sort out themselves, that “they” (vs. us) won’t actually vote like that. We need to stop complaining over twitter and facebook while we remain seated on our chairs. Clicktivism is not enough. Social media and online petitions are absolutely necessary; they can serve as catalyzers and have a multiplier effect, but in and of themselves they will not trigger change.

We have to deal with the Brexit, with a widely and openly corrupt Spanish government, with a Colombian peace process in tatters, and with a Trump era. But as citizens, we have the power to act as bulwarks against state abuse. We can influence policy. We can act to ensure that new detrimental policies are not implemented. You don’t believe me? Look at what women and men – feminists – managed to achieve both in Spain and Poland. In Spain, a government with a sizable majority tried to pass legislation on abortion that would have severely curtailed women’s ability to decide over their bodies. In Poland, there was a call for such legislation as well (albeit not promoted by government, it almost passed). Regardless, the Spanish minister of Justice championing the legislation at the time (who infamously said in Parliament “what makes a woman be a woman is becoming a mother”) had to resign as a result of the pressures. Thanks to women’s mobilizations in Poland, the fate of the initiative calling for an almost completely ban of abortion was not any better.

This political landscape, if anything, also demonstrates that social justice issues are global. The Brexit, the turn European politics are taking, the electoral campaign in the U.S., and the Colombian referendum had a decisive international dimension. If we want progressive causes to advance – anywhere – we need to globalize our thinking about each one of these issues. We need to be actively involved not only in the matters affecting our “passport nation” (as I like to call it) but in what is affecting social justice causes around the world. Borders are porous and the butterfly effect is very much a reality (the crisis in the Mediterranean or the 2008 financial crisis speak for themselves, no need to elaborate more on that).

Let 2016 be a call to action. This is not the beginning of the end, but the start of a new beginning. Oh, and by the way, looking at demographics, the future of social justice lies on the youth and the feminists (both women and men).

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Peace negotiations in tatters: key elements to understanding the talks between the Colombian Government and the FARC-EP 

 

For the outsider, most days can look the same in Bogotá. It will rain at some point in the day, and inevitably a trancón (as the horrible traffic jams are known in local vernacular) will stop the city before and after the workday. Despite the fact that common criminality is rife in the city, commerce is booming, and during the weekends, citizens of Bogotá can be found wandering down the streets, eating in restaurants that have nothing to envy to those that can be found in Manhattan, or shopping in one of the many malls that populate the city. Just by visiting Bogotá, one would hardly ascertain that the country has been immersed in an armed conflict for more than fifty years. But the capital’s detachment from the rest of the country belies a conflict that is very much alive and a peace process that will likely have limited impact.

The Colombian government and the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (FARC-EP) have been engaged in peace negotiations since 2012. In what seems to be the most promising peace process to date, the parties have steadily reached agreements in more than half of the points in the agenda that was set three years ago.  However, many challenges lie ahead.

Both parts in the negotiating table have continued armed attacks against each other. Recent ominous actions by the FARC have raised the alarm on the guerrilla’s commitment to achieving peace, but it must be noted that the decision to conduct negotiations without a ceasefire was a deliberate one, especially on the part of the government. In late 2014, the FARC decided on a unilateral ceasefire, which also unilaterally decided to end. These events, regardless of how despicable, respond to the normal logic of peace negotiations being carried out during an armed conflict. However, former president Uribe and his allies have jumped at the opportunity to discredit the negotiations. His ongoing efforts to delegitimize the peace talks are ceaseless, and given the support that he still musters, the upcoming local elections could complicate the government’s efforts to continue the negotiations. Pressures to reach a peace agreement have intensified, and the debate on the ceasefire is now at the forefront of the discussions. Once again, the FARC has decided on a unilateral ceasefire, and the government has responded with “de-escalation.” At no other state in the ongoing negotiations have the talks been closer to failure, this issue will be key in the continuation or complete cessation of the talks.

In June 4th, 2015, the FARC and the government announced that they had reached an agreement to create a Commission for the Clarification of Truth, Coexistence and Non-Repetition, which will be established once an agreement is reached. This agreement is certainly a welcome development in a country where the conflict has affected about 6.8 million citizens. However, the text of the announcement already raises some concerns on the future of the commission. The statement is not specific on how the truth commission will work, but most disconcerting is the repetition of the assignment of establishing “the origins and multiple causes of the conflict, the principle factors that have facilitated or contributed to the persistence of the conflict, and the effects and most notable impacts of the conflict on the population.” This was already the goal of the Historical Commission on the Conflict and its Victims (also created in la Habana) that failed miserably at producing agreement among the twelve experts and two rapporteurs that were in charge of examining these issues. In June 22, in an event with members of the European left, the FARC insisted again on the need of establishing “the root causes of the war.” While historical revision is of utmost importance, focusing on these elements in the Truth Commission rather than on the victimizing events and reparation will likely stall the implementation of the peace process in detriment of the victims. Hopefully, the Truth Commission will not mimic the inner workings of the Historical Commission and will truly focus on the victims who seek their truth and reparation.

Finally, emerging from one of the longest conflicts in the world will likely present Colombians with innumerable opportunities, but the government has to be very cautious in managing expectations. Even if a peace agreement is reached in the following months, criminality and poverty are likely to remain high in Colombia. Colombians need to be aware that the agreement will not solve the country’s problems. With a gini coefficient well above the alarm boundary set by the world bank, regional disparity and poverty takes its toll on a big segment of the population that live under scarcity and insecurity. The presence of the state remains residual in some regions, with provision of public services ranging from little to non-existent in some areas. The peace agreement is not going to change any of that.