Today is the day. The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias officially start disarming. 90 days ago, the peace agreement was signed, starting the preparations for the long and possibly arduous legal journey to peace between the Colombian government and the continent’s oldest active guerrilla group. I’ve been to a conference on peace education for the whole day and almost missed the news, but then, someone mentioned it there. So I was checking press coverage of the day, and found an article on RCN (which I don’t exactly consider a balanced source, but read the article anyway). I came across a quote that says:
Pese al retraso, Maritza González, de 54 años y guerrillera desde los 14, está esperanzada. “Estoy dejando el fusil por la escoba”, dijo esta indígena Wayúu.
[Despite the delay, Maritza González, 54 years old and a guerrillera since she was 14, is hopeful: “I am leaving the rifle for the broom”, said the Wayúu (an indigenous group).]
I am reading and re-reading the quote and don’t even know where to start, because the phrase strikes me as utterly dense. The delay she is talking about is the delay in constructing the sites where the guerrilleros are supposed to gather and disarm. But what strikes me more is what we get to know about her in just one sentence: She is part of an indigenous group and guessing from her young entry age possibly a forced recruit. She spend 40 years with the guerrilla, which is almost 4/5 of her entire life. I can not even remotely imagine what this means for her hopes and aspirations for the future. What leaves me speechless, however, is what she says: I am leaving the rifle for the broom. While I can see how leaving arms might be a hopeful prospect, in the sense that her live will possibly become less stressful or life-threatening, I have serious difficulties in seeing how a broom is a hopeful prospect. Then again, maybe this works as a kind of Biedermeier-esque return to private life, and the broom here actually stands for the construction of a household, or an income in the way of getting a job in cleaning. Other than that, it does not strike me as an exceptionally liberating metaphor. And it makes me wonder about her experiences within the guerrilla, about the role her gender played during those 40 years. As I think about it now, maybe she wasn’t forced at all, because 40 years ago the political positions of the FARC were still a reason to join. And I sense a prejudice on my side: a broom doesn’t have to be a tool of patriarchal oppression. But then again it might. I’m still confused.
Since I am back in Colombia to do fieldwork, and I’m terrible at keeping a diary, I decided to use this space for something it was originally also meant for: Instead of tiresome navel-gazing, I will from time to time upload small vignettes from the field in which I intent to describe incidences that somehow seem meaningful to me. I might be evaluating them at some later point, but for now, there’s more of a collectors attitude behind. I’ll start today with a trip in Transmilenio.
Friday afternoon, I try to find my way back from the city centre to the north. On the first ‘Transmi’, as people like to refer to the fast red busses traveling the major avenues, I am lucky enough to get a window seat, so I decide to stick to the line as long as I can. (Several stops would have suited me to change…) When it is finally time to get out, the bus is crammed with people and I have to watch my steps to find the few centimeters on the floor not occupied by other feet or bags. I manage to get out and wait at the exact same stop to get onto another bus, which doesn’t take long to arrive. I am lucky enough to get a space in the back, standing; the bus is not as packed as the last one. I stand there in the middle between two pairs of chairs in the last row of the bus, as the city outside fleets by. The streets are bustling, people doing christmas shopping on the sidewalks, lines and lines of cars trying to make their ways, many a colorful wall painted with graffiti from all kinds of styles, ocassional green spots, sometimes full of waste, several homeless men taking a nap in the grass or even on the paved sidewalks in the middle of the road. As I watch, I start thinking about the evening, when I am supposed to attend a novena by a very catholic family. (A novena is a tradition here where families meet before Christmas to come together and pray. There’s also ususally food.) As a non-religious person, these events make me nervous, because of course I know no prayers, not in my mother-tongue, nor in any other language, and at the same time I’m afraid of being or behaving wrong, or being judged for my lack of knowledge of these customs. I’m getting tense, anticipating discussions about politics that inevitably happen at family gatherings, even though there is a famous Colombian saying that goes somehow like not talking religion or politics in the family – because these topics mean trouble. I am thinking about how many christians have voted ‘No’ on the recent peace deal, and prepare myself for arguments. What to say when someone mentions how the peace deal would have destroyed the traditional family, benefitting instead same-sex marriage and adoption (NOT part of the agreement at all)? How to respond when someone claims all guerrilleros get amnesties (wrong: there will be no amnesty for crimes against humanity, genocide, massacres, kidnapping, extrajudicial executions, torture, forced diasappearance, rape and other forms of sexual violence, forced displacement and forced recruitment of children, among others)? How to respond to people saying the guerrilleros will get 2 million COP per month (also wrong: they get a one-time payment of 2 million (approx. 630€), and 90% of the minimum wage for two years (200€), and of course only if they don’t have other income)? As I anticipate these discussions I think again about what a happy christmas this might have become had the peace deal been approved in the first round. I feel anger rising within me. I still can’t seem to understand how the image of a different Colombia could be so appaling to some voters. The afternoon sun shines golden through the high-rise buildings when I arrive at my stop. I get off the bus and walk home, past a nativity scene set up at the entrance of our compound, where baby Jesus still hasn’t arrived. He’ll be born on 24th, only.
Era como si Dios hubiera resuelto poner a prueba toda capacidad de asombro, y mantuviera a los habitantes de Macondo en un permanente vaivén entre el alborozo y el desencanto, la duda y la revelación, hasta el extremo de que nadie podía saber a ciencia cierta dónde estaban los límites de la realidad.
Gabriel García Márquez
When on October 2nd Colombians were asked to vote for the Peace Agreement established between the government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), the ficticious Macondo once again became the more real reference for Colombia, as shown in the now viral quote from A Hundred Years of Solitude by Colombian Nobel Price winner Gabriel García Márquez. Only when taking into account the emotions on the sides of all parties involved can we get closer to understanding why a tiny majority of voters pronounced themselves against the agreement.
Shock and Disappointment
Sunday evening, October 2nd, my husband and I sit in front of the computer screen, live-checking the results of the plebiscite. When the first numbers come in, we are relieved: approximately 53% Yes-votes, only the quorum of about 4,5 million has to be reached. Every five to ten minutes now there is new data, and the quorum is soon reached. However, the advantage of Yes-votes becomes smaller and smaller. The urban centers are almost completely done counting. Incredulously we hit the refresh-button, hectically browsing the regions hoping to find a place were there are still many votes to count. When at 1am over 99% of the votes are in, it becomes clear that those who voted at all – a mere 37,4% – decided with a tiny advantage to dismiss the agreement. Silence surrounds the otherwise buzzing family whatsapp chat, and I see many stunned comments from friends of mine on facebook. Nobody really understands what just happened. Why would you revoke a peace agreement?
Many of my acquaintances and relatives are surely not ardent worshipers of the Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos. Nevertheless, they all agreed in that this vote had nothing to do with voting for or against the current government, but to express general support for the efforts made to reach peace with the FARC. Especially in the urban centers, the conflict has become less and less visible. The more affected regions majorly voted for peace, while the people in the cities were skeptical.
Many have resigned to insecurity, or don’t even know peace, since the conflict goes on for decades. When the media cite 52 years as the duration of conflict, what they mean is the conflict with the FARC, who orginated in 1964. The historical, social, political and economic context that has fueled their existence, however, is rarely mentioned. The enormous inequality in income distribution, conflicts about landownership, drug trafficking and paramilitarism are as well part of this conflict. They are deeply rooted in Colombian history and often don’t figure prominently in media coverage about the FARC. In the almost 300 pages of the agreement, these aspects are mentioned , but many Colombians doubt whether the regulations – especially concerning drug trade and organized crime – can actually be implemented. The rural population’s hopes for peace are counterbalanced by the doubts and fears of a mayority of urban residents.
Jealousy and Fear
For many, especially the maximum sentences for human rights abuses and the right to political participation of the future ex-guerriller@s was a key issue. Also, many opposed the promised financial support from the state to reintegrate ex-combatants into a civilian life. But the campaign of the No! did also manipulate voters from the less affected cities with purposeful and systematic misinformation. The post-truth election battle was characterized by laments on how the “gender ideology” would destroy the “traditional family structures”, or that the country would sure fall prey to communism should the agreement be ratified by the voters. It simply did not matter that none of these issues were actually part of the agreement. Often, the No! votes were based on a feelingt of greed: “Why should they get this much money from the State when I myself have to struggle to survive?” “Why are they allowed to particpate in congress, when nobody asks me for my opinion?” “Why don’t they have to go to jail, when I am prosecuted for every oh-so-little offence?” And even if these questions are based on a wrong understanding of the issues accorded in the peace treaty, they do offer insights into how people are feeling. And many historical injustices will persiste even under the agreement . Fear, greed, anger and defiance are all expressions of a diffuse feeling of disadvantage, whose relevance for peace research became painfully obvious with the victory of the “No”.
But a permant cease-fire and the decommissioning of the FARC would be a great advance, especially in those parts of the country where the armed conflict is still a reality. Which is why many people in the cities took to the streets to demonstrate for the agreement after the first shock about the “No” had passed. It was a new feeling of solidarity and joint fighting that found its expression on the streets. In Bogota alone, 40.000 people participated in the third March of Silence, thereby aligning themselves with a tradition of silent protest . When on October 7th, the Nobel committee anounced Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos as the laurate for the Nobel peace prize, euphoria was back. The sign from the international community to not give up now brought back hope and courage to many deceptioned “Yes”-voters. The “back and forth between rejoice and deception, between doubts and revelations” will likely continue a little longer, but the people of Macondo are determined to break down the limits of reality to reach peace.
 A German Version of this text was published on Friedensakademie-Blog.
 The complete Spanish text can be found here: https://www.mesadeconversaciones.com.co/sites/default/files/24_08_2016acuerdofinalfinalfinal-1472094587.pdf (last accessed: 13.10.2016).
 See also the report about voters in Ciudad Bolivar (one of the poorest neighborhoods of Bogota with a high amount of displaced persons, who – in contrast to most other strongly affected regions – majorly voted “No”) from Colombian newspaper El Espectador: http://www.elespectador.com/noticias/paz/un-no-hacerse-escuchar-articulo-659274 (last accessed: 14.10.2016).
 The first March of Silence took place on February 07th, 1948, to protest violence against members and supporters of the Liberal Party. The second March was convened on August 25th, 1989 after the Liberal presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galán was killed.