Conversations in Bogotá swing between excitement and worry. The World Cup starts today; this is the first time in sixteen years that Colombia will play and soccer jerseys and sticker albums are hot ticket items on the street. We are setting up a television in the office and meetings are carefully planned around game times. Colombia´s first game is on Saturday and all the bets have already been placed.
More worrying is the run-off presidential election on Sunday; this is the first time in the over fifty year conflict that a peace accord looks possible with the FARC and the elections will determine whether the talks will continue, as is the position of current president Juan Manuel Santos, or whether an attempt will again be made to “win” the conflict by military force, as candidate Oscar Ivan Zuluaga promotes. Flyers fill the streets and the two candidates yell at each other on public television.
Current polls place the election as too close to call and many organizations are rightly worried about a return to policies of outright conflict, including the dirty war tactics that were common during the Uribe years. At the same times, Santo’s economic policies have resulted in the marginalization of the campesino sector and many consider that their country is being sold to multi-national corporations. Human rights abuses have also continued. The majority of the population is so frustrated with a lack of options and public debate that they will not vote in these very important elections.
Yet, this is when citizen actions are the most needed to create lasting change in the midst of polarizing rhetoric. Jenny Neme, the director of Justapaz, expresses well the challenges and the possibilities that this time period holds for Colombians in her editorial for our radio program.
“The current electoral dynamics have generated much disenchantment among Colombian citizens. The results of the first round of presidential elections demonstrate a panorama of uncertainty, which will be resolved in the run-off on June 15th. This disenchantment is not only related to the ways in with the electoral campaigns have been developed, with few proposals, a lack of debate, and a dirty war between the candidates most likely to win. It also has to do with the great uncertainty about the future of Colombia and the possibility of a real transformation towards scenarios of peace and reconciliation.
What many consider to be a historic opportunity to end the longstanding armed conflict, a conflict that has become embedded in all our social, economic and political dynamics, is hanging in the balance. It is with great difficulty that, today, any Colombian can say that they understand what it means to live in peace; we are generations that have been obligated to live in a context of war and we have never experienced anything different. But this does not mean that we do not long for peace. For decades, as social movements and ordinary people, we have dreamt and demanded peace.
In the campaign for the run-off election, ongoing since May 25, the controversy, not the debate, between the two candidates has been the theme of peace. On one side is the continuation of the negotiation process between the government and the FARC, which now includes the initiation of the process with the ELN. The countersigning and the implantation will require a high participation of citizens from all the regions, along with the creation of conditions for national reconciliation that vindicates the rights of the victims. One the other side is the invalidation of the actual process between government and FARC and the non-recognition of the advances in the construction of accords. On the contrary, this position considers necessary a return to military strength to combat terrorism.
These two very distinct tendencies have polarized the voters. A high level of skepticism is added to this polarization because of continued politicking, corruption, and cronyism. These factors discourage people from voting; the ideas that these practices will continue is maintained.
Colombia is not living in an easy moment. Despite the high levels of polarization, it is necessary to vote this Sunday. Perhaps, in contrast with other times, this is a historic moment that can open or close the doors of transformation that can be generated in the near future of our country.
Whoever becomes president, as citizens we cannot allow that peace continues to be a momentary theme, subject to swings in electoral contests, or the will of one ruler. Peace must be established as a state policy that is upheld by all governments in turn. Moreover, our country’s political culture must change. As citizens, we must rethink our political practices, and, through active citizenship, value our actions, such as going to the polls and voting, but also by monitoring candidate’s election promise and making enforceable the reforms and steps needing to move towards our country’s transformation.”
As Jenny states, whatever happens during the elections, it is Colombians themselves that must and will continue to work for change in their country. The incredible passion of Colombians for soccer demonstrates the amount of dedication they hold for their country. The energy of all Colombians is needed to ensure that peace becomes a normal and lasting part of everyday life, including politics. The work of Justapaz and other social organizations to change this political culture and imagination will continue on Monday morning, no matter what happens on Sunday. With breaks to watch soccer, of course.
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