Thursday, June 20, 2013

A Billboard for Debate

'Gustavo Petro governs Bogotá' 'Timochenko wants to govern Colombia.'
'No Impunity!' No more ex-members of terrorist groups with the right to govern us.' Rafael Guarin.

This billboard is to go up along the road between Bogotá and Soacha, south of the capital.

The billboard makes two harsh statements for its makers, who are evidently uribistas fearful that the radical left is taking over their country: Bogotá is ruled by an ex-guerrilla, and soon Colombia may be as well. It's signed by Rafael Guarin, a conservative ex-viceminister of defense.

But, while Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro was a leader of the M-19 guerrillas during the 1980s, that was decades ago, and he's clearly integrated himself into the democratic system. In fact, his administration's mishandling of garbage policy and struggles with transit and land use policies (which have him facing a recall referendum) are indications not of authoritarianism, but the difficulties of working within a system of checks and balances.

The idea of leaders of the FARC guerrillas, now in peace talks with the government in Havana, going into Congress, is more troubling. The group continues committing severe human rights violations and haven't shown respect for free speech or democratic decisionmaking. The FARC's most recent ten-point plan outlines a wholesale remaking of Colombia's government, including a Assembly to remake the nation's Constitution.

The FARC's ideas are unlikely to become reality. Yet, things probably didn't look so different back in 1991, when Colombia's previous Constitutional Assembly drafted the current Constitution. Demobilized M-19 guerrilla leaders played a prominent role in that assembly, even while the Justice Palace - which they'd attacked just six years earlier - was still in ruins.

The M-19 deserve a lot of the credit (or the blame, depending on one's political perspective) for Colombia's progressive Constitution and legal system. And the demobilized M-19 leaders' political participation in Congress, provincial and municipal government can only be considered a story of succesful integration by an armed group, on the lines of Northern Ireland and South Africa.

In fact, the one time M-19 leaders' participation in government provides the strongest response around against the guerrillas outdated fantasies about armed revolution.

And, to the ex-M-19ers' credit, they have criticized the FARC.

Could the FARC repeat the M-19's story? I'm dubious. The M-19 were young, sophisticated and had a strong idealism, little of which can be said of today's FARC. Could a group whose modus operandi has come to include the recruitment of children, displacement of peasants and drug trafficking possibly participate in a system based on rule of law and respect for human rights?

Still, if the current negotiations achieve a peace treaty, the FARC probably will get their chance to make politics. But does that mean that Timonchenko will govern Colombia? Not likely. If FARC leaders ever do enter Congress, they'll likely only end up isolated and irrelevent in their leftist echo chamber.

Guarin, the billboard's author, said he wants to generate debate on the FARC's future role.

A City Hall official called the planned billboard 'dirty propaganda,' but expressed support for open debate. That's healthy.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours


mauricio forero l said...

Excellent post Mike.

Stuart Oswald said...

The problem is that, with integrating criminals into the political system and providing a mouthpiece, the state is giving them a platform to air and propagate their extreme views to the law abiding public (and with public resources). They should instead face justice for the crimes committed by their views/ideologies.

An interesting documentary that touches upon this: "Hard Road Back: A war that never ends? - Witness - Al Jazeera English".

Miguel said...

That is one way to look on it. But another way is that Colombia will have to pay a price for peace. Also, if these guys do get into Congress, they may have to moderate their positions, as the M-19 and Irish groups seem to have.