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News & Blog > Blogs: "Perspectives, Provocations & Initiatives" > Solidarity Economy in Post-Conflict Contexts: Transformation of Ex-Combatants in Colombia

Solidarity Economy in Post-Conflict Contexts: Transformation of Ex-Combatants in Colombia

Diana Ramírez Sarmiento (PhD 21) tells us about a collective project of ex-combatants who are contributing to development and peace building in territories most affected by the conflict in Colombia.
Image by ECOMUN
Image by ECOMUN

The war in Colombia has produced more than 9 million victims. They are victims of heinous crimes such as murders, kidnappings, massacres and forced displacement. Many Colombians, like myself, have not experienced the cruelty of armed conflict directly, yet witness these tragedies through news, reports[1], and documentaries[2]. However, we are hopeful that one day we will live in a peaceful country.  

On 24 November 2016, Colombians began to believe that the dream of peace could become a reality. After 4 years of negotiations and many obstacles along the way, the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (FARC-EP) signed the Peace Agreement that ended 50 years of armed conflict. The Colombian government, headed by former president Juan Manuel Santos (who won the Nobel Peace Prize[3]), reached an agreement with the FARC-EP, the oldest Marxist-Leninist guerrilla on the American continent. After trying to start a revolution and seize power by force for more than half a century, FARC-EP guerrilla accepted to participate in public life by debating with ideas and not with weapons.  

The Peace Agreement did not mean the end of violence in Colombia, nevertheless, its transformative spirit marked the beginning of a new era in the country. The Agreement established the foundations for stable and long-lasting peace through development plans focused in the areas most affected by the conflict, a transitional justice system based on the victim´s rights, and political, economic, and social programmes that seek to ensure ex-combatants are fully reintegrated into civilian life.  In this article, I will focus on the social and economic reincorporation programmes, which open new paths towards reconciliation and the construction of a more equitable and just society.

 

Solidarity Economy as a Tool for Reintegration

To facilitate the process of collective economic and social reincorporation, the Peace Agreement created measures such as a temporary basic income, affiliation of ex-combatants to social security, peace education programmes, and the creation of solidarity cooperatives that would receive support from different sectors, such as academia and private enterprise. It was established that one of the FARC-EP's commitments would be the constitution of a social and solidarity economy organisation, called Economías Sociales del Común (ECOMUN) (Social Economies of the Common), aimed at articulating the productive projects of the ex-combatants. All guerrilla fighters who demobilised and met the legal accreditation requirements could voluntarily join this cooperative. To encourage the creation of productive initiatives, the Colombian state also granted economic aid.

Today, ECOMUN operates as a solidarity economy organisation that brings together thousands of stories of transformation becoming an example of collective action towards social inclusion. Its purpose is to create economic projects that can be profitable and productive for the construction of peace with social justice in those territories that suffered most from the armed conflict.

 

ECOMUN: Local Development, Social Inclusion, and Territorial Transformation

ECOMUN defines itself as "the collective effort of FARC-EP ex-combatants together with the communities, to build peace with social justice, reconciliation and Buen Vivir (good living), through the implementation of social and solidarity economy initiatives"[4]. This cooperative integrates more than 13,000 ex-combatants, men and women in the process of reintegration, with more than 120 associative forms and 260 nationwide enterprises.

Image by ECOMUN

ECOMUN's work is carried out mainly in territories that were prioritised by the Peace Agreement, according to poverty levels, unsatisfied basic needs index, the degree to which the zone has been affected by the conflict, weakness of public institutions, and presence of illicit crops[5]. In this sense, what is being built through ECOMUN is not only a new life project for ex-combatants but also the possibility of rebuilding territories that suffered most from the war and state neglect.

This possibility of reconstruction was opened both for the FARC-EP to fulfil its promise of reparation, and for the Colombian state to settle the historical debt it owes to these communities. ECOMUN is creating a paradigm of sustainable and inclusive development that will improve the quality of life of these populations and reduce the possibility of becoming involved in illegal activities by offering decent work opportunities. 

For me, the most impressive achievement from ECOMUN is its ability to demonstrate the transformative potential of the Peace Agreement which materialised from marginalised communities as they experienced a positive social change in their daily lives. It is a huge achievement for Colombia to see ex-combatants turn from carrying weapons and being linked to illegal activities such as drug trafficking and kidnapping, to engaging peacefully in civil society through activities including honey production, clothing manufacturing, ecotourism, and the cultivation of all kinds of agricultural products.

Image by ECOMUN

For more than 50 years the FARC-EP guerrilla threatened Colombia and was one of the reasons why many countries had Colombia on the "red list" of that moment. Since the signing of the Peace Agreement, Colombians began to see the transformation of these demobilised men and women. Espíritu de Paz (Spirit of Peace), a coffee produced by ex-combatants and victims of the conflict in Cauca, won an international prize for its quality[6]. The rivers of Caquetá, which witnessed so much bloodshed, are now scenarios of peace; a group of ex-combatants that operated in this region, founded a travel agency that promotes rafting and ecotourism amidst the beautiful landscapes of the Colombian south-east[7]. One month ago, more than 30 solidarity economy organisations in the country created the National Network of Clothing for Peace, which presents their designs at national and international fashion fairs.  Beer, bags, shoes, and thousands of initiatives are transforming contexts of violence, unemployment, and poverty[8].

 

However, many challenges remain…

ECOMUN is opening new horizons for ex-combatants and their communities and is managing to materialise the transformative potential of the Peace Agreement. Nevertheless, the Colombian state has not fully complied with its commitments and is not making sufficient progress in the full implementation of the Agreement, mainly for two reasons:

1. The right to life is not being guaranteed

Since the signing of the Final Peace Agreement 303 former ex-combatants[9] and more than 1000 social leaders have been killed[10]. The voices of change in the most excluded territories are being silenced. Historically, alternative political projects have been persecuted and stigmatised in Colombia. In the 1980s-90s the left-wing political party Unión Patriótica (Patriotic Union) was exterminated[11], and in the 1990s four presidential candidates who represented a different option to the traditional powers were assassinated.

This cycle of violence is repeating itself in the peripheral territories that the state continues to fail to reach. Social leaders who are defending human rights, land redistribution, environmental protection, and the substitution of illicit crops are being cruelly assassinated. While I was writing this blog, two indigenous environmentalists’ leaders who protected indigenous lands, were murdered in rural Cauca, one of them a 14-year-old minor[12]. There are no guarantees to defend peace and the Colombian government has been indolent to this atrocity: the Attorney General´s Office is not rigorously investigating these crimes and effective territorial security strategies are not being implemented. In this regard, recently the Constitutional Court of Colombia declared the unconstitutional state of affairs because of the failures in terms of security guarantees for ex-FARC members on their return to civilian life[13].

2. Budget reduction

The implementation of the Peace Agreement was never a priority for the government of President Ivan Duque, elected in 2018. His party led the opposition to the Agreement and many of the plans that had been in the pipeline since the previous government were put on hold. The budget for the implementation of the agreement has been reduced and all the necessary accords and reforms are deeply behind schedule[14]. Without resources for peace, it will not be possible to achieve the structural transformations called for in the Peace Agreement.

Achieving the full reintegration of a guerrilla group that spent more than 50 years fighting requires collective efforts, especially when the state is turning its back on those who have suffered most from the conflict. ECOMUN is promoting new life alternatives for ex-combatants who spent years linked to the war and for communities that have been historically excluded from the country's development processes. Buying and supporting these ex-combatants’ projects and making their initiatives for change visible is a starting point that could be very helpful. Men and women who surrendered their weapons with the illusion of a better future for themselves and their families, and Colombia as a whole, are now risking their lives for the conviction of a country in peace. We cannot leave them and the social leaders and victims alone in their task of transforming rural Colombia.

Spanish Version

See Diana's PhD profile on the IDS webiste 

 


 

[1] http://centrodememoriahistorica.gov.co/descargas/informes2016/basta-ya-ingles/BASTA-YA-ingles.pdf

[2] https://www.netflix.com/gb/title/81130373

[3] https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/2016/press-release/

[4] ECOMUN. (2020). ECOMUN. Retrieved from https://ecomun.com.co/quienes-somos/

[5] Government of the Republic of Colombia & FARC-EP. (2016). Final Agreement to End the Armed Conflict and Build a Stable and Lasting Peace. Retrieved from https://www.peaceagreements.org/wview/1845/Final%20Agreement%20to%20End%20the%20Armed%20Conflict%20and%20Build%20a%20Stable%20and%20Lasting%20Peace

[6] https://www.radionacional.co/cultura/cafe-producido-por-excombatientes-y-victimas-gana-premio-internacional

[7] https://edition.cnn.com/travel/article/colombia-farc-combatants-rafting/index.html

[8] https://partidocomunes.com.co/con-cervezas-cafe-miel-y-tejidos-excombatientes-de-las-farc-y-victimas-le-apuestan-a-la-paz-en-colombia-5-anos-despues-de-la-firma-del-acuerdo/

[9] United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia. (2021). Report of the Secretary-General. Retrieved from   https://colombia.unmissions.org/sites/default/files/informe_en_n2139924.pdf

[10] INDEPAZ. (2021). 5 AÑOS DEL ACUERDO DE PAZ – BALANCE EN CIFRAS DE LA VIOLENCIA EN LOS TERRITORIOS. Retrieved from https://indepaz.org.co/5-anos-del-acuerdo-de-paz-balance-en-cifras-de-la-violencia-en-los-territorios/

[11] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xry5mA2J4Ss

[12] https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2022/jan/18/colombia-indigenous-activist-murdered-14-breiner-david-cucuname

[13] https://www.elespectador.com/judicial/corte-constitucional-declara-estado-de-cosas-inconstitucional-en-el-acuerdo-de-paz/

[14] Multi-Party Report on the Implementation of the Peace Agreement. (2019). ¿En qué va el Acuerdo de Paz a un año de gobierno Duque? Retos y recomendaciones. Retrieved from https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/883ff8_65cb9590aeed4a1dba52704146147f18.pdf


This is one of a series of blogs supported by the IDS alumni office and written by current IDS students and PhD Researchers from academic year 2021-2022 Autumn Term. 

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