Making peace and peacebuilding: the peace process in Colombia from the point of view of Peace and Conflict Transformation Studies

Rafael Grasa
President of the International Catalan Institute for Peace
Photo: Tica Font

Photo: Tica Font

Researchers in peace studies, as well as those working on conflict resolution and transformation, have for several decades been applying Johan Galtung's seminal proposal (from 1968) for dealing with the analysis and the resolution of conflicts, using the ABC triangle. Thus three elements are identified: A, the Attitudes of the actors in the conflict; B, the Behaviour of the actors in the conflict; and C, Contradiction, referring to the contradictions or incompatibilities which explain the dispute, clash or conflict. Some years later, Galtung coined the term peacebuilding1, which was subsequently used by the UN in An Agenda for Peace.

Galtung recently returned to his triangle, to refer to the generations of approaches to the making of peace from the perspective of peace studies. Specifically, he defined the third generation approaches, which emerged after the Cold War, in terms of their refusal to deal with the task of building peace on the basis of simplistic, reductionist and superficial viewpoints. What characterises them is their emphasis on cultures of peace (deep attitudes), the satisfaction of basic human needs (which are non-negotiable) and the creation of institutions and structures which make it possible to manage in a sustainable way the contradictions and differences.

And that is precisely what this latest issue of Per la Pau / Peace in Progress deals with; issues related to two expressions which are very widely used, but are misleading and ambiguous: "peace processes" and "peace building". And it does so in the hopeful but complex and unpredictable context of the opening of direct peace talks between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government, without the prior condition of a mutually agreed ceasefire2.

In addition, this issue of the magazine coincides with the commemoration of twenty years of the disarmament and demobilisation in El Salvador (16 December 1992), as well as with an increasing growth of critical voices concerning the motivations and results of the so called liberal peacebuilding consensus. Furthermore, now that some decades have passed since the signing of various Central American peace agreements, there are widely expressed opinions concerning the contradictions, even the futility, revealed by the evolution of different peace processes, including those in this region. Given that fifteen or twenty years after the signing of broad and multidimensional agreements in Central America we find, alongside greater political stability, societies which suffer high degrees of violence of a direct and murderous nature, violence which is chronic despite lacking any political objective, these reflections sometimes argue that the foregoing peace processes were pointless.

From this we can derive two corollaries which will serve as the framework or guiding thread for the underlying concern of this issue of the magazine.

Firstly, we must define what a peace process is, what can be expected of it and insist on the importance of "the day after" in building peace. That is, on conflict transformation, on the essential link between making the peace (the peace process, the agreements that are signed) and building peace (conflict transformation when initiating the implementation of the agreements).

Secondly, and now considering the Colombian case, given that we know much more than we did twenty years ago, it becomes crucial for us to consider the link between the peace process and peacebuilding right from the beginning of negotiations. That is to say, we must always take into account the post-conflict situation, creating institutions and structures that ensure the management of the contradictions that will continue to exist, as well as the various processes for resolution, reconstruction and reconciliation following the long violent phase. Knowing also that even in the event of successful negotiations with the FARC — and in the future with the ELN — there will still remain significant violent actors, with great potential for homicidal violence even though they lack any clearly political objective. Suffice it to recall the threat of the BACRIM (emerging criminal gangs; "bandas criminales emergentes" in Spanish), that have a growing and documented presence in at least 200 municipalities across Colombia.

Hence ICIP's commitment to closely follow the Colombian process and to investigate in the future, in the light of lessons learned from the past, the relationship between peace processes (making peace) and peacebuilding, which means analysing how, following the signing of peace agreements, processes of peace, development, democracy and human rights are put in place.

1. It is noteworthy that the term "peacebuilding" can be translated into Spanish literally as "construcción de paz" ("the construction of peace"), although the translation that the United Nations has used since An Agenda for Peace, in 1992, is "consolidación de la paz" ("the consolidation of peace"), with a seemingly more restrictive meaning. (Back)
2. Although on the first day of talks in Havana (19 November) the FARC announced a two month unilateral ceasefire. (Back)