News Latin America Petro reinforces the hope of total peace in Buenaventura

Petro reinforces the hope of total peace in Buenaventura

The port city of Buenaventura has lived through two Decembers in the midst of violence. Two criminal gangs from this city on the Pacific coast, Los Shottas and Los Espartanos, declared war on December 30, 2020 and left, in the following 21 months, more than 250 dead. In October of this year, however, the violence came to a standstill: the gangs agreed to a truce and expressed their desire to join the Total Peace policy of the Government of Gustavo Petro. “It gives us joy that today the port of Buenaventura can do its lighting in peace,” Vice President Francia Marquez said there on Wednesday, when most of the country’s cities inaugurate their Christmas lighting. The citizens, who have lived for more than a year and a half without going out at night, hope to toast a peaceful Good Fortune on Christmas Eve.

“Here is born a lighthouse to illuminate the possibilities of Colombia,” said President Petro in front of a mostly young and Afro-Colombian audience who shouted ‘No more violence’ or ‘Free Good luck’. The president described the truce there as an unprecedented case in the history of Colombia, for attempting an agreement that is not between guerrillas or paramilitary groups with national power, but one to end an urban war between criminal gangs.

“The Government shelters, protects, a negotiation process between two groups that have little of politics, in the classic sense of the word,” said the president. “But it has a lot of excluded, armed youth organizations, organizations that have killed each other, that led Buenaventura to be one of the most violent cities in the world, and that today they begin a process of trust in a government that has spoken of Peace Total”.

Petro celebrated that the city has gone 85 days in a row without homicides. Waiting for this peace laboratory to consolidate, he said “this will extend to Barranquilla, Cartagena, Monteria, it will extend to Tumaco, it will extend to the poor neighborhoods of Medellin, Cali, Bogota.” He addressed the members of the two gangs, who cannot reveal their identities because there are arrest warrants against them but who were listening to his speech: “There are 1,760 young people to whom we give a hug today, the great hug of peace “, told them.

The president, the vice president, and the High Commissioner for Peace, Danilo Rueda, traveled to Buenaventura on Wednesday to reinforce this commitment to urban peace, which is facing a path with difficult obstacles. The Government has the complex task of treating the two gangs differently from the ELN guerrillas or the extinct FARC because they do not have the political character that would legally allow them to enter a transitional justice process. As criminal gangs, they would have to submit to justice, which means fewer penal benefits.

“We are now in a confidence-building scenario,” said Rueda, the high commissioner, at a press conference, clarifying that in Buenaventura there are peace negotiations equivalent to those taking place in Caracas with the ELN. “Here there is no type of negotiation, here is a dialogue in the sense of building the most appropriate and suitable mechanisms, in accordance with the constitution and the law, so that they can transition to the rule of law. That means very specific social transformations in the neighborhoods where they live”, he added, recalling that these gangs are local, of young people between the ages of 14 and 30 who want study and work opportunities. “They are not aliens, they are inhabitants of these territories.”

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Attendees to the event in Buenaventura, Colombia.VANNESSA JIMENEZ

Rueda preferred not to mention the date on which the dialogues will formally begin and ruled out that the release of gang members is being considered. He said that “the sustainability of the truce is the construction of many parts.” Parties like the business sector, which could open up decent jobs for gang members to return to civilian life. “Without that, this truce will be unsustainable,” says Rueda.

The High Councilor for Youth, Gabriela Posso, also traveled to Buenaventura, who promised that the city would be “one of the greatest beneficiaries” of the Youth in Peace program, an initiative that wants to offer subsidies to young people conditioned on not committing crimes, with the objective of finding employment or study opportunities for them.

The opposition’s fear is that massive pardons are being cooked up in Buenaventura and the fear among some victims is that their perpetrators will not go to justice. “The victims have been the most committed in this country to peace,” reiterated Vice President Marquez, in addition to explaining that the Victims Unit will implement a special reparation program in the port.

What Petro, Marquez and Rueda went on to reiterate is that they do not understand peace as a process that only goes through a negotiating table where legal issues are discussed. Total Peace, in his vision, is a process in which there must be a social table to end the poverty and inequality that has left thousands of young people without the possibility of studying or getting a decent job.

“A part of peace is the armed conflict, the violence, but another part of total peace implies transforming the structures that led to the armed conflict, and that is social investment, it is closing the gaps of inequity and inequality,” said the vice president . Under this vision, Total Peace may not be able to quickly offer a legal framework for criminal gangs, but it can offer resources to comply with the Special Plan for Buenaventura, a development plan agreed upon several years ago that only advanced 6% in the last government , according to Marquez.

The Total Peace of Buenaventura still has more winding roads to go. In addition to legal security and resources, the ELN and the Jaime Martinez front of the FARC dissidents continue to be active in the rural area of ​​the municipality —the group that two days ago murdered 6 soldiers in Cauca, south of Buenaventura . The truce is fragile, and more so in this city where armed groups have been recycled since the late 1990s. But this Wednesday, Buenaventura lights Christmas candles and its urban lighting with reindeer and pine trees. Celebrate that this December, at least, will be less dark.

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