News Latin America The doubts behind the “social service for peace”

The doubts behind the “social service for peace”

Soldiers participate in the celebration of the National Army Day, in Tolemaida, last August.Mauricio Duenas Castaneda (EFE)

Last Tuesday the Minister of Defense, Ivan Velasquez, filed the bill that would be the backbone of total peace, one of the flagship policies of the Government of Gustavo Petro. Among his provisions is to create a “social service for peace”, which specifies the campaign proposal of Petro de replace compulsory military service, although social service would be an alternative that each young person can choose and not a general substitute. The initiative contemplates that it has the same duration and remuneration as military service: 12 months and 30% of a minimum wage, respectively.

The implementation, as Velasquez announced, would be done gradually and would include activities such as digital literacy; the work with victims of the armed conflict, the promotion of the peace policy or the protection of nature and biodiversity.

The proposal, although longed for by the social sectors, generated mixed feelings in several organizations that have worked for years on recruitment problems, such as JUSTAPAZ. “We are happy, because it is necessary to evolve and allow young people not to go to war and choose other activities. However, it also leaves us with a bad taste because in everything that we have seen and know in our work, it should not be mandatory. You really can’t pigeonhole young people into those who do social service and those who do military service,” Diana Archila, from the organization’s conscientious objection team, told EL PAIS.

Alejandro Parra, from the Collective Action of Objectors and Conscientious Objectors (ACOOC), considers that it is a very valuable initiative that is aligned with the construction of peace that is intended to be promoted in the country. He points out that the bill unifies four funds on the subject into a single Peace Fund, which implies economic support for the financing of the new social service.

However, the proposal also raises doubts on key issues. The first is the sanctions that those who refuse to provide any of the two services would face, since the project does not mention whether there would be consequences for those who do not engage in either. Another uncertainty is whether social service would be mandatory for women, a point that some feminist organizations are already warning about. Another problematic point for Parra and Archila is the lack of clarity regarding how mandatory military service would work in this new stage, if the quota system would continue or if the current grounds for exoneration would be modified. The law does not mention conscientious objection, nor does it mention the projection of social service. “It is not known if the perspective of the process will be considered in the medium and long term. Or if he is going to be a pilot for now”, concludes Parra.

In some sectors close to the military forces, the news was not well received. The criticism from there was directed at the impact that a social alternative would have on the foot of the force, and how it would affect its base plant, which today is made up of recruits and professional soldiers who previously served in the military.

A breakthrough in regional dynamics

This project has a prelude to similar proposals in the region, most of them unsuccessful or without achieving long-term structural changes. The only countries in Latin America that have abolished compulsory military service are Peru, Argentina and Uruguay. In the rest of the countries it continues to be provided, but with variations.

In Paraguay, for example, the right to conscientious objection is recognized as a result of a constitutional change after the dictatorship in the 1990s. Although there is a substitute service, human rights organizations have denounced that those who object must pay large sums of money or end up being threatened, as explained to this newspaper by Pelao Carvallo, a member of the International War Resisters’ Organization (IRG) and a social scientist. in CLACSO.

In Chile, when the established military quotas are not met, young people (men and women) are summoned to enlist in a compulsory manner. The abolition of this requirement was one of the flags of the social revolt of recent years, and after the demonstrations the number of enlistments was substantially reduced, and the obligation was even suspended during 2020. Until now, the Government of Gabriel Boric has not announced changes on the subject.

For Carvallo, Gustavo Petro’s proposal could be an opportunity for Colombia to promote a structural dismantling of compulsory military service at the South American level. “Getting rid of compulsory military service is essential for peace. This must be a regional effort that manages to demilitarize the youth and the country”, he assures.

In Colombia, according to figures from the Association of Retired Officers of the Colombian Military Forces (ACORE), during the last five years, 460,113 young people, mostly from the middle and lower classes, served in the military. For human rights organizations, this figure makes clear the need to speed up the processing of this law, which is just one of the more than 100 bills that have been filed in Congress since it was installed on July 20. While the project advances in the legislature, JUSTAPAZ and ACOOC hope that the Government will create spaces for dialogue with antimilitarist and youth social organizations. They also demand investment in the social sector. “Education and decent work must be a priority in the new government so that life projects can be created that transcend war,” says Archila.

Less than a month ago, Senator Humberto de la Calle and the representative for the department of Antioquia Daniel Carvalho, independent from the government and from a central political wing, filed a similar initiative. They propose to eliminate compulsory military service in 2030 with clear sanctions for those who do not provide social service. The two bills begin their course amid uncertainties and great expectations, especially on the part of young people who, along with women, were fundamental to Petro’s victory.

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Source: EL PAIS

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