Experiences of negotiation with armed actors in the province of Cauca
The armed conflict in Colombia consists of different forms of violence, among these, the recruitment of minors. An atrocious fact of the power of the armed actors in the territories with little government presence that managed to destroy dreams and childhoods, adding lives to a bloody war. Hence (or as such), once the peace agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) was signed in 2016, hope filled the communities most affected by the violence. However, in the last six years, guerilla groups such as the National Liberation Army (ELN) and other non-state armed groups have strengthened in territories such as the department of Cauca, increasing the number of minors recruited. According to El Espectador newspaper (2021), there was a record of 275 recruitments of minors in the rural areas of this province.
This wave of violence in the post-agreement period generated different responses in these communities. Particularly, the indigenous communities, grouped in the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC), promoted a campaign of non-violent resistance against the incursion of armed actors into their territory called Minga, located inland. Within the framework of this resistance strategy, acts of economic non-cooperation and nonviolent intervention were carried out, focused mainly on the eradication of crops for illicit use – a source of financing for the armed actors.
Within this campaign it was decided to strengthen territorial control, that for the CRIC is the nonviolent defense of their territory and their worldview. Therefore, they developed immediate response actions against dynamics that disrupt the harmony of the territory and the way of life of these communities. Thus, the CRIC, in cases of recruitment of minors, consolidated an immediate response route in which the indigenous guard, members of the organization’s legal team and the rest of the community members participate. It all begins when the community informs the CRIC authorities about acts of recruitment, who through great efforts have managed to establish channels of dialogue with some armed structures. Later, the authorities make contact with the armed actors to request the return of the minors to their communities. This procedure varies according to the criminal structure involved, since with some it is possible to establish dialogues. On some occasions, even the leadership of the Red Cross Committee has been relied on.
These channels of dialogue were strengthened from the Minga’s push inward. The pressure that this campaign was able to exert on the armed structures led to the strengthening of these spaces for dialogue. Most of the time the armed groups allowed the return of the recruited minors to their communities. It is important to point out that for the return of the youth to be effective, they had to be willing to return to their communities, otherwise they would remain in the armed structures. Once the approval was obtained from the minors, after dialogue with the members of the indigenous guard and the CRIC legal team, they were returned to their territories by the CRIC from areas such as the south of Cauca and the Narino area, where the conflict has intensified.
This dynamic began to be replicated by other neighboring rural towns, specifically to the north of the province. In the words of one of the members of the CRIC legal team who will remain anonymous for security reasons – “all this exercise is replicated in rural communities, following the same route.” Consequently, the CRIC brought the proposal for “Tables for Peace” to the Minga Social Popular y Comunitaria, these were spaces for dialogue with non-state armed groups to address problems beyond the recruitment of minors, where the channels of dialogue had already shown to be effective. The Minga Social Popular y Comunitaria was a platform for different social actors that was consolidated after the social outbreak of 2021 in Colombia. In December of the previous year, the declaration of the indigenous communities, known for the defense and care of life and peace, referred to the above in the following terms:
Fifth: We determined to generate dialogue processes for life with a perspective of peace from the social, popular and community movement as a civil and political actor; with the legal and illegal armed actors and third parties involved in the conflict that allow for the consolidation of peace agendas from the civilian population.
Sixth: We express that, as a civil society, peaceful, unarmed and outside the war, the only interest we pursue through these dialogues is to promote respect for life, territory and nature, human rights and compliance with the international Humanitarian Law (national, social, popular and community Minga 2022).
Despite the achievements in terms of recruiting minors, to date the non-state armed actors have not expressed a willingness to dialogue to define peace agendas that encompass broader problems for the benefit of the communities, maintaining anxiety and violence. This action may respond to the fact that most of the non-state armed groups during the post-agreement did not define commands of power, structure, areas of operation and lack a strong political component, unlike the extinct FARC, or the ELN guerrilla that still exist. In the past, this factor made it possible to generate agreements between the community and non-state armed groups in order to avoid harming the civilian population in the context of the armed conflict. In this way, the initiative to establish dialogue channels with the armed groups by the indigenous communities of Cauca has managed to consolidate an effective course of action for the return of minors to the communities.
The achievements of this experience have become a reference for peasant groups in the Cauca region that are committed to dialogue as an effective space for conflict resolution. However, the attempts to consolidate broad negotiation scenarios during the post-agreement period in this area have revealed new challenges for the civilian population, as they confront non-state armed actors with purely economic interests that hinder dialogue.
She is a Colombian activist. A lawyer from the University of Cauca. Master’s in International Relations from Flacso Ecuador