Indigenous Leader’s Message: Help Colombia Solidify Peace

Marcia Mejía Chirimia, of the Sia indigenous community in the southwestern Pacific region of Colombia, is visiting the U.S. on a mission to garner support for Colombia’s peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). She forms part of CONPAZ (Communities Building Peace in their Territories), a coalition of 150 war affected communities throughout Colombia that advocate non-violence and peaceful resolution to conflict. Marcia and her CONPAZ colleagues argue that for the victims of the conflict peace is essential. She asks that the international community to increase its efforts to guarantee that the accord is implemented without changes and without any further delays.

According to Ms. Chirimia, victims’ voices were integrated into the accords. The final accord reflects what CONPAZ and many other victims recommended to the negotiating parties. The accord prioritizes truth and reconciliation over extended jail time. For victims, like herself, jail time would just lead to further suffering of not knowing the full truth of the dynamics that generated horrific massacres in the communities. She believes that victims can only begin to heal when they know the full truth and the perpetrators ask for forgiveness.

Ms. Chirimia debunks the notion perpetrated by former President Alvaro Uribe that the accord would foster impunity because prison time is not expressed. She thinks that jail time for perpetrators of abuses would only breed more resentment and vengeance towards the victims by the prisoners. Also that by placing them in jail it would guarantee that they would continue their criminal activities. CONPAZ argues that persons who committed crimes should be rehabilitated so they can become productive members of society. She adds that the FARC are not the sole causes of distress in ethnic communities. Paramilitaries, ELN, businessmen with economic megaprojects, and even some politicians, were also involved in abuses in these territories, and they should be held accountable. The accord would guarantee that all perpetrators are held to account.

She notes that many of the “No” voters did not suffer the worst consequences of the war and that many made a decision based on misinformation. As such, she thinks that all efforts to end this situation must include victims’ representatives especially indigenous and afro descendants who are hardest hit by violence. As victims, what comes next will affect their lives more than the lives of those voicing their distant opinions from cities like Bogotá. Areas with the largest numbers of victims voted a booming “Yes” for peace in the October 2 plebiscite.

Ms. Chirimia is also proud of the inclusion of an Ethnic Chapter in the final accord. She explains that this chapter was written by the Ethnic Commission that represents a good number of ethnic communities. It reflects their proposals constructed by the communities themselves– not the opinions of the government or the FARC. By denying advancement of the peace accord, the No proponents are ignoring the pressing needs of rural women, indigenous and Afro-Colombians peoples.

In sum, Ms. Chirimia is advocating for continued international support for Colombia’s peace process. The U.S. should redirect its military aid to Colombia towards social programs that help to construct peace on the ground. In her view, money should go towards effective crop substitution programs, the construction of viable roads to markets, demining project and land restitution. Any further negotiations between the government and the FARC and ELN guerrillas must guarantee victims’ rights to the truth, reparations, and peace. Beyond international authorities, she thinks that NGOs play a critical role in guaranteeing inclusion of ethnic communities’ minorities’ rights by pressuring the U.S. and Colombian authorities to monitor the process.

Ms. Chirimia, who has suffered death threats due to her activism in favor of her community, emphasizes that “the voices of those on the ground are strong, but often not loud enough to reach the right people. It is difficult, and often dangerous, to be a leader in this context – which is why they need international support.”

Despite new obstacles in the way, the triumph of the “No” has certainly not defeated her. She promised to continue fighting for the peace they dream of.

—Cristina Camacho, WOLA Colombia Program intern

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