Hacia la Paz: Celebrating Ceasefire in Bogotá

Posted by Hanna Wallis – MA Candidate at CLACS / Global Journalism at NYU

A crowd of several dozen huddles against the rain under huge Colombian flags with white flowers in hand, paz written on damp faces. They gaze expectantly toward the huge screen at the front of the plaza broadcasting live news from Havana; the four years of peace negotiations between the government and the country’s largest guerrilla group FARC approach a conclusive ceasefire agreement, a symbolic move to end five decades of armed conflict. We are standing in the exact coordinates of Bogota where 68 years ago, liberal presidential candidate Jorge Eliécer Gaitán was assassinated, catalyzing what is known in Colombian history as “La Violencia.” Today, the site where the conflict began is also where we inaugurate its conclusion. Hope radiates among people holding long embraces, statue-sized political handshakes projecting before us.

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I arrived to Colombia just a day before this historical moment. While the government and FARC have flirted with the possibility of final signed peace accord for several months (the original deadline was March 23), this latest agreement was not pre-announced. My first full day in Bogota I hear mutterings about celebrating a peace agreement the next morning. All of my adopted Colombian family adorns themselves in peace regalia and we proceed to the Séptima con Avenida Jimenez.

Although more steps remain before the country reaches a final peace accord, this latest message from Havana marks several important changes: the FARC have agreed to disarm in a binding ceasefire wherein their weapons will be transferred to the United Nations. The government has also to create a special unit in its general attorney office to fight paramilitary and other criminal organizations.

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The potential implications of these changes for the population at large has inspired broad speculation and concern. I’m here to research how the peace process will impact an indigenous resistance movement in Cauca, Colombia, which has fought for political representation and autonomy since the 1970s.  While quelling the tensions between the different armed groups is critical in the transition toward “post-conflict”, their movement represents the existence of plural interests excluded from the bilateral negotiations. I am excited to depart from the urban hullabaloo and immerse where I can hear a counter-point to the elation of the crowd in front of me.

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My academic research will loosely center around their alternative forms of development and pursuit of sovereignty. As a joint masters student in Journalism and Latin American Studies, I will also seek out a character-driven reportage. I’ve been networking with organizations and government representatives to broaden my contextual understanding. With this backdrop, the voices from Nasa community members in Cauca will ring distinctly.

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