Local Governments after the Conflict: The Potential Pitfalls of a Centralised Peace Process
from Crisis Group’s blog, “Latin America Crime & Politics”
by Christian Voelkel
Despite tensions triggered by FARC’s kidnapping of three members of the security forces last month and the military killing of a high-ranking guerrilla commander, the current peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) stand a fair chance of ending five decades of guerrilla warfare in the South American country. But local authorities in conflict zones remain ill-equipped to cope with the challenges they will face if a peace agreement is reached.
This lack of preparedness partly reflects the long-standing institutional weaknesses of many departments and municipalities. But the centralised nature of the current peace talks has arguably further complicated the situation for many local authorities. Negotiations are taking place in Havana, the capital of Cuba (which also serves as one the official guarantors of the process), and the relatively small government negotiating team does not include representatives of regional or local interests. As the talks are being conducted on a confidential basis, the space for direct participation has been limited, although a series of initiatives, including a webpage, regional discussions organised by the peace commissions of Congress and a civil society forum in Bogotá on rural development, has provided participatory channels.
Such a set up may increase the chances that a deal will be reached, but it may also create problems further down the line. The successful implementation of any agreement would not be in the hands of the negotiators. Other actors, including local governments would need to assume lead roles. But as Antioquia’s governor Sergio Fajardo pointed out shortly before the launch of the talks last November, local officials have so far largely remained on the sidelines of the peace process:
“As far as I know, no [local] office holder was given an explanation as to what is happening or what will happen. Businessmen yes, and some journalists. This is an error that perpetuates the perspective of the central power that it decides and then gives orders to the territories. […] If we do not take into account from now on the local office holders of the entire country, we will be in serious problems.”
Local officials and community members have largely echoed these concerns. For instance, one local government official from Urabá (Antioquia), one of Colombia’s most conflict-affected regions, told Crisis Group in a recent interview that his municipality had not yet been able to give much thought to the implications of the peace process, as they were struggling to keep up with reintegrating the existing group of demobilised paramilitaries and guerrillas.