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Colombia: the embattled road to peace

Is absolute peace throughout a nation ever truly attainable and sustainable? Can a country ever unite as one entity in the face of extreme opposing views and ideals throughout the land, its people unable to achieve the plurality of a single bilateral, collective human interest legislative mandate?

As the country of Colombia celebrates its Independence Day on 20 July 2016, its people must also reflectively and introspectively ask these crucial questions. Simultaneously on this very day, Colombia is poised to finalize a peace agreement intended to end civil strife and human rights atrocities the country has endured over half a century, causing immeasurable violence, disenchantment, displacement and overall irreversible destruction. The nation is facing critical times that will undoubtedly leave an indelible mark on its history.

Colombia is a democratic republic, gaining self-governance from Spanish rule on 20 July 1810. Over a century later, in 1948, the assassination of Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, a prominent politician during his presidential campaign, stirred the nation and became a catalyst in the decade-long period of violent political unrest between the Conservative party and the Liberal party, that ensued throughout the country, referred to as La Violencia. Gaitan was not only a politician projected to become the next president of Colombia, he was the leader of the Liberal party, and perceived as the vital change and hope for the enduring socioeconomic disparity felt throughout the country.

The violence seen after his murder in the heart of the nation’s capital, Bogotá, was an expression of the frustration and anguish felt by an underrepresented people; thus, an even greater climate of disillusionment and neglect propagated by the government overpowered the nation, particularly in its rural areas. A man by the name of Manuel Marulanda Velez, alias “Tirofijo”(sureshot) became the leader of the community that established in Marquetalia, Tolima, in the Andean region of the country.

In 1964, in an effort to purge the country from what served as refuge for the communist guerillas and liberate the nation from these areas that had become a symbol of defiance and violence, Lieutenant Colonel José Joaquín Matallana led his troops into the region of Marquetalia; their sole purpose at all cost was of annihilating the perpetrators leading the insurgents. The troops led a treacherous journey through the countryside and eventually overtook Marquetalia by air.

Presidente Juan Manuel Santos de Colombia estrecha la mano al Comandante Timoleón Jiménez de las FARC , al firmar el Cese de fuego.
Cease-fire agreement, Colombia by Presidencia El Salvador. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (left) shakes hands with FARC Commander Timoleón Jiménez (right), after signing cease-fire agreement. President Raul Castro of Cuba observes the exchange. Public Domain CC0 1.0 via Flickr.

The country rejoiced after the battle and what was deemed a victory for the nation, actually led to the formal creation of The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), headed by “Tirofijo,” who managed to escape through a trail undetected by aerial observation during the conflict, along with other revolutionaries.

What began as a peasant Marxist-Leninist organization formed under an ideology based on the needs of the people and striving to create a climate of equality, has become Colombia’s largest guerrilla group, and since its creation, the FARC has terrorized the country, committing unfathomable crimes, forcing people into the organization, some as young as 9 years of age, and more than 220,000 people have died in the conflict.

Even with a peace treaty on the horizon, the country is still at odds, wondering if it will ever truly find peace, and at the same time torn by the notion of exonerating these militants who have caused such damage and destruction as a whole; the guerrillas, in turn, are faced with the obligation of integrating back into civilian life, surrendering their weapons, and many incorporating a life they have never known, but have only been exposed to war.

The notion of obtaining peace in a divided country also pertains to any established, autonomous region and it appears in recent events, many are continuously divided on major issues, as they face equally significant decisions. Theresa May has taken the role of prime minister in the United Kingdom, succeeding David Cameron, all the while the country is still recuperating from Brexit, and the divisive decision that startled the nation. In the United States, a presidential election awaits trial, amidst a sea of uncertainty and violence, in a country divided by race, politics, and inaction.

This, of course, is an oversimplification of complex underlying thematic issues that have been prevalent for many years, decades, almost centuries. For the sake of practicality, the summary of these issues serves as an effort to portray a correlation between countries that would otherwise seem unrelated, distant in geography, thought and circumstance. It is an attempt to show how nations, even while pertaining to one government under one set of specific, unequivocal rules, can still remain in discordance, and if not addressed timely and properly, can ultimately lead to self-destruction and indeterminable animosity.

Having been born and raised in Colombia, many of these concepts of war and struggle are as foreign to me as they may seem to someone with no knowledge of the country. My Colombia was one of tranquility, natural beauty, and exceptional education. The Colombia I know is characterized by acceptance and diversity. A place where there are as many beaches as there are mountains and skyscrapers, where the magnificent flora and fauna might be overlooked, as its abundance and beauty becomes commonplace.

Ultimately, just as I, along with countless others, were not directly affected by the struggles of the country, does not lessen the gravity of the situation or undermine the lives of the thousands that died prematurely because of it. Every nation has its deep-seated issues that cannot be whisked away, but rather addressed, head-on to attempt to alleviate the growing anger and disagreement arising from differences in class, race, social status, education, and gender. At what point do we realize that if one group suffers, we all suffer, being all one human race, and gain the courage to ask the ultimate question: can we all live in peace?

Featured image credit: Casa de Nariño by Miguel Olaya. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr.

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