If the Government of Gustavo Petro has made something clear in these 10 months of mandate, it is its commitment to end the years of armed conflict and violence in the country through dialogue. From his inauguration speech to the recently approved National Development Plan, he has conveyed to us the essence of his commitment: to dialogue on how not to kill each other, to seek common paths and to resolve the old violence and those that arose or changed due to the failure to comply with peace processes. The ultimate goal, he declares, is to protect life and ensure that a dignified life is at the center of public policy. And one step to achieve this is to provide the opportunity for all violent actors to make a transition to the Social Rule of Law, through negotiations or "socio-legal conversations," depending on whether the group is considered a rebel or a high-impact criminal structure.
These conversations and negotiations began to be more media from the moment the president sanctioned the legal framework of the so-called total peace. The negotiating table with the ELN was reactivated. Buenaventura was presented as a laboratory of peace because of the exploded phase of dialogues and the truce between the gangs Los Espartanos and Los Shottas. The future installation of a talks table with the so-called Central General Staff and an urban peace pilot in the Aburrá Valley was announced. At least 22 armed groups announced their interest in joining the total peace such as the Clan del Golfo, the Second Marquetalia, the Pachencas or the Rastrojos Costeños. In addition, at the beginning of the year, the president announced the agreement of a bilateral cessation with five organizations. This avalanche of announcements provoked a wide spectrum of responses among citizens: from illusion, hope and expectations, to skepticism, distrust and pessimism.
The accumulation of several unfavorable facts is tipping the balance to the negative side, especially since it is increasingly clear that the Government has not made the necessary planning to win this huge bet. The desire, the vote of confidence, the "it is always preferable to try rather than do nothing" is not enough: it is essential that the government shows that it knows what it is doing and that the situation is not getting out of hand. Because so far some facts show the opposite.
For example, the ELN denied the president by stating that they had not agreed to a bilateral ceasefire; For an attack on the Public Force, the president declared the end of the ceasefire with the Clan del Golfo and this week announced the partial suspension of the ceasefire with the Central General Staff after learning that a front of this group murdered four minors who had been forcibly recruited. In Buenaventura the truce was broken and the violent acts have increased. In addition, violence continues in other areas of the country, as shown by the recent attack on members of the Police in Tibú or the escalation of violence in Barranquilla.
Of course, it is not the Government that recruits or carries out the attacks, but it is the one that has set itself the objective of stopping them by way of total peace. Despite some positive impacts, unfortunately in that objective it is not giving the expected results. That may be due to four major flaws.
The first is the apparent ignorance or incomplete information about the groups with which we dialogue. For example, the president himself has said that he doubts whether the ELN leaders sitting at the negotiating table really rule over the group. Experts in organized crime in Medellín question the innocence of the government, thinking that it is enough to ask for peace for the groups to obey, without clarity on the incentives that members of these organizations have to enter into a process of submission: since many do not have pending justice, why would they want to submit?
The second is that the legalization of drug markets, especially cocaine and cannabis, remains not central to this conversation. Several high-impact criminal groups have control over one or more points of the production chain and this generates high incomes. Continuing to wait for the world to "be ready" for cocaine legalization takes us away from the goal: a total peace without regulation of drug markets is an incomplete and weak peace.
The third is the poor communication that has existed from the Government. The forms are key: a negotiation is essentially communication, both towards the counterpart and towards the citizens. There is, thus, a double audience. It is true that, because these are delicate issues that require the construction of credibility between interlocutors, as citizens we cannot know the entire content of the negotiations. However, Danilo Rueda has failed to convey security, confidence and clarity. And in the vertigo that total peace is producing, this is fundamental.
Finally, there is a perceived lack of institutional capacity. Does the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace have the capacity to address and sustain all the conversations it is initiating? Why start them with criminal groups when the law of submission has not even begun to be discussed? Why not coordinate with other government offices to offer services in Buenaventura while this law is passed? To this day there is no official tool to subdue these groups and even the rapporteur of the bill, Ariel Ávila, accepts the errors and makes an urgent call for this law to be approved soon, before it arrives too late in places like Buenaventura. That is why it is vital that those who lead total peace have clarity about the capacity of the State to respond to all these dialogues and conversations and to all the expectations they are generating.
These four failures have weakened the Government's position both in the negotiation and among public opinion. And this is the biggest cost one can pay in a complex dialogue process.
Gustavo Petro has not been the only president to try solutions through dialogue. Each has had to face the particular challenges of each context, and Petro received a country with a delicate security situation, groups that continue to try to fill gaps and a peace process that was lame and weakened. He also has the challenge of negotiating from the left: politically, that can automatically make him perceived as weaker on security. In addition, he still carries the stigma of having belonged to a guerrilla group, which the opposition uses to say it wants to benefit armed groups. To top it off, it has the competition in the region of leaders who promote a hard hand against criminals, a strategy that is rising in several countries thanks especially to the projection of an authoritarian leader like Nayib Bukele from El Salvador.
All this only makes it more necessary for the government to show that total peace is more than a longing and that they know what they are doing, because the line of Colombian bukeles is growing, willing to capitalize on any mistake. If the hope of total peace begins to turn into disappointment, there will be more space and support for them. Instead, what is necessary is to cement the desire with dimensioned, pragmatic plans, attached to the knowledge of the territory and resolutive with the questions raised by the citizenship: that they do have a chance to function.
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