Some people, including the former Colombian president Álvaro
Uribe, criticize the transitional justice called for in the agreement
as being too lenient. But strict or lenient, the agreement holds the
FARC to account, and promises to end a conflict that has caused
great damage to the country through the years.
We can see that the changes that are transforming this conflict, as well as the six points of these peace talks, reflect the four
dimensions of conflict, as proposed by John Paul Lederach:
Personal: the fourth point of the peace agreement
agenda is based in the personal level, seeking to amend
the damages done by the conflict, especially to the
victims of the FARC’s violence.
Relational and Cultural: the resilience of both the government and guerrilla representatives, especially in crisis
situations where their will and joint action to overcome
all the obstacles to implement a sustainable peace,
have greatly facilitated the achievement of an agreement. In addition, holding the negotiations on neutral soil
(Cuba) helped to build confidence among the parties and
highlighted the shared objective that had put everybody
there: to achieve sustainable peace for Colombia.
Structural: the changes in international law and the
strengthening of the Colombian army, as well as a more
substantial role for the international actors, changed the
landscape and the perspective on the conflict. Of the six
points of the peace agreement, the first three seek to
affect the structural dimension, changing the sociopolitical fabric of Colombia to overcome the disparities
between the actors.
Finally, the last two points of the peace talks agenda are
also in accordance with Lederach’s method, which holds that
it is important not only address the present causes of a conflict, but also put it in perspective through time and plan for its
implementation and development. The current peace talks have
embraced the factors that help to transform a conflict and build
sustainable peace. Although they are not perfect, they surely
are different from the previous talks, offering hope for the resolution of this intractable conflict.
Intractable conflicts can have deep-rooted and highly structured socio-psychological elements, a systemic complexity
where all the structures of society collapse in a monolithic
reality, that makes them seem impossible to transform, as
the label’s etymology itself suggests. The problem is that the
objectives that the parties see as incompatible are also interpreted as existential, and the intransigence arising from these
interpretations blocks the consideration of negotiated alternatives. The pressure of long-standing conflict creates a culture
of conflict, based on collective narratives, societal beliefs and
Where the institutions define themselves by and within the
conflict and are sustained by the beliefs of their members, which
are in turn influenced by the structure, it creates a systemic balance that makes the change of only one element not enough to
transform the whole context. Because of that systemic nature,
the chance of success is higher when the different dimensions
of the conflict are “attacked” at the same time: moving from
micro to macro (promoting changes at the personal, relational
and local level, escalating them to the larger structure) and from
macro to micro (changing policies and structures in order to
affect the individuals and local realities), thus transforming the
environment at the same time that the socio-psychological
structure is transformed.
While structural changes such as public policies, agreements
and sanctions are easier to measure and have a relatively clear
scope, changes in the socio-psychological sphere are much
more subjective and harder to measure, and the intervention
strategies that produce socio-psychological change may allow
only a limited follow-up evaluating their development and short-term effects. However, these limitations are probably more
about a restriction of the object of analysis rather than a limit in
An important part of this approach is the constant pursuit of
the simplification of complex issues, not in a reductionist way,
but in an essentialist one: seeking the simplicity that exists in the
other side of complexity, identifying the underlying patterns and
dynamics that create the complex relations with interdependences and unpredictability, and acting on them.
The progress in the peace talks between Colombia and the
FARC are pushing the conflict closer to its conclusion, and skepticism and optimism are taking turns in the mind of the Colombians.
The six elements of the September agreement reflect the sociopolitical fabric of the Colombian nation, taking advantage of the
structural changes in recent years and addressing both objective
and subjective matters in the conflict. Even though they not do it
perfectly, they do it well enough for an agreement.
President Santos has said that the final agreement (which is
very probable once he has the majority of Congress) will have
to be approved by the Colombian people, probably through a
plebiscite. That approval may seem like a secondary concern
right now, but if the plebiscite campaign is not conducted effectively it could jeopardize the peace process in its final stage. So,
it is important for there to be a national program to help put the
population on board with the deal.
By the time this article is published, I hope the final agreement
will have been signed. The years to come will show if indeed this
deal will hold. If the process fails, the knowledge acquired during
this process will serve to put the conflict one step closer to its
transformation, as well as to disseminate its successful strategies and methods to other cases of intractable conflicts. And if
it indeed succeeds, history will have another case of a transformed intractable conflict, showing those who believe some
conflicts are doomed to last forever that with will, resilience and
knowledge, even intractable conflicts can be overcome.