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Regionalization must play a key role in Colombia’s path towards peace

Article - August 20, 2013

Following six months of negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC, an agreement on agrarian reform was made as part of an ongoing peace process

Colombia’s Minister of Interior describes the agrarian reform as an essential step, “considering the objective of the government is to fight against inequity and inequality” and the rural areas are where inequality is highest. 
In recent years the countryside almost became an unwelcome guest in the country’s economic development. In fact many critics of the free trade agreements have claimed that the first victims of integration treaties and free trade were rural workers and farmers. Thus, the transformation of rural areas was not the first point on the agenda for gratuitous reasons, but in fact the government negotiation team stated that they were focusing on restoring the agricultural workers’ dignity as a pillar for further development. 
Interior Minister Fernando Carrillo Flórez points out: “It’s no coincidence that it was the first point on the agenda, nor is it a coincidence that there is a need to place agriculture, rural issues and rural workers’ recognition at the center of state policies going forward in ensuring a fair and equalitarian development.” 
During last Thursday’s Governors Summit held in Medellin with the leitmotif “Preparing for Peace”, Minister Carrillo said the transition from conflict to peace must be seen from the perspective of the regions and from the perspective of victims. In this line, his Ministry is leading the government’s decentralization effort in a push to strengthen the capacity of institutions to ensure rule of law. 
As the Ministry leads strategies that will test the depth of decentralization Dr. Carrillo explains that: “the backbone of regionalization consists in the ability to hand very good skills to cities and departments. I have the strong conviction that if the country has solid territorial entities, it will also have solid regions, breaking the traditional myth that regions become enemies.”
This strategy aims to include a special chapter regarding border zones and territorial tax reform, which needs to be discussed by the commissions composed by the national government, governors and city mayors. 
“We have to move from away from the state model in which we believed, for many decades, that it was in the state capital or regional capitals where development policies had to be designed,” claims Mr. Carrillo who led the student movement which gave birth to the Séptima Papeleta, the origin of Colombia’s current Constitution. It is in fact this constitution that gave the government a clear mandate regarding decentralization.
Although this mandate was almost dormant for two decades, as Mr. Carrillo explains it has been rescued by the Santos administration, which managed to issue legislation that accelerated and deepened the decentralization process in the same direction as Spain did with its 17 autonomous communities, as France did with its 27 administrative regions or Germany with its 17 länders. 
As the Minister explains, “As a result of the institutional and constitutional design of Colombia, we have an advantage over other countries in Latin America: a Constitutional Court which is highly respectful towards the constitution,” says the Minister.
It was this constitutional mandate that made Colombia a pioneer in the right to prior consultation, which places indigenous rights and environmental issues at the heart of rural development.  
“What we have to seek is balance between the fundamental right and the country’s development projects, but within this balance we have aimed to respect the ILO Convention No. 169, our Constitutional Court’s jurisprudence and the government’s rule to consult ethnic communities regarding development projects.” 
It comes as no surprise therefore, that Colombia’s National Development Plan 2010-14 was consulted with the indigenous communities. There were 96 commitments of the plan with indigenous communities and the government has a high-level consultation team focusing on the indigenous peoples and harmonization of policies.
As the first week of talks between government and local farmers reaches an end in the Colombian Catatumbo, where violent protests erupted over the reparation of 350 families affected by eradication of illicit crops, Minister Carrillo explains that the government has to demonstrate they “have a social force ready to travel to the regions and offer solutions” – something that was precisely started during the revolt at Catatumbo. 
There is great distrust towards decentralization based on arguments related to corruption or inefficiency; however, the government has repeatedly stated it is betting on strengthening local authorities. 
In this sense Mr. Carrillo summoned the Governors at the Medellin summit, to be leaders of the post-conflict era in the country stating, “This stage will not be possible if we contemplate it from the cold, distant capital” insisting that “the peace effort must be regionalized.”
Respect for human rights is to take a central role in Colombia’s potential post-conflict scenario and in particular the rights of victims are what the current public opinion is most concerned about. Precisely under Minister Carrillo’s leadership Colombia has consolidated the national process of guarantees for human rights defenders, social and community leaders.
The Inter-American Commission for Human Rights adopted the decision to withdraw Colombia from the list of countries under permanent observation after verifying the commitment the government has had with the public policies on Human Rights. The constitution of Colombia in 1991, as Mr. Carrillo describes, “is a constitution that finally placed the rights of Colombians as the center of gravity of constitutional matters […] and it implied that we had to leave behind a tradition of fundamental, political and civil rights violations that these 50 years of conflict had led us to.”
One of the resolutions adopted at the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) meeting at the 38th World Congress in Istanbul, Turkey, held on 23-27 May 2013, hopes that the democratic transition moves toward eliminating the practices of persecution and harassment of social protest movements and human rights defenders, such as unfair and malicious prosecutions, in order to achieve a real and effective national reconciliation. 
As Mr. Carrillo explains, “The process of stigmatization of human rights defenders is due precisely to the lack of awareness with respect to the leadership that had been consolidated, the leadership of the human rights defenders. Some people in the regions had that job but were socially excluded, even persecuted in many cases.” 
In this regard, the Minister believes the “human rights policy of this administration has been the exact opposite, aiming to recover these leaders and granting them new opportunities. The most important standard issued by this government has been the law of Victims and Land Restitution, which is unprecedented in the world. That was our purpose and it’s what we’re working on.” 
The processes of peaceful resolution of conflict in Colombia has received the support of international organizations, such as the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, the United Nations, as well as the International Federation for Human Rights, and their support may well be a heads up to what the Minister describes as “the great obsession of this government which has been to do politics with a capital P, good politics.”


José Berlanga
03/09/2013  |  13:24
100% of 1

Madre mía como esta la situación aquí con los paros ahora...

Amy U. Johns
03/09/2013  |  13:52
100% of 1

He's a brilliant chap, what a great track record - and i completely agree with his vision for the transition to peace.

Valentín Acuña
16/09/2013  |  22:07
100% of 1

Que pena que ya no sea el ministro de Interior, es uno de los mejores gobernantes del país