Dan, University of Sheffield

Peacebuilding in Colombia 2018

Dan, a Politics and International Relations student from Sheffield won a scholarship to take part in the 2018 Peacebuilding in Colombia course. He talks about his experience here.

“As my time at Red Tree Study’s ‘Peacebuilding in Colombia’ program draws to an end I feel both grateful and delighted for what I have learnt about the conflict and peace process in Colombia. Although the peace process is innately complex involving many actors and judicial mechanisms, the course has enabled me to better understand these dynamics through its two part structure consisting of morning lectures and afternoon field visits. While the lectures provide a historical and theoretical background to each facet of the conflict and peace process, the field visits have offered an on-the-ground perspective. In this sense they were often complimentary and it was interesting to see how peacebuilding has been implemented in practice. For example, the trip to the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia gave me an insight into how the peace process has been implemented between the Government of Colombia and the The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP) under the 2016 peace Havana peace agreement. Under its mandate the verification mission has aimed to ensure the demobilisation of the FARC-EP to establish personal and collective security guarantees as well political, economic and social reintegration of the former combatants. It was very interesting to see how the agreement has been implemented under the supervision of the UN and what the major challenges are that need to be addressed. One such challenge is that some armed groups have splintered into criminal fractions which exploit the countries coca industry through cocaine trafficking. This is a problem that will require further efforts with regional and global anti-trafficking organisations in a way that encourages farmers to switch to legal crops.

I have also been particularly impressed by how non-partisan the course is, as it has given me the opportunity to engage in conversations with all the major actors involved in the conflict, from former guerrilla combatants like FARC-EP to ex-paramilitary members and the Colombian Armed Forces to name a few. As such, I have been able to explore the human dimension of the conflict through a neutral lense by getting an insight into what life was like during and also after the conflict and how former combatants have been able to reintegrate into Colombian society. Another problem that has arisen is that there is still considerable stigma  surrounding former guerrilla combatants, especially the FARC-EP, making it very difficult for them to gain employment and earn a legitimate income. This highlights the social-economical challenges of a peacebuilding.

An additional aspect of the program that I throughly enjoyed was the outing to the Center for Memory, Peace and Reconciliation. I found this particularly moving as its key purpose is to promote reconciliation between all Colombian’s, irrespective of whether they are victims or perpetrators. Within the building there are a series of beautiful artistic pieces including murals, photographs, and sculptures to celebrate peace and reconciliation. Although this was not an intellectual field trip, the Center for Memory, Peace and Reconciliation is a important institution that promotes unity and the celebration of difference which I enjoyed learning about.

In terms of the social and cultural activities, the program offers a nice mix of extracurricular activities like salsa classes, football games and a party bus. I was really keen to try my hand at salsa which I found surprisingly straightforward to do the basic steps, however, to do it well will no doubt take much more practice. My only recommendation is that Red Tree offers a short course on Spanish for those that are interested. I feel that this would enhance the experience of those participating in the program as well as develop their wider linguistic skills.”