War and Peacebuilding in Colombia: Public Perception, Polarization

By Redelond Tsounga




The first weeks of classes at the University of Los Andes in Bogota, Colombia we have learned that the 2016 plebiscite resulted in the rejection of the peace agreement. The country was divided into two camps, the “Yes” camp for peace and the “No” camp led by ex-presidents Santos and Uribe. Statistics showed that 49% voted yes and 51% voted No against the peace agreement. Outside the classroom and theories, I wanted to see what Colombians think about this conflict. I wanted to understand why some people opposed peace of a generational ongoing conflict of 50 years. My curiosity led me two hours away from Bogota to seek and understand this polarization from a Colombian point of view. With the help of Marce Acosta, a Colombian native who had just returned from New Zealand for 6 months learning English. We drove two hours to Girardot, passing through the beautiful landscape of mountains, valleys, and narrow roads. I was reminiscing about beautiful New Zealand’s countryside landscape. Reminded me of the narrow road and turns to pass the new Zealand dessert road. I interviewed two members of the Guzman family, brothers in law who share different views about the conflict and the peace agreement. An illustration of the Colombian peace process and polarization.

Girardot is a municipality and a town in the department of Cundinamarca.  The second most important city of Cundinamarca due to its production. It is home to several recreational and holiday spots, mainly visited by people from Bogotá for its tropical climate, compared to the cold and rainy climate of Bogotá. Located only two hours’ drive from Bogotá city.



The public perception is significant due to its implication in the peace agreement process. Constituted a third party but also a determinant factor of the peace accords. In 2016, October 2nd the Colombian people rejected the agreement by a very small margin in a referendum. This outcome shocked the world, Colombian people including proponents of peace, and it slowed the peace process. The Santos government adjusted a new deal and reached an agreement with the opposition led by Uribe on November 23rd, 2016. The public opinion was given a significant role in the finalization of the peace agreement. Although, a peace agreement was reached between Farc and the Government on November, 23rd 2016, followed by the creation of institutions for its implementation.  Three years passed now, The polarization of the Colombian people has not changed.

I sat with local Colombians and asked few questions regarding the conflict and the peace agreement. Mr. Humberto Acosta affirmed that the peace agreement did not include the Colombian people. Although, the 2016 plebiscite gave the public a final say.

It is also important to note the transitional views of the conflict. The critical view of the transition, which is cultural and modernist. Also, the liberal view and reactionary view but the liberal view as part of how Colombians speak about the transition. There is an existing common view of the conflict and the peace accords. Isabel C.Jaramillo Sierra noted in the lecture, the common Colombian view is that “we don’t have a conflict but we have terrorists who have a business, there is no civil conflict but only belligerents outlaws who want to occupy territories”. This common view is mainly shared amongst people located in regions and cities non-affected by the armed conflict. This perception also defined the results of the 2016 plebiscite, where most people who voted No against the peace agreement are from the non-affected regions and cities.


Iván León the Girardoteño a local born of Girardot is a dreamer, a believer and a proponent of peace. He believed that everyone wants peace but the majority of people are more interested in the blaming game and have a blaming mentality with punishment at the center. Alvaro Uribe‘s views of the conflict are bigger than the conflict and perhaps too personal and emotional. The Colombian people must have a forgiving heart to forget everything and start again from scratch. He explained that Colombian people do not need to keep grudges and grievances but forgive, stop the blaming culture, make peace and restart. “It’s like a kinship, marriage or a relationship you have a fight, argument, you make peace, forgive and move on,” he said.

When asked if Colombia could ever achieve peace without Justice or Transitional Justice, Ivan believes that there must be social justice to achieve peace. Social justice constitutes providing the Colombian people with the minimum necessities to live and better conditions to live. Such as health, safety, security, and education to build a better and just society. For example, in the department of La Guajira people do not have enough water, electricity, and food. The locals and natives are dying in this department while it contains the main charcoal mine of the country. It is paradoxical, there is an existing contrast between the natural resources exploitation and the people who live in this department.

Ivan’s yes vote for the plebiscite incited anger and hurt among some friends. However, His family and friends ran the yes campaign in Girardot, believed it to be the best way to take Colombia forward towards peace and an end to the conflict. Importantly, Girardot and Ivan’s family are not directly affected by the conflict, the yes vote was mainly in consideration of those directly affected and who continue to suffer and being displaced every day.

In contrast, Humberto Acosta a hardworking father, a Bogotano, a local of Bogotá and Iván León’s brother in law voted no against the plebiscite. Umberto believes that the peace agreement was a very bad deal for Colombia and Colombian people. The peace agreement had too many conditions that mainly favored the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). The FARC had been dishonest, did not hand in all weapons, did not show all routes and plantations of drugs and did not give the money profited from the conflict.

one of the main reasons he voted Yes against the plebiscite. he believed that it was an unfair peace agreement, in which the government did not punish the FARC. they broke the law and therefore must be punished. Umberto believes that the government does not posses the right tools to implement the peace agreement because of the Transitional Justice lack of punishment weakening the institutions and the government. The government wants to punish the FARC but it is difficult with the presence of Transitional Justice. He does not agree with the FARC having seats in the parliament.

This polarization represents and illustrates the peace process in Colombia. There is progress in the peace process, a significant creation, and implementations of institutions such as the Transitional Justice, the Victim Reparation Unit, the Demobilization Unit and Reintegration unit, etc. Theoretically and literary the implementation is going well. However, at the local level, there are no implementations of the peace agreement, there is a lack of state presence in the rural areas. As Ivan mentioned that in the department of La Guajira people are dying due to lack of necessities, health, security, food, and education. The institutions are not fully functional due to human factor including corruption.

According to the professor at the university of Cartagena Mr Pablo, the Government’s refusal to implement concrete programs that efficiently impact the local communities hinders peace in the territorial area. A structural model of peace designed by the local people and Pablo, containing 8 pillars that represent a development plan. a possible effective implementation The structural model contains 3 of the following significant steps:

  1. Basic participatory Nuclei (Pre-assemblies),
  2. Communal pacts that give attention to municipalities allowing municipal pacts for regional Transformation.
  3. Regions, where it allows a plan of action for regional transformation.


Pablo mentioned that regarding peace and implementation, the president does not want people to move things forward. On the ground, there is no actual implementation but in literature and theories, and Colombia is a centralized country. There is existing bureaucratic rationality where the police commander, the governor-general, the mere and the paramilitary are acquaintances or related.

Therefore, peace and polarization or public perception are progressively relative and moving in parallel. Somehow peace is dependent on polarization and its variation. Optimistically, Peace and its implementation in Colombia are possible when the public perception changes and the polarization turns towards the peace agreement. Colombians will stand together as one for the peace agreement to demand full implementation and peace.

VIDEO 4: MAY PEACE COME IN COLOMBIA, With the Guzman Family in Girardot

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