Colombia, Peace, Social & Political Absorption Capacity

By:  Lina Castellanos – The New School

Reintegration and Absorption Capacity

Last Sunday, October the 2nd, Colombians were asked to vote Yes or No in a national plebiscite to approve –or not- the Government’s peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). After 52 years of war, the bewildering outcome was No. All of a sudden, the four year negotiations between the Government and the leaders of the FARC in Havana-Cuba, were reduced to No 50,21% (6.431.376 votes) and Yes 49,78% (6.377.482 votes). Even more shocking than the rejection of the peace agreement, was the number of Colombians that didn’t vote (around 62% of Colombians didn’t participate in the plebiscite). The outcome to some was absolutely appalling but at the end demonstrates -within a long list of other conclusions- that Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration -DDR- processes are certainly highly unpredictable and need to constantly evolve. Moreover, it demonstrates that the concept of Absorption Capacity was definitely a serious setback in the recent Colombian events.

Absorption capacity is the ability of a community, economy and/or country to include ex-combatants as active full members of the society. The term can also refer to social and political reintegration opportunities. In the 297 pages of the peace accord document -for example- FARC were given the opportunity to become a political party and were given relatively small punishments for their crimes. Those two elements –again, in conjunction with many others from different natures- are precisely a clear sign of the challenges Reintegration and Absorption Capacity represent. Political reintegration was for sure one of the main issues Colombians who voted were evidently divided. Those who believed this was an historic opportunity to end a long-lasting war voted Yes, and those who didn’t agree with the content of the accord, and specially with the benefits given to the FARC, voted No. In that sense, there is a relevant percentage of Colombian population who may be an obstacle when trying to undertake reintegration initiatives and who would at some extent threaten the DDR process, specially the absorption and reintegration of FARC members.

Armed conflict destroys the social fabric of a country; it is clear that for those who personally suffer the consequences of war forgiving is a major thing. Yet, not everyone who voted No has experienced the conflict and many of the regions directly affected by the conflict voted Yes; this proves the myriad of personal experiences that can highly influence a peace process. In the Colombian case, there was an agreement between the Government and the guerrilla group, however we can’t forget that the basis of reintegration is a result of sustainable, community-driven efforts. Efforts hard to achieve when a peace process is tremendously politicized.

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