The shady side of a modern state

by Ivan Briscoe and Timo Peeters

In our article, we took a schematic approach in discussing three scenarios for the post-conflict development of the FARC. It goes without saying that by taking such an approach nuance is exchanged for a degree of provocation since future reality is far too complex and dynamic to be captured so easily. We would like to thank the other authors for their valuable comments, and admit that maybe we made the forking path rather too simplistic.

Annette Idler puts forward the intriguing concept of “shadow citizenship”. However, this notion of FARC filling the state's governance void by delivering goods and services in return for social recognition needs clarification. How would this look in a demobilizing context such as Colombia? Are we talking about the kind of shadow citizenship currently facilitated by remnant factions of Sendero Luminoso in Peru's VRAE area, protecting rural population against unpopular coca eradication programmes that threaten local livelihoods? Or a more “top-down” and predatory provision of public goods in the form of a regional “defence” force with strong ties to politicians who grant the fighters political favors in exchange for votes, such as AUC in its heyday and the Sicilian Cosa Nostra during the Cold War? Or are we talking about a more “bottom-up” form of shadow citizenship as is currently seen in Mexico's bellicose state of Michoacán, where popular resistance against the Knight Templar Cartel is rooted in a long and robust tradition of localism and popular revolt? We should bear in mind that Colombian departments such as La Guajira and Magdalena have similar histories of popular resistance. In each case, the sort of citizenship on view generates quite different forms of popular representation, risks of violence, and linkages with the central state.

Katrin Planta and Barbara Unger rightly stress that a genuine post-conflict transformation must incorporate all Colombians, with an emphasis on the war-affected and historically neglected rural areas. The sentiments are noble; but what can realistically be expected from Bogotá? As mentioned in our article, inequality in Colombia has risen by 9.4 per cent between 1990 and 2010 (while inequality in Latin America as a whole declined in the same period by 5 per cent). Social exclusion is deep-seated in Colombia. Recently signed Free Trade Agreements with Canada, the United States, and the European Union have only fuelled mass protests by farmers (30 out of 32 largest cities saw big rallies during last's year's three-week strike), as rural workers are unable to come to terms with the demands of transnational agro-industry.

These tensions fit seamlessly into what anthropologist Clifford Geertz calls the “uneasy truce between center and perimeter”. Similarly, Akbar Ahmed's proposition that “the poor relationship between center and periphery is clearly not confined to Muslim groups, but reflects a larger problem concerning the way in which the modern state is conceived and administered” also fits the Colombian context. Quite simply, the Bogotá establishment – urban, urbane and globalized – contests policy priorities and development paradigms with regions that it regards as socially and politically backward, and economically exploitable. Conflict between FARC and the state may end, but the axis of their old dispute is more than likely to persist and adapt into new forms.

Lastly, Idler argues that including neighboring Ecuador and Venezuela in the peace process is an imperative for durable peace. But the converse argument can also be made that it is bilateral tensions which are most likely to imperil an accord. FARC's power does indeed reach beyond Colombia's borders: diplomatic relations and security cooperation between Colombia and its neighbors (including Panama) have been volatile in recent years, partly due to discord over how to deal with these combatants. Bogotá has accused both Ecuador and Venezuela of turning a blind eye towards or even facilitating FARC activities in their respective border regions. Although ties between the countries have improved considerably since Santos replaced Uribe as president in 2010, internal Colombian controversy over negotiations with the FARC – Óscar Iván Zuluaga, the “Uribista” candidate for presidential elections in May 2014, recently called the peace talks a “farce”[1] – and persisting bilateral mistrust make an unstable basis for the peace process.

Last year, for instance, Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro threatened to withdraw his support for the negotiations after Santos “stabbed Venezuela in the back”, meeting with Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles in May 2013. Tellingly, it was not Santos, but FARC leaders that finally kept Maduro on board with the negotiations. The FARC's presence in Ecuador, meanwhile, has been a politically delicate issue since the Colombian military bombed a FARC camp on Ecuadorian territory in 2008, causing a major diplomatic incident between the two countries. In this shaky equilibrium, forthcoming presidential elections in Colombia, massive street demonstrations against Maduro's government in Caracas and other cities, and the alleged spying of the Colombian army on government negotiators in Havana, are the kind of events that might not only upset domestic political stability but also put fresh pressures on the main stakeholders in the peace process. In the very worst-case scenario (namely, extreme instability in Venezuela and a hawkish response by Colombia), they even raise the possibility of a peace accord followed by deployment of residual FARC units as proxy forces in bilateral skirmishes.


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This essay is part of the sixth DAG-3QD Peace and Justice Symposium. See other entries and details, and leave comments here.