The Ongoing Colombian Peace Process and the Nation’s Future
Recently, Major Efren Munoz of the National Police of Colombia and I had the opportunity to meet in Bogota, Colombia, as part of a research project on current issues in Colombia.
The visit included research and meetings at some of the top Colombian police units. This provided the opportunity to hear from the experts within Colombia who are on the front lines combating the challenges of drug trafficking, human trafficking, and internal armed conflict with insurgent groups.
Thanks to Major Munoz, we had the opportunity to visit the Criminal Investigation Directorate and INTERPOL, referred to as DIJIN, the Police Anti-Narcotics Directorate (DIRAN), and the main judicial institution, the General Prosecution Office of the Nation, referred to as Fiscalía.
Violence in Colombia
Colombia has faced internal armed conflicts for more than 54 years, including against revolutionary groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia or FARC), the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional or ELN), M-19, the Popular Liberation Army (Ejército Popular de Liberación or EPL), and other strong criminal organizations related to drug trafficking. These include coca cartels with private armies to fight against insurgent groups and even the country. The result of this internal conflict has been almost nine million victims.
The Colombian Historical Memory National Center has documented 353,351 acts of violence during the internal armed conflicts. A total of 262,197 Colombians have died, and 80,514 have disappeared. There have been 37,000 kidnappings.
And the most terrifying figure is the 180,000 targeted murders and more than 15,000 victims of sexual violence. It is estimated that 82 percent of them were civilians.
Dr. Andres Suárez, former Coordinator of the Historical Memory National Center Observatory, noted five perspectives to understand the conflict in Colombia:
- Fight for land. The conflict in Colombia was born as a result of the dispute, access, and distribution of land.
- Political participation. Large political machinery and armed groups limited the flourishing of new generations of politicians.
- Drug trafficking. Drug trafficking is considered the engine of the conflict. Drug trafficking allowed the formation of private armies to fight guerrillas and even against the nation itself.
- Global context and international pressures. The international context provided ideological references such as the tendencies toward communism and socialism that gave rise to the revolutionary armed groups like the FARC.
- Fragmented presence of the national government in the territory. In Colombia, there are areas that do not have a significant presence of state officials. The armed conflict was strongest in those areas where the presence of the state is not consistent or substantial.
Internal armed conflict has had a serious impact on Colombian society. The main problem is corruption. As a result, poverty and crime rates have increased and become major challenges for the Colombian government and its institutions.
Following more than eight failed peace agreements between insurgent groups and the government between 1974 and 2005, a peace accord was reached. On November 19, 2012, the peace negotiations between the Colombian government and FARC, one of the oldest and biggest revolutionary forces the world, began in Havana, Cuba, as the guarantor country.
Methodology to Implement Peace Agreements
The general peace agreement between the Colombian government and FARC has six main segments:
- Agrarian development policy
- Political participation
- Solution to end illicit drugs
- Recognizing victims
- End of conflict
- Implementation, follow-up and verification
The implementation of the peace agreement was not an easy task. Military forces and the National Police of Colombia were massively attacked and killed by the FARC for more than 52 years.
The Bogota government needed a strategy to change the organizational cultures that led to this violence. Therefore, six stages of that strategy were established:
- Setting up and socialization
- Documentary analysis
- Strategic analysis
- Institutional architecture
Creation of a Peacebuilding Police Unit
On April 22, 2016, the Colombian National Police created the Peacebuilding Police Unit (known as UNIPEP) as an institutional response for the responsibilities given to the National Police in the peace agreements. The unit was also created to memorialize the police victims in the internal armed conflict that affected over 62,000 officers.
For example, 4,214 have been killed, 774 were kidnapped, and 118 are still missing. They all are being honored and remembered by the National Police of Colombia through its Police Historical Memory webpage.
On August 24, 2016, peace conversations finished and the final agreement was signed on November 24. The peace agreement implemented a definitive cease-fire by both the government and FARC.
As Major Munoz explained: “8,994 firearms (6,177 assault rifles, 287 machine guns, 28 precision rifles, 1,817 guns, 170 revolvers, 12 rocket launchers, 268 mortars, 229 grenade launchers, and six shotguns) were delivered by FARC and put in the custody of UNIPEP.” This peaceful relinquishing of weapons undoubtedly saved a lot of lives.
In 2017, the Colombian National Police created for the public the Peacebuilding Police Model in association with International Organization for Peacebuilding – Interpeace. It is designed to continue to foster peace in Colombia and to put an end to the violence.
Colombia’s Outlook for a Peaceful Future
In the peace process, the Colombian National Police has been an example of commitment, innovation, and adaptation to the social transformations that a stable and long-lasting peace requires. The Colombian peace process means the start of a new era, the first step toward a better future, and the will of millions of Colombians who really want peace.
For decades, bombs, homicide, kidnappings, massacres, and terrorist attacks became a normal way of life. The Colombian people deserve this change associated with peace. This new peace will help to increase social investment and improve commercial conditions, which will improve the future of Colombia and its people.
About the Authors
Dr. Jarrod Sadulski is an associate professor at American Military University. He has engaged in speaking engagements in the United States, Central America, and Europe on the topics of human trafficking, narcotics trafficking, police responses to domestic terrorism, and various topics in policing. Most recently, he presented at the 2019 International Human Trafficking Conference. His expertise includes infrastructure security, maritime security, homeland security contraband interdiction and intelligence gathering.
Maj. Efren Munoz is a member of the Colombian National Police with more than seventeen years of experience in police service and criminal investigation, especially in crimes related to transnational organized crime, money laundering, forfeiture assets, terrorism, and drug trafficking. The qualities which have supported his personal and professional career are honesty, responsibility, integrity, and leadership. He has held positions that have allowed him to know crime closely, giving him the ability to successfully lead investigative processes and police operations against international criminal organizations, while working together with international representation agencies placed in Colombia such as the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) of the United States of America.
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