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Peace, Democracy, and Human Rights in Colombia

The field of democracy promotion can appear to be a rather vague one, in which the concepts and process are perhaps unknown, especially regarding the purpose. To some, democracy promotion may appear to be a shameless promotion of one country’s own ideals and values onto another country without their consent. However, democracy promotion goes much further than this, and serves as a bilateral or multilateral process with tangible benefits for all parties involved. Support for civil society organizations in specific countries is the most effective method of democracy promotion, and the best method for ensuring a lasting, stable democracy that will result in the expected mutual benefits for the country itself and the international community as a whole. Through the specific case of Colombia, analyzing its lengthy history of internal conflict and multiple attempts at establishing a durable peace through bilateral or multilateral approaches to peace agreements, it can be seen that civil society participation is the key to establishing a strong and lasting peace, and in turn, a viable and healthy democracy.

Perhaps one of the main criticisms of democracy promotion comes from an image of a democratic power storming into a foreign country, using military power to force a transition to democracy. In this situation, it seems highly unlikely that the democratic power intent on instigating a transition to democracy possesses enough knowledge of the situation in that country to be able to pick the local actors best suited for future power in a democratic regime.[1] Using military power as a means to bring about a transition to democracy fails on multiple counts. First, democratic success goes beyond simply having a written constitution or elections. Successful democracies usually require an effective legal system, a broad commitment to pluralism, a decent level of income and education, and widespread confidence that political groups that may fail in one round of elections still have the possibility of success in future elections, thus incentivizing these groups to keep working within the system.[2] Additionally, using force to spread democracy almost always triggers violent resistance. Nationalism and other forms of local, collective identity remain powerful features of society in today’s world, and most people dislike following orders from armed occupiers.[3] Although direct intervention may be the least desirable method of democracy promotion, it is certainly not the only method. Direct intervention by any country, not only the United States, should always be seen as a tool of last resort in the field of democratization.

Before exploring the other, more effective possibilities for democracy promotion, it is important to assess the reasons for promoting democracy in the first place. Most scholars agree that the key benefits inherent to strong democracies include improved bilateral relations, enhanced economic development, and an improvement in equal access to justice.[4] Bilateral relations are improved as sustainable democracy promotes stability within a region, and that stability flows from internal regional politics built on consensus and peaceful competition, often promoting similar international conduct from other governments. In addition to this enhanced stability, research studies within international relations show that established democracies never go to war with each other.[5] Although there are some cases, such as that of China, that challenge the idea that democratic governments are the most conducive to economic prosperity, it is widely believed that history will show that democracy yields the most prosperity. It can be seen that democracy’s inherent elements of freedom of expression and respect for the rule of law facilitate long-term economic growth.[6] This enhanced economic development resulting from democratic governance in a region leads to improved quality of life and more political freedoms for citizens. These factors can also be seen through the improvement in equal access to justice for all groups that comes along with the development of democracy. Democratic support for pluralism is a critical feature in ensuring that human capital is not wasted, and the rights of religious and ethnic minorities, women, and migrants are respected.

Considering these benefits of democracy, it seems only logical to want to increase the number of democratic countries throughout the world. However, if direct intervention is not the best way to achieve democratization, then there must be another, more desirable method. This method, the most effective alternative to direct intervention, is to engage and support civil society around the world. Civil society groups, be it nongovernmental institutions or individual activists on the local level, solve the problem of being unsure of how to most successfully implement a new democratic order. Civil society groups are already equipped with the first-hand knowledge of the current situation, and are best prepared to offer viable solutions or methods for increasing democracy in their country. In general, civil society can contribute to democracy in a few central ways:

1) it counters state power, 2) it facilitates political participation by helping in the aggregation and representation of interests, and 3) it serves as a political arena that could play an important role in the development of some of the necessary attributes for democratic development.[7]

The global realization of the importance of aiding civil society groups in democratization efforts can be seen through the increased support for these groups from Western countries over the years. Since 1991, especially for civil society development, bilateral and multilateral donor assistance for democracy promotion has increased dramatically.[8] In addition to support from individual donors, there has been a recent call within existing organizations for defined means to support civil society. In 2006, the United Nations launched the UN Democracy Fund (UNDEF), providing support for an array of civil society organizations. This made strides towards programmatic efforts to match prior dialogue concerning the importance of civil society to economic development and human rights.[9] The fund focuses on giving grant-based aid specifically to local nongovernmental organizations, rather than UN agencies or local governments as implementers, funding a broad range of foundational elements of democracy.[10] The development of this fund serves to again demonstrate the importance of civil society in promoting democracy regionally, and its implications on a global scale.

In a post-conflict environment especially, civil society stands out as an important element in the successful implementation of programs intended to create a lasting peace, as well as to pave the way for improvements in democratic functions resulting from that peace. Civil society can play a critical role in promoting peace agreements during times of war-to-peace transitions.[11] Actors from civil society can support the reintegration of former combatants, contribute to the delivery of humanitarian aid, improve the performance of political and economic institutions, and cultivate greater trust between different parties through civic engagement.[12] While the participation of an engaged and active civil society plays a key role in establishing a viable democracy, it is important to ensure that a broad range of actors, not only the political or social elite, are afforded the opportunity to participate in civic life. By expanding participation beyond the elite, civil society as a whole is also included in the process, which in turn contributes to the deepening of democracy. Structurally, civil society organizations should seek to form horizontal networks with other civil society organizations and grassroots movements. According to Putnam, it is these linkages and networks that generate the social capital needed for democratization.[13] This coordination among civil society increases the likelihood of the permanence of their efforts, whether they are calling for accountability from government or seeking to work together with government in pursuit of the organizations’ goals.[14] Coordination between civil society and government is particularly important in the post-conflict environment, as it demonstrates a government’s willingness to incorporate those affected directly by conflict in any resulting attempts at developing peace. Peace is a necessary element of achieving a stable democracy, and as such civil society stands out as one of the critical elements in successful democratization efforts.

Within the overall field of democracy promotion, there are different entities dedicated to the cause. These entities range from government institutions to independent organizations, either with varying degrees of financial dependency on the government or, in a few cases, complete independence from the government. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are important when it comes to promoting democracy, as this status allows them to act independently from the government. Although the work of government entities and NGOs often overlaps, the independent nature of NGOs allows them to explore different methods and utilize different tactics while working towards democratization.

The National Endowment for Democracy is a private, nonprofit foundation dedicated to the growth and strengthening of democratic institutions around the world.[15] In new and developing democracies, The National Endowment for Democracy, or the NED, focuses its support on two objectives: strengthening the institutions and procedures of electoral democracy to ensure free and fair elections, and encouraging the gradual consolidation of liberal democracy by measures that strengthen the rule of law, protect individual liberties, and foster social pluralism.[16] The NED receives funding via an appropriation in the Congressional budget. Although the NED is funded by Congress, it is still able to act independently from the government regarding the ways in which it chooses to use its annual appropriation. With a relatively low overhead cost, much of the funding can be used directly on the programmatic aspects of the NED, which are achieved through its grant-making process.

Out of its appropriation, the NED must split a portion equally among its four core institutes, leaving the rest as discretionary funding for regional grants. These core institutes are the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), the International Republican Institute (IRI), the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), and the American Center for International Labor Solidarity (“Solidarity Center”). The relationship between the Endowment and the institutes provides institutional balance, built-in bipartisanship, and reassurance to Congress and others that the Endowment will be even-handed in its judgments and receptive to diverse approaches to democratic development.[17] These institutes receive the bulk of their funding from the Endowment, with additional funds from different government organizations such as the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), as well as other government bodies, both foreign and domestic, organizations working in similar fields, and private donations.[18]

Although these core institutes are affiliates of the NED, they take a rather different approach to democratization. Many other organizations focusing on promoting democracy employ a more top-down approach. Despite the fact that projects funded by NDI, IRI, or NED almost always focus on the same beneficiaries, the organizational approach between NED and NDI or IRI is essentially reversed. Most projects funded by either NDI or IRI, for example, take the shape of a proposal from one of those organizations to NED requesting a grant. From there, they would find a local organization to carry out the activities proposed in the grant, with the democracy promotion organization acting as an implementer through the local organization, rather than the local organization implementing their own ideas with the resources and support of the democracy promotion organization.

In contrast to this approach, NED employs a bottom-up, grassroots approach to democracy promotion. Rather than have a local organization implement NED’s ideas of what democracy promotion should look like, or the steps that should be taken to reach a democratic system, NED receives proposals directly from civil society groups and local activists or organizations and then decides which of those proposals to fund through a grant. Through this process, civil society takes the lead in determining what actions will be the most effective in terms of constructing democracy in their country, and civil society organizations are also in charge of the implementation of those actions and ideas. As mentioned previously, it is unlikely that any foreign organization would be able to accumulate the required expertise and knowledge of the local situations to be able to effectively choose leaders to implement democratic ideals in a specific country or region. Considering this, the Endowment also works to cultivate partner organizations, in addition to funding individual groups, activists, or civil society organizations through the grant-making process. In many newer democracies, there are emerging organizations looking to share their own democratic expertise with democrats in countries that are still working toward democratic breakthroughs.[19] NED originally funded many of these groups as they worked for democratic transition within their own country, and as a result of their success, they can now act as experienced guides for new activists facing similar struggles.[20] These partner organizations help to strengthen local groups and movements, in a way that allows for expert advice and support, but still with a more hands-off approach than direct foreign intervention. Again, as it is shown through numerous examples in history, if the aim is to create strong democracies and strengthen democratic values in a specific country or region, then civil society should be at the forefront of any democracy promotion efforts.

Through the case study of Colombia, and their history of internal conflict and subsequent negotiations and attempts at establishing a durable and lasting peace, the importance of civil society is obvious in achieving this peace, and in turn creating a stronger democratic system. The work of the National Endowment for Democracy also seeks to aid this process, providing grants to local actors and organizations with the aim of ending conflict, establishing peace, and strengthening democracy in the country and regionally. Colombia’s internal conflict dates back to the 1960s, following a decade of political violence known as la Violencia (1948-58).[21] Excluded from a power-sharing agreement that ended the fighting, communist guerrillas took up arms against the government.[22] This led to the foundation of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC), composed of militant communists and peasant self-defense groups. Operationally, the FARC opposes the privatization of natural resources and claims to represent the rural poor against Colombia’s wealthy.[23] Another guerrilla movement resulting from la Violencia, operating similarly to and with the same program as the FARC, was the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (National Liberation Army, or ELN), founded by students, Catholic radicals, and left-wing intellectuals hoping to replicate Fidel Castro’s communist revolution.[24] In addition to the FARC and ELN, right-wing paramilitary groups with links to the state military emerged in the 1980s as landowners organized together to protect themselves from the guerrilla groups, further complicating efforts to negotiate an end to the conflict.[25] Both the FARC and ELN have used violence, kidnapping, and extortion as sources of leverage and income. A report from Colombia’s National Center for Historical Memory estimates that nearly 40,000 people have been kidnapped at least once between 1970 and 2010.[26] According to government statistics, more than 10,000 people, including nearly 4,000 civilians, have been killed or maimed by landmines, most of which were planted by the FARC.[27]  The current president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, has been the first president in the conflict’s history to reach an agreement that seems to be taking the necessary steps for creating a lasting peace. Prior peace accords date back to the 1980s, all exploring similar elements to the current accord, but lacking effectiveness in the implementation process. Most of these prior accords lacked involvement from civil society or the international community, resulting in bilateral negotiations that failed to reflect critical elements that might have been the key to success.

The La Uribe Accord (1984) was signed between the Peace Commission under the Betancur administration and the FARC, establishing a bilateral ceasefire lasting for almost two and a half years, despite initially being set for only one year.[28] The agreement established various commissions for its verification, and the government committed itself to pushing a series of political and social reforms through Congress during this period, including important aspects of the political system and social structure, especially regarding agrarian reform and land rights.[29] As a result of this agreement, the FARC gradually transformed into a legal political party, but the procedures for this transition were unclear, lacking specific timetables and with no talk of disarming insurgents or reincorporating them into civilian life.[30] The Peace Commission included symbolic participation of representative members of civil society, but in the end the process was centered on bilateral talks between the government and the FARC, excluding the potential for civil society and other actors to participate in the process. In practice, local branches of government were rarely consulted, leaving the entire process up to the discretion of the Executive branch, and few policies were actually carried out. In reality, only one of the ten bills presented to Congress was approved, and even then still fell short of expectations once implemented. Social relief programs were created, but lacked sufficient funding and were unable to get off the ground.[31] In addition to the lack of successful implementation of legislation, the verification commissions were never given a precise mission or adequate infrastructure and logistical support to carry out their missions, and mutual accusations of ceasefire violations led to a climate of doubt, exactly the opposite of what the verification process was intended to generate.[32] The international context at the time was also unfavorable, with Cold War tensions increasing and U.S. antagonism towards the process as a whole, made any international participation in the peace process nearly impossible.[33] This combined with guerrilla attacks on government bodies effectively put an end to this period of negotiations and attempts at creating a lasting peace in Colombia.

Following the Betancur administration, there were no formal negotiations or attempts at creating a peace agreement with the FARC until the Pastrana administration in 1998. In May 1999, the government and the FARC signed the Agenda for Change for Peace.[34] The Caquetania Accord introduced the idea of international humanitarian law, but it was given low priority compared to social and structural issues, such as employment and the economy. The Accord had no mention of guerrilla disarmament or reincorporation into civilian life, and no clear timetable for rebel transition to legal political activity, although it did establish mechanisms for citizen participation.[35] Public hearings were proposed to serve as a bridge between ideas emerging from common people, allowing those ideas to reach the negotiations that were limited to just the government and the FARC. These procedures signaled greater willingness to open the process to incorporate civil society, but the methodology continued to reflect the bilateral model of previous negotiation attempts.[36] The Caquetania Accords were never fully developed, despite their importance, and the process was frequently interrupted by unilateral suspensions from one side or the other.[37] Pastrana incorporated a personal approach to negotiations, meeting directly with the FARC leader, Manuel Marulanda, but still maintaining the formal institutions of the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, as established by the previous administration.[38] This approach was again incorporated in a meeting between Pastrana and Marulanda in an attempt to “save” peace, resulting in the signing of the Los Pozos Accord (2001), which introduced the first discussion of a ceasefire and a prisoner exchange. It also proposed mechanisms to include more external actors, including ten nations of the international community to serve as observers, in the creation of the so-called “group of friends.”[39] The direct introduction of international actors to the process was significant break from previous attempts, and provided a framework for future international involvement in the peace process.

In addition to involvement from the international community, the Pastrana administration also marked a more formal consideration of elements of international humanitarian law. The issue of prisoner exchange was not included in formal peace dialogues, but treated as a matter meriting a separate negotiation.[40] The FARC had previously demonstrated a clear lack of respect for international humanitarian law, as reflected by the mounting numbers of kidnappings, recruiting children as fighters, and other assaults on human rights.[41] Pastrana’s ability to reach an agreement with the FARC allowing for a prisoner exchange within the realm of international humanitarian law was momentous, as it revealed the FARC’s willingness to recognize the norms of international humanitarian law for the first time. As a party to the Geneva Convention Protocols, and the UN Treaty adhering to a Global Agreement on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, Colombia’s adherence to the principles set forth in those documents would provide a more solid foundation for peace negotiations than what previously existed, largely due to the reciprocal nature of the obligations as enhancing the prospects for moving the peace process forward.[42] All of these elements seemed to be working towards solidifying the peace process, especially when considering the emphasis placed on the role of civil society and the international community as party to and enforcers of the accord throughout the process.

Unfortunately, however, relations between the two groups appeared to be deteriorating again, despite intervention by the United Nations and the “group of friends.” In early 2002, the FARC hijacked a plane and kidnapped a senator, leading to Pastrana’s decision to break off the peace talks entirely, and ordering government troops to retake previously established demilitarized zone, ending the prior efforts over the past three years to reach peace through dialogue.[43] Although unsuccessful in reaching peace, the Pastrana administration still made considerable strides towards incorporating important elements in the peace process, most notably incorporating elements of international humanitarian law and the international community, as well as expanding at least some elements of the negotiation process to civil society.

Elected in 2010, Santos and his administration made a renewed effort at reaching peace, and began formal, exploratory peace talks with the FARC in 2012. During this phase, the Colombian government and the FARC exchanged views on ending the conflict and established conditions for initiating peace talks, and signed a “General Agreement to End the Conflict and Build a Stable and Lasting Peace,” creating a framework for the process and establishing a detailed agenda for discussion.[44] The direct talks between the Colombian government and the FARC took place in Havana, Cuba between and October 2012 and November 2016, ending with the signing of the final peace agreement. Civil society participated during the entire process, sending their proposals and suggestions to both parties. In addition to submitting proposals, sixty victims of the conflict, representing the diversity of Colombians affected in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, regional origin, type of victimization, and actor responsible for the victimization, visited Havana to share their stories, and their ideas and expectations on the peace talks and implementation of an Agreement between the parties.[45] This direct involvement of civil society in the peace process was a break from previous approaches to negotiating peace agreements, demonstrating the willingness of the government to consider the impact of civil society participation, emphasizing the importance of civil society in post-conflict situations and the resulting path to peace.

Even prior to the formal negotiations in Havana, Colombians were involved in the design of the framework for the peace agreement, with grassroots movements taking hold throughout the country, where farmers and indigenous people have asserted their agenda and religious leaders have initiated dialogue and reconciliation at the local level.[46] Welcoming input from victims in this round of negotiations demonstrates the commitment from both the government and the FARC to victims’ rights to truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-repetition. This again demonstrates the government’s willingness in this round of negotiations to break from the methodology employed during rounds of negotiations in the Betancur and Pastrana administrations that overlooked the importance of civil society in the peace process. As previously stated, civil society holds an important position in times of war-to-peace transitions, and can serve to bridge the gap between citizens and the government.  In the current peace accord, the victims were included directly in the process, along with the government and the FARC, and the victims were the ones seen as the driving force behind the negotiations. The process is one that focuses on local ownership and has incorporated a bottom-up approach that reflects victims’ experiences and opinions with minimal external influences.[47] In essence, the 2016 peace accord is one negotiated by Colombians, for Colombians.[48] In a post-conflict environment, the engagement of civil society can be the difference between cycles of negotiations that eventually circle back to the beginning, establishing any lasting effects, or an effective end to conflict and a transition towards creating a lasting peace.

Despite the evident priority being given to civil society in this accord and the potentially positive implications this could have for successful implementation, some concerns still remain. Considering that the final agreement was only signed a little over a year ago, it is still too soon to make a final assessment on the effectiveness of the peace accord in practice. Regardless of this, the initial impact of the accord still seems to have positive impacts, including stimulating citizen participation, an encouraging factor when considering the role of civil society in the success of peace negotiations. The impact on citizen participation was particularly seen among peasant and popular sectors, and also fostered a national dialogue on democracy, the rule of law, and tolerance.[49] There are some lingering concerns that the Santos administration remains reluctant to tackle structural imbalances in Colombia’s democracy, instead focusing overwhelmingly on FARC’s immediate demobilization and disarmament. While these are valid concerns, it should be noted that previous attempts at achieving peace from prior administrations, such as the Betancur administrations attempts for negotiating with the FARC, which placed reforms over disarmament in terms of priority, were ultimately unsuccessful.[50] While social reforms are admittedly an important aspect in the peace process, disarmament is perhaps the most critical step in the initial phases of the process. Without disarmament of the guerrilla groups, the guerrilla groups’ commitment to the process is called into question, leaving citizens in a state of unrest, as the potential for violent attacks persists with continually armed guerrilla groups throughout the country. Immediate demobilization and disarmament of the FARC is important, as only full disarmament has the potential to reduce the violence to a level below what international law considers an armed conflict.[51] Only after the FARC have demobilized and disarmed can there be progress towards instituting comprehensive social reforms. These reforms should be designed with participation from civil society, and as such will serve the overall goal of improving democracy in the country.

The international community also occupies an important role in the post-conflict process. In addition to the four countries explicitly asked to be involved in the peace process, Cuba and Norway as guarantor countries and Chile and Venezuela as accompanying countries, the United Nations also plays an important role in the successful implementation the peace agreement. The United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia exists to verify the reintegration of former FARC members into political, economic and social life and the security guarantees for former FARC members, their families and communities in the territories.[52] The Final Agreement provided for the establishment of a second special mandate of the UN Mission in Colombia. The second mission should be responsible for the verification of the reintegration process and the implementation of security measures, and should begin operations upon completion of the first mission, which was the verification of the ceasefire agreement between the government and the FARC.[53] The involvement of the international community in the implementation process of the 2016 accord may prove to be a critical aspect of achieving a lasting peace in Colombia. When compared to previous administrations and their attempts to negotiate peace, those lacking the involvement and support of the international community were unfortunately unsuccessful. A lack of international participation in the peace process during the Betancur administration ultimately contributed to the overall deterioration of the peace process itself. Later on, the Samper administration, in its negotiations with other guerrilla groups, broke from the standard of previous administrations and began to involve the international community more in the peace process, specifically in matters of human rights and international humanitarian law.[54] This focus on international humanitarian law and the involvement of the international community extended into the years of the Pastrana administration, although at a lower priority than other, more domestically-focused issues. Pastrana was the first to involve international actors in the peace process itself, through the establishment of the “group of friends” to act as observers to the negotiation and agreement process.[55] Although the Pastrana administration’s attempts at peace also ultimately proved unsuccessful, the participation of the international community in the peace process was an important first step in recognizing the role of external actors in the process. Using international concern about the growing effects of the war helped to gain support for and create awareness of the peace process.[56]

The prior administrations attempts at negotiating peace and the steps they took towards involving the international community helped to create a framework for future attempts at peace. When considering the history, the Santos administration was able to assess elements of prior accords and focus on incorporating elements that seemed to offer the potential for success in theory, but were lacking something in practice. The Santos administration’s decision to involve a few key international actors in the development of the negotiation process, and to ensure the involvement of civil society in that process, reflects the importance of maintaining civil society engagement in post-conflict processes, as well as the importance of the international community in a guarantor role in that process.

The role of civil society in the peace process is perhaps the single most important aspect in ensuring the creation of a lasting peace. Support for civil society is a critical feature in being able to reach this goal. During the years of the negotiation process, the National Endowment for Democracy has worked to support a number of initiatives each year in Colombia to ensure strong civil society participation in the peace process. In addition to providing direct support to local organizations, NED core institutes also worked to support civil society’s role in the peace process, throughout the years of negotiations. Throughout 2016, the International Republican Institute’s grant, entitled “Ensuring a Democratic Plebiscite,” sought to support the legitimacy and the peaceful, democratic conduct of the October 2016 plebiscite on the peace agreement.[57] It is important to note that the plebiscite in and of itself represents an important aspect of the government’s attempts to incorporate civil society throughout the peace process, and respect for the democratic norms of obtaining consent from the governed regarding governmental decisions or actions. IRI’s proposed project aimed to provide support to a respected domestic electoral monitoring organization to increase the number of domestic election observers to ensure more adequate coverage of polling stations across the country.[58] Supporting a domestic organization emphasizes the importance of civil society, as many of these organizations carry out work that outsiders would not be able to effectively complete. In this case, the organization can act as watchdogs of a sort, ensuring that participation in the democratic process is available to all citizens.

The National Democratic Institute, another core institute of the Endowment, also worked to support democratic values through their 2016 grant, entitled “Preparing for a Post Conflict Environment.” The goal of this grant was to help consolidate Colombia’s democracy and generate a more just, inclusive, and accountable political system.[59] To do so, NDI created civic education initiatives to foster constructive discussion on the content of the peace accords, the role of political parties, and political participation in a post conflict-environment.[60] These initiatives looked to strengthen civil society’s ability to participate in the entirety of the process, thus strengthening the role of civil society in a democratic environement.

In addition to supporting initiatives through the core institutes, the Endowment also provided numerous grants directly to local organizations working to raise awareness of the realities of the conflict and the peace process. The NED provided programmatic support to free press and information sharing organizations, including: Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa, focusing on supporting freedom of the press and the role of media in post-conflict scenarios; Fundación las Dos Orillas, which looked to amplify the voice and visibility of conflict victims, displaced communities and demobilized guerrillas through digital storytelling; Fundación Ideas para la Paz, aimed at promoting a deeper understanding of illegal armed actors’ role in the conflict through in-depth investigative journalism;and Blogósfera Producciones S.A.S, through their initiative La Silla Vacía, promoting greater public awareness about the post-conflict situation in the country through its web portals.[61] All of these organizations worked to provide resources to the general public, serving the goal of promoting citizen ownership of the peace process. This reflects the importance of civil society in the post-conflict process and again demonstrates the idea of the peace process as being made for Colombians by Colombians. Many of these organizations have been supported by the Endowment throughout the previous years of negotiations as well, in addition to other organizations working with similar initiatives of increasing civil society participation and ownership throughout the entire peace process.

All the factors seen thus far in the peace process seem to have promising prospects for an improvement in Colombia’s democracy. As literature shows, civil society and its organizations function as central agents in creating more egalitarian and participatory social orders.[62] Clearly then, this demonstrates only one small portion of the role civil society plays in helping to construct stronger democracy as a whole. In the 2016 peace accord between the Colombian Government and the FARC explicitly recognized the democratic deficit that exists in Colombia, and states that strengthening Colombian democracy is fundamental to long-lasting peace.[63] This democratic deficit largely stems from the widespread violence and control guerrillas, narcotraffickers, and paramilitaries exert over parts of the country, undermining the integrity of democracy.[64] Recovering from this deficit will be a critical element in the successful implementation of the peace accord, and one that will hopefully lead to an improvement in the functioning of Colombian democracy.

In addition to the control aspect, Colombia has also suffered from a representational crisis. This crisis originated in the exclusion of many citizens, particularly marginalized populations, from the political process. In attempts to remedy this crisis, in 1991 Colombia carried out a constitutional reform process intended to open up the political system and promote greater participation.[65] Considering these elements, the 2016 peace accord also functioned as a promise to promote the participation of previously marginalized social organizations so as to build a more representative system.[66] Although it is still too soon to make a definitive judgment on the success of the peace accord in this regard, the overwhelming focus on civil society participation in the peace process shows promise. The negotiation process especially, with the participation of marginalized groups such as Afro-Colombians and women, demonstrates both the government’s and the FARC’s recognition of the importance of civil society in the process, and their subsequent importance for strengthening democracy.

Overall, the engagement of civil society is paramount in establishing or strengthening democracy, and can be seen specifically through the role of civil society in the peace process in Colombia, and the positive effects that establishing a lasting peace will have for Colombian democracy. When compared to other methods, support for civil society as the means for democracy promotion stands out as by far the most effective form of democratization. Military force is too aggressive, and lacks the knowledge necessary to ensure that the right individuals or organizations will occupy leadership roles in the implementation process. Civil society organizations solve this issue, but foreign democracy promotion organizations should not seek to use local organizations as a mask for their own democratic ideas and values. Civil society organizations should be granted ownership of the democratization process, and foreign democracy promotion organizations should exist as a means for monetary and technical support, serving as a resource rather than an active participant. Peace is a critical element in organizing a healthy democracy, and in post-conflict environments, civil society should be at the forefront of any negotiations or agreements for peace. Likewise, they should be involved in the implementation process, and recognized as valued actors throughout the entire process. In the specific case of Colombia, the status of the current accord shows promise for strengthening democracy and achieving peace. Although still too soon to make definitive judgments, the ownership of the process granted to civil society is a step in the right direction, and lends a promising view to the future of the implementation process.


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United Nations. “About.” UN Verification Mission in Colombia. Accessed November 30, 2017.

United Nations. “Mandate.” UN Verification Mission in Colombia. Accessed November 30, 2017.

Walt, Stephen M. “Why Is America So Bad at Promoting Democracy in Other Countries?” Foreign Policy. Last modified April 25, 2016.  Accessed November 25, 2017.

Welna, Christopher, and Gustavo Gallón, eds. Peace, Democracy, and Human Rights in Colombia. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007.

[1] Walt, “Why Is America,” Foreign Policy.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Lagon, “The Whys,” Council on Foreign Relations.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Jamal, “Democracy Promotion,” 12.

[8] Ibid., 4.

[9] Lagon, “The Whys,” Council on Foreign Relations.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Jamal, “Democracy Promotion,” 12.

[12] Ibid., 12.

[13] Putnam, Making Democracy.

[14] Ackerman, “Rethinking the International,” 327.

[15] “About the National,” National Endowment for Democracy.

[16] “Consolidating Democracy,” National Endowment for Democracy.

[17] “Applying a Multisectoral Approach,” National Endowment for Democracy.

[18] Silver, “Soft Power,” Council on Foreign Relayions.

[19] “Applying a Multisectoral Approach,” National Endowment for Democracy.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Felter and Renwick, “Colombia’s Civil Conflict,” Council on Foreign Relations.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] National Center for Historical Memory, A Kidnapped Truth, 9.

[27] Falter and Renwick, “Colombia’s Civil Conflict,” Council on Foreign Relations.

[28] Welna and Gallón, Peace, Democracy, 96.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid., 97.

[31] Ibid., 98.

[32] Ibid., 99.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid., 111.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Hoskin and Murillo, “Colombia’s Perpetual,” 36.

[41] Ibid., 37.

[42] Ibid., 38.

[43] Welna and Gallón, Peace, Democracy, 112.

[44] The Office of the High Commissioner for Peace, The Colombian Peace Agreement, 2.

[45] Ibid., 3.

[46] Kan, “Colombian Peace,” International Policy Digest

[47] Kan, “Colombian Peace,” International Policy Digest.

[48] Ibid.

[49] Feldmann, “Will Colombia’s,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

[50] Welna and Gallón, Peace, Democracy, 101.

[51] Feldmann, “Will Colombia’s,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

[52] United Nations, “About,” UN Verification Mission in Colombia.

[53] United Nations, “Mandate,” UN Verification Mission in Colombia.

[54] Welna and Gallón, Peace, Democracy, 108.

[55] Ibid., 111.

[56] Ibid., 113.

[57] “Colombia 2016,” National Endowment for Democracy.

[58] Ibid.

[59] Ibid.

[60] Ibid.

[61] Ibid.

[62] Feinberg, Waisman, and Zamosc, Civil Society, 3.

[63] Feldmann, “Will Colombia’s,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

[64] Mainwaring and Peréz-Liñán, “Cross-Currents in Latin America,” 119.

[65] Mainwaring, “The Crisis of Representation,” 19.

[66] Feldmann, “Will Colombia’s,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

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