Substitutive Security Governance

Replacing the Functions Gangs Fulfil for their Stakeholders

By Moritz Schuberth, 26 February 2017

moritz-schuberthThe year 2017 started with the news of a series of massacres in prisons across Brazil triggered by power struggles between the country’s two most notorious drug gangs – the Comando Vermelho and the Primeiro Comando da Capital. As these tragic events brought the problem of gang violence once again to international attention, the question of how to best to respond to the challenge posed by criminal gangs has become as relevant as ever. In this post, I will argue for a shift beyond common responses such as coercive mano dura policies and cooperative gang truces towards an integrated approach of substitutive security governance aimed at replacing the functions gangs fulfil for their different stakeholders.

In order to be able to design effective strategies to curb gang violence, it is imperative to understand the drivers behind their proliferation. Drawing on my findings of six months of field research in Haiti, I identified three different factions or ‘stakeholders’ of gangs, meaning different sets of actors for whom violence committed by gangs serves – to varying degrees – a primarily political, economic, or security-related purpose and who have therefore vested interest in their continued existence. As Figure 1 illustrates, I suggest that gangs serve primarily political purposes for their sponsors, fulfil socio-economic functions for their members, and protect their own communities as much as they prey upon them – which is the reason why community members might – at least initially – support their emergence. However, these functional relations and power dynamics between gangs and their stakeholders seem to be ignored by the most common policy responses to gang violence.

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Figure 1 – Functions of gangs for different stakeholders

Indeed, standard carrots-and-sticks approaches consisting of mano dura policies and gang truces might exacerbate rather than relieve the challenge posed by gangs in contemporary Latin America. On one hand, mano dura or cero tolerancia policies, characterised by military raids in slums and the mass incarceration of presumed gang members, might strengthen gangs by further alienating marginalised communities from the state and by allowing gangs to position themselves as legitimate defenders of the community against abusive state security forces and foreign intruders. On the other hand, cooperative approaches consisting of the brokering of truces between criminal gangs might equally strengthen gangs by legitimising gang leaders as trustworthy dialogue partners and by granting gangs de facto control over their turf. As a consequence, the most vulnerable communities in many mega cities are caught between state violence fuelled by indiscriminately coercive anti-gang policies and violence from gangs, which have been empowered by cooperative policies.

Hence, as I argue in an article recently published in Stability, it is imperative to move beyond coercive and cooperative approaches vis-à-vis gangs towards what I call substitutive security governance – a comprehensive set of anti-gang policies aimed at replacing the functions gangs fulfil for different stakeholders. More specifically, substitutive security governance aims to replace all three functional dimensions of gangs – the security they provide for their community, the income-generating role they play for their members, and the political function they fulfil for their sponsors. As Figure 2 shows, such a coherent framework for action should focus on breaking the patronage between gangs and their politico-criminal sponsors while simultaneously cutting the ties between gangs and the community.

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Figure 2: Integrated framework for substitutive security governance

In concrete terms, an effective framework for substitutive security governance combines elements of Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR), Armed Violence Reduction and Prevention (AVRP), and Security Sector Reform (SSR). While DDR can facilitate separating gang members from their patrons and reintegrating them into society, AVRP can help dis-incentivising at-risk sections of the population from joining gangs in the first place. Moreover, in order to replace the security function that gangs fulfil for their community, SSR – including police and justice sector reform – helps (re)establish order and the state monopoly over the legitimate use of force. Moreover, SSR can contribute to cutting the ties between gang members and their politico-criminal sponsors by ending the impunity enjoyed by the latter.

As illustrated in Figure 2, DDR programmes are one possible way to break the link between the politico-criminal elite and gangs by dismantling the former command structures and offering former gang members the possibility to give up their arms and start a new life. DDR can therefore be a useful tool to target those who have already joined gangs, even though preconditions for the successful implementation of DDR – such as a peace agreement between clearly defined and centrally organised conflict parties – are often absent in urban contexts. AVRP programmes such as MINUSTAH’s Community Violence Reduction initiative in Haiti, by contrast, try to prevent at-risk youth from joining gangs in the first place. Through the provision of temporary employment, often in the form of cash-for-work projects, AVRP can help sway unemployed youth away from economic opportunities offered by gangs.

Figure 2 above depicts two ways in which SSR can usefully complement DDR and AVRP efforts to cut the links between gangs, their sponsors, and the community. First, SSR can tackle the patron-client relationship between gangs and their politico-criminal sponsors by contributing to end the impunity enjoyed by affluent and influential sections of the population. To this end, assistance can be given to establish special courts or hybrid national/international tribunals to deal with transnational organised crime and to handle politically sensitive cases, as happened with Guatemala’s International Commission against Impunity. Second, SSR can strengthen efforts to expand state security provision into areas formerly abandoned by law enforcement agencies in which gangs have temporarily assumed the roles of informal crime control and self-defence. This can be done by enhancing the capacity and legitimacy of police and judiciary through training as well as proximity policing techniques, as exemplified by the Pacifying Police Unit (Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora – UPP) in Rio de Janeiro.

Whereas coercive and cooperative strategies by themselves run the risk of strengthening the legitimacy of gangs while weakening that of the state, they can play a supportive role for the three substitutive strategies of SSR, DDR, and AVRP. Concerning coercive strategies, well-directed interventions by security forces can target exceptionally intractable gangs that cannot be dealt with by cooperative or substitutive means. In this respect, it is of utmost importance that the use of force is restricted in order to avoid civilian casualties. Moreover, cooperative strategies can facilitate safe access to neighbourhoods under the control of gangs so that international agencies can implement substitutive programmes. Still, whenever coercive and cooperative strategies are seen as an inevitable necessity in the short term to stabilise the situation and bring open hostility to an end, it is crucial to switch towards substitutive security governance with the least possible delay.

Call for papers: Peacebuilding Conference 2017 (University of Manchester, 11-12 September 2017)

iapcs-lgo‘Peacebuilding during an age of crisis’

Annual Conference of the International Association of Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Manchester, 11-12 September 2017

Academic critiques of contemporary peacebuilding have shown a tendency in recent years to limit their analytical focus to the cultural, institutional, normative and political mismatches between the modus operandi of peacebuilding missions and their local contexts. Such perspectives have neglected the international system as the constitutive factor of peacebuilding interventions. The complex interaction of moribund international institutions, crippling development and security paradigms and the failure of regional and international security architectures have allowed national conflicts to fester and to inflict devastating consequences across entire regions.

Peacebuilding – where attempted – has been subject to a neoliberal make-over, which turned it into a service industry with diversified strata of subcontractors, corporate accounting but a lack of accountability, and funding channelled into international salaries rather than local conflict resolution and sustainable development. Interventionists’ lack of legitimacy and access have meanwhile manifested themselves in the rolling-out of technological fixes that are bound to move peacebuilding further away from conflict resolution and towards short-term humanitarianism. As a result, social cleavages, class issues and nationalism have been aggravated rather than mitigated through layers of intervention. Rights and prospects for gender as well as political emancipation, however, have been increasingly narrowed along with the deterioration of environmental standards. Liberal concepts of ‘civil society’ have all but collapsed.

Intersecting crises of this magnitude require a rethinking of the international institutional and ideological architecture that keeps dysfunctional peacebuilding interventions in place. Rather than detailing mismatches, this conferences encourages analysis of the international system and its constraining implications for the formation of local peace. It asks:

  • Which structural factors have shaped contemporary peacebuilding and how do these factors interact?
  • Is effective peacebuilding possible under conditions of austerity, neoliberalism and misguided ‘securitopias’? And if not, what will take its place?
  • What does the recent shift towards isolationism and right-wing, xenophobic politics in the US, Britain and Continental Europe mean for peacebuilding?
  • Which obstacles have prevented failed types of intervention from being replaced by more legitimate and effective types of peacebuilding?

Deadline for paper and panel proposals: 1 June 2017. Proposals should be 250 words maximum and sent to: iapcs@manchester.ac.uk. Registration costs are £20 for paid academics and £10 for students and the unwaged. The registration fee is waived for current members of the IAPCS.

Life after the PhD: Doing a post-doc

By Dr. Jorrit Kamminga, 22 January 2017

What exactly is a post-doc?

During and especially after the long and often challenging PhD trajectory, many students struggle with the existential question of ‘what next?’. In the most literal sense, the word ‘post-doc’ seems to suggest there is life after a PhD. But what exactly is a post-doc? I certainly did not know while doing my PhD, so decided to find out.

The more articles you read about post-docs, the more complex it seems to become, especially as the term (an abbreviation from post-doctorate or post-doctoral) has many different definitions, as well as different meanings from country to country. At the basic level, the term post-doc refers to the position as well as to the person who occupies it.

Post-doc as a person

Let’s first look at post-doc as a person. The common denominator of all the definitions that I found is that a post-doc is an individual that is engaged in further academic research after the completion of a PhD. The title that goes with such a position can, for example, be a post-doctorate research fellow, associate or assistant. Interestingly, the post-doc as a person is often portrayed as rather unfortunate or disadvantaged because, for example, of low wages, the many side obligations or the lack of faculty jobs afterwards.

Post-doc as a position

beijing-1877354_960_720Looking at the position this individual holds, things start to get more complicated. A first common element is that the position is normally temporal, although the duration seems to vary a lot (1-5 years). In any case, it is often considered as a first or intermediary career step for, often young, academics, or ‘early-career researchers’ who would like to continue working at universities later in more stable positions. From the universities’ point of view, the post-doc trajectory is often considered to prepare someone for a career in academia.

The prestige related to the position seems to vary from country to country. For example, in the US the position is generally considered a real ‘trainee’ position, which means it only serves as a (sometimes obligatory) step towards a so-called ‘tenure track’ position (generally a fixed position but at various levels). In other countries, the post-doc position may have more status by itself and not only as an instrument to get somewhere else.

Deepening of methodological and thematic knowledge

A common element found is that the objective of the position is to further strengthen research skills or to further specialise in a certain research topic. As such, it offers the individual a period of (further) research after the PhD, in which he or she is mentored to grow as an academic. It allows the early career researcher to learn more about certain research methodologies or about a certain field. This research does not have to be connected to the topic of the PhD, but it is logical that there are often direct or indirect links. The post-doc research topic may have been part of the ‘further research’ section at the end of the PhD thesis or it may be used to turn the (often dry) PhD thesis into a book that can be published. However, some post-doctorate programmes are also specifically designed to gain experience in different research areas or different institutions.

You may think at this point: Do the 3 to 4 years of working on a PhD not provide me with enough specialisation, mentoring and training for a career in academia? In some cases, they may, but for many students, the PhD is still very much an exploratory stage, in which you sometimes struggle with research concepts and methodologies. Afterwards, the post-doc may indeed offer the opportunity to dig deeper and further strengthen the research ‘tools and tactics’. But while this suggests intensive mentoring by supervisors, the post-doc may in fact also have considerable independence, with more responsibilities for both the research project and its financing.

The combination of teaching and research

classroom-1699745_960_720Can the post-doc be more than that? Yes, especially when it comes to teaching opportunities. While many post-doc positions have no or few teaching obligations, others are fully designed to gain teaching experience. In general, there seems to be a trend towards more integration of teaching within post-doc trajectories, but again this differs between countries and between universities.

Funding your post-doc

Your local university may advertise post-doc positions it has internal funding for. But becoming a post-doc often depends on obtaining a fellowship or finding external funding. Although there are many fellowships available for scholars of security studies or international relations, these are generally highly competitive. Some examples are: the Henry Chauncey Jr. Postdoctoral Fellowship, the Transatlantic Post-Doctoral Fellowship for International Relations and Security (TAPIR), and the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) Fellowship.

As these may be very prestigious, it is a good idea to also explore possibilities with smaller institutions and foundations. Depending on the research topic, external funding may be relatively easy to obtain from smaller organisations if the research overlaps with their stated interests. However, such types of external funding might only fund the costs related to the research and not your salary. Another option is to look into the funding programmes of the national research organisations such as the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) in Germany or the Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (NWO) in the Netherlands. Lastly, there is also the possibility to finance your post-doc position through a grant from a publisher with a view to turn your PhD manuscript into a book. There are websites available that explain the difference between your thesis and a publishable book.

If you have other useful information and experience related to post-docs or to funding opportunities, please do share them with the author at jorritka[at]gmail.com so we can update the post.

Life after the PhD – Researching Security fellows share their very personal views on the PhD trajectory (Part 3/3)

7 January 2017

We have asked our Researching Security fellows to reflect on what it is like to do a PhD in the field of security, organised crime and violence, including what impact it has on their private life and what they would do differently looking back. Read this interview for a very personal view – one you won’t find in a student handbook.

Part 3: Life after the PhD

Some of you have finished the PhD already. What has been your trajectory since you finished the PhD?

Jenna Muray de López: In my personal life – learning to be with my family again and rediscovering weekends! I was lucky to already have an academic post and be familiar with the strange world that is academia. The most useful thing I have done, which also helped me secure a new post, was devise an achievable five year research agenda and two year publishing plan from my thesis – giving myself a new direction to go in when the focus has been ‘finish the PhD’ for such a long time.

Susan Hoppert-Flaemig: I have had my viva about two months ago and am currently trying to turn my research into publishable articles. So I am still at the very beginning of my post-PhD life. I would like to keep working as an academic but I am well aware of the huge challenges of pursuing an academic career.

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Jorrit Kamminga explaining his research in Colombia

Jorrit Kamminga: After finishing the PhD, I was unemployed for about half a year, but then I started working for Oxfam within their international Rights in Crisis campaign which also focuses on conflict and post conflict countries. A few months later, I was also asked to work as a consultant for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on the research and writing of a big chapter on alternative livelihoods for farmers of drug-producing plants for their World Drug Report 2015. That was a very rewarding experience as the topic was directly in line with my PhD research.

Verena Brähler at UCL in London

Verena Brähler: All in all, life after the PhD is so much easier, both personally and professionally. I am working as the Head of Research at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the national equality body and human rights institution for Great Britain. I manage a suit of research projects, have responsibility for budgets and risks and a duty of care towards the people in my team but I am finding it much easier than doing a PhD.

Looking back, what is the most important thing you learned that helps you in your career today?

Susan Hoppert-Flaemig: You need a lot of stamina and tenacity to do a PhD! I hope these qualities will help me during the job search.

Jenna Muray de López: Resilience and owning your ideas – they are no better or worse than anyone else’s.

Verena Brähler: Wherever I work, and for whoever I work, I want to be clear on what we are trying to achieve and why and how. Life is too short to waste people’s time and do work that has no impact. Therefore I think the PhD has raised the bar in terms of what I expect from my work environment and those around me.

What would you do differently?

Jenna Muray de López: Keep writing more during fieldwork. I became so immersed in data collection that I forgot how to think about writing large pieces.

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Susan Flaemig, Juan Carlos Ruiz, Edmund Pries and Verena Brähler at a conference in Budapest

Susan Hoppert-Flaemig: I wish it had taken me less time to write the thesis. Having a clearer idea about my research goals at the very beginning of the whole PhD process would have helped speeding it up.

Verena Brähler: I would use more project management skills to plan out my PhD from start to finish, with deliverables and milestones, and always being clear what is coming on the horizon. Sometimes I was writing on a chapter for months and never thought clearly about what would come after that, and then after that.

Jorrit Kamminga: I would try to keep the scope of my research as limited as possible. I thought I already had narrowed the topic down considerably, but the next time I would definitely focus even more. I think that will make the research not only more manageable but in most cases also better.

Read the full interview here.

Impact on personal life – Researching Security fellows share their very personal views on the PhD trajectory (Part 2/3)

6 January 2017

We have asked our Researching Security fellows to reflect on what it is like to do a PhD in the field of security, organised crime and violence, including what impact it has on their private life and what they would do differently looking back. Read this interview for a very personal view – one you won’t find in a student handbook.

Part 2: Impact on personal life

All of you conduct research on quite problematic issues like violence, organised crime and corruption, how does it affect you personally?

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Jenna Murray de López

Jenna Muray de López: The focus of my research is examining obstetric violence and maltreatment of women in the health system which has always been very personal to me. Working in a militarized environment and an area where violence against women and kidnapping are common place affected me because I had my children with me in the field. Upon reflection I think I avoided more situations and opportunities if I felt I would be putting them in danger. Having to explain images and talk of gendered violence, presence of soldiers and brawls in the street to an inquisitive five year old made me question my priorities a lot.

The 'pacification' of Complexo do Alemão in Rio de Janeiro

Complexo do Alemao in Rio de Janeiro where Verena did her field research

Verena Brähler: What affected me most was this constant notion of fear that I had never felt growing up. Fear that I would visit the wrong place at the wrong time, say the wrong thing to the wrong people, and put research participants or myself in danger because of the information I held. Fear is very powerful. It is good because it made me be careful and alert, and it is bad because I never had peace of mind. I think a part of this fear and mistrust will stay with me for the rest of my life, no matter where I will go.

Natalia Cervantes: At the risk of sounding very idyllic, researching issues of violence for me worked as a booster. It encouraged me to try and communicate people’s experiences on the ground to grasp a little better what we can do about violence. However, I also found that researching violence can take a toll on you. Listening and transcribing interviews recounting very violent experiences has a clear emotional effect.

How does doing a PhD impact on your family and private life?

Local police station in El Salvador where Susan did her field research

Susan Hoppert-Flaemig: This is an interesting question because usually I think about it the other way around – how does my family life affect my PhD? I heard people saying, if you do a PhD, you do not have time for a private life. That certainly was not true for me. I always found it important to have a balance between my private life and the PhD. Otherwise I would not have found the strength to face the various challenges of doing a PhD.

Jorrit Kamminga: I did my PhD part-time which meant that it did not really affect the family and private life. During the last year of the PhD, the writing process was quite intense, but that year I was not combining it with work, so that also was quite manageable.

Verena Brähler: My experience was that there are no free evenings, weekends and holidays when you do a PhD. Or maybe there are but you cannot enjoy it because you know that every hour you are not working on your research project, is an hour you need to add at the end.

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Jenna Murray de López with her family

Jenna Muray de López: I would also say that the PhD has had a significant impact on family life. I have worked fulltime and studied part time for the last six years. When at home I have not been as ‘available’ to my family because I have been locked away working. During the nine months of fieldwork I left my husband and three year old son in the UK whilst I went pregnant and with my five year old daughter to carry out fieldwork. I have had two more babies through the duration of my studies (affectionately referred to as fieldwork baby and write-up baby!). I think ultimately my children and husband would answer this question better. But, overall I am glad my children have witnessed how hard you have to work for something. Ultimately it is the thought of the family sacrifices we made that got me through to the end.

Natalia Cervantes: My husband started his PhD six months before me so at times we were both under massive amounts of stress. Nevertheless, it was nice that we both understood the processes we were going through, so we were able to provide a lot of support to each other. Needless to say, the dynamic changed again last year when we welcomed our baby boy into the world.

Read the full interview here.

Researching Security fellows share their very personal views on the PhD trajectory (Part 1/3)

5 January 2017

We have asked our Researching Security fellows to reflect on what it is like to do a PhD in the field of security, organised crime and violence, including what impact it has on their private life and what they would do differently looking back. Read this interview for a very personal view – one you won’t find in a student handbook.

Part 1: Doing a PhD in the field of security, organised crime and violence

What is the best and worst part of doing a PhD in the field of security, violence and organised crime?

Natalia Cervantes

Natalia Cervantes: Security, violence and organised crime are all incredibly pressing issues in my country, Mexico. Studying these themes empowered me to understand things are not as simple as portrayed. It also humbled me, realising how people cope and learn to live with violence situations. The downside of it all is feeling impotent. As a PhD researcher, you are there for a limited period of time, and there is little, or nothing, you can do to ameliorate people’s living conditions in this short time frame.

Jenna Muray de López: I also carried out my fieldwork in Mexico – in Chiapas, an area known for low-intensity armed conflict between the indigenous Zapatista movement and the Mexican state. The militarized environment and the ‘everyday violence’ that low-income Mexicans are exposed to greatly influenced how I approached questions of healthcare and state in a way I had not imagined.

Jorrit Kamminga: I like the level of complexity in all these areas. There are so many different layers and factors involved. For example, I did my PhD on alternative livelihoods in Colombia and there are many different reasons why farmers grow illicit crops. That makes it very challenging to come up with tailored public policies that produce good outcomes.

Susan Hopper-Flaemig

Susan Hoppert-Flaemig: I think the best part is doing research about some of the most challenging questions of our time. Creating peace in the 21st century is closely linked to finding new approaches of dealing with issues of insecurity and violence. I hope that our research can make a small contribution here.

How has your gender, ethnicity or nationality impacted on or influenced your research?

Verena Brähler: Being white, female and German certainly influenced my field research in Rio de Janeiro. Of all these characteristics, I would say being a foreigner made the biggest difference. I noticed that many Brazilian researchers had been forced to choose sides and either align with the narrative of the police/military/elite or the favelas/human rights activists/drug dealers. As a foreigner, I felt I didn’t have to choose sides and was allowed to speak to everyone.

Alternative livelihood recipients and familiy

Alternative livelihood recipients Jorrit met in rural Colombia

Jorrit Kamminga: For me as a foreigner in Colombia I wasn’t able to conduct the field research alone in some of the areas I visited. Sometimes the risks of doing field research are unclear or exaggerated but in some cases, for example in some neighborhoods of Medellín, it would have been a huge risk to go there by myself.

Natalia Cervantes: I think my nationality benefited my research. Being a Mexican doing fieldwork in Mexico meant that accessibility was not a prominent issue. I was able to speak the language and already familiar with research settings and costumes. However, gender had a definite impact on my research. I often felt like I was being patronised when I spoke with officials.

Jenna Muray de López: My gender and role as a mother were also central to my positionality in the field – I was researching maternal lives. I was limited in my interactions with men, which is a slight regret and gap in my data. Despite this I built up good relationships with the women in the neighbourhood. I respected the gendered spaces and have previous experience of the misunderstandings that can be caused as a white woman talking alone with other women’s men. Women’s curiosity about how white women bear and care for children was useful for me to understand what was important to them.

Read the full interview here.

Colombia: Talking Peace while Waging War

By Caroline Delgado, 4 October 2014

Caroline Delgado

Caroline Delgado

September has been an eventful month for the peace process between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrilla group. In the beginning of the month, an unprovoked FARC attack killing seven police officers caused great outrage among the Colombian population. The attack is the latest of a wave of attacks that the guerrillas have been carrying out since June 2014 as a way of commemorating its 50 years of existence. This notwithstanding, only a week later the government announced the commencement of the 29th round of the peace talks in Havana. Thus as the FARC is increasing its attacks in Colombia, its negotiating team is sitting down with the government in Havana discussing the issue of victims´ rights and reparation – a paradox not easily accepted by the public. Shortly after the last round took off, the government reneged on its commitment to keep the talks confidential and made public the agreements so far reached between the parties during the course of the two years of negotiations. The release of the preliminary agreements sparked a vigorous debate in the media on whether the peace talks are steering the country towards peace or making dangerous appeasements to the guerrillas. Finally, as the month drew to a close, the government´s chief negotiator in Havana denounced that his email accounts, computers and telephone conversations had been illegally hacked into on at least 17 occasions. Evidence points towards members of the armed forces intelligence unit being behind the crime, which has been interpreted by the government as a deliberate attempt to sabotage the peace process.

Despite the many hurdles that have taken place throughout the negotiations, the parties are optimistic that an agreement will be reached. The recent presidential elections, which saw the re-election – albeit narrow – of President Santos were widely interpreted as a vote for peace. Scholars and experts have hailed the current talks as the most thorough and successful as of yet (Gomez-Suarez & Newman, 2013; The Economist). Fundamentally, they conclude, this time round there seems to be a recognition by both parties that their goals cannot be achieved on the battlefield. The government has admitted that it is unlikely to defeat the guerrillas through militarily means only, whereas the FARC has come to realise that they will not be able to gain political power through armed struggle (La Silla Vacia). As opposed to previous negotiation attempts, the Havana talks are focused on a limited and well-defined negotiation addressing five central themes: agrarian reform, drug trafficking, political participation of the guerrillas, victims´ rights and reparation, and the end of the conflict. So far, the parties have reached preliminary agreements on the first three points, while making clear that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. Furthermore, discussions are taking place outside Colombia secluded from the media and the public (that was until a couple of days ago) and adhere to strict procedural rules. Most importantly, the parties are negotiating without any bilateral ceasefire agreement in place.

The purpose of this structure of is to prevent the FARC from using the talks to regroup and mobilise and ultimately emerge as a stronger force, which was precisely what happened during the last peace talks held between 1999 and 2002 in Caguán, Colombia. The disastrous outcomes of the so called Caguán talks, which saw the FARC considerably strengthened and resultantly able to increase its offensive against the State, is an often cited argument by those opposed to the current peace talks. A significant part of the population and powerful segments of the political class fiercely oppose the talks. Favouring a continued military offensive against the guerrillas, they argue that the FARC is in terminal decline and can indeed be defeated through military means. Therefore they see no reasons for negotiating with the guerrillas or granting them any concessions. Furthermore, they argue the continued attacks by the FARC demonstrate its unwillingness to lay down arms and bring the conflict to an end through a negotiated settlement.

Nevertheless, much of the debate around the peace talks is taking place away from those on which the armed conflict has impacted the most. Shifting the lens to that of the conflict affected communities, which is a central aspect of my own research, there seems to be a certain disconnect with the ongoing peace talks. In these communities violence and intimidations are daily realities and peace is not a topic that can be freely discussed. These are areas with a high presence of illegal armed groups fighting each other for control, of which the FARC is but one of many. These same areas are consequently also on the radar of the state armed forces in their quest to assert control and neutralise the illegal groups. Nevertheless, the void left as one group is eliminated or driven out from the area is quickly filled by another. Meanwhile, community members are accused of and targeted for being supporters of the group that was previously in control.  Although many communities have tried to organise and resist, for example by forming human rights collectives, victim- and farmer associations, their work is precarious. Only this year, in the midst of the peace talks, 40 human rights defenders and victims´ leaders have been murdered and over 300 have received death threats, often accused of being guerrilla supporters (Semana, UNDP). Forced displacements, disappearances and homicides continue to add on a daily basis to the more than 6.5 million registered victims of the conflict. In recognition of the plight of the victims, the government has made efforts to include their voices in the peace talks. Nevertheless, the selection process that determined the 60 people to represent the millions of victims created yet further divisions and feelings of exclusion and misrepresentation. More worryingly, as one analyst put it, it has led to a form of double victimisation as victims through their exposure in the peace process become the target of threats and assignations all over again (Semana).

The Colombian government may well be on the verge of reaching a peace agreement with the FARC. Though while there can be little doubt that most Colombians wants peace, there seems to be little discussions however on what kind of peace that can be expected and for whom. This is not least so in the marginalised communities that have borne the brunt of the half a century long armed conflict. True that the FARC is the oldest and probably largest illegal armed group in Colombia, though it is far from the only one. The impact on local security dynamics of a potential FARC withdrawal – in whichever form that make take  – seems to be a question left hanging in the air. In the meantime, the negotiations continue. As does the war.

References:

Gomez-Suarez, A., & Newman, J. (2013). Safeguarding Political Guarantees in the Colombian Peace Process: have Santos and Farc learnt the lessons from the past? Third World Quarterly, 34(5), 819–837.