Yes to Peace! Colombians Occupy Bogota for an End to War

Protesters have pledged to keep occupying the square in front of Colombia’s Congress until a political solution to the stalemate on peace is confirmed.
A demonstrator wearing a bandana with the word "Peace" joins a march in support of peace in Medellin, Colombia, Sept. 7, 2016.

TelesurTelesurColombians marked one week of occupying the main square in Bogota’s historic center Tuesday, where they installed an “Encampment for Peace” in the wake of the shocking vote rejecting the landmark peace deal between the government and the FARC rebel army. And they won’t leave until definitive end-of-conflict measures are put in place for the longest-running internal conflict in the Western Hemisphere.

Demonstrators launched the camp in Bogota’s Bolivar square last Wednesday to demand a swift resolution to the political uncertainty sparked by the upset “No” vote in the plebiscite on Oct. 2 that sought to ratify the peace accords. Occupiers demand follow through on the plans to end the 52-year-old civil war with the FARC and a commitment from both sides of the conflict to continue the bilateral cease-fire that has helped significantly reduce violence in recent months.

“I was born in war, but I want to live in peace,” one demonstrator at the camp, Martha Varon, told the Colombian magazine Semana.

“We’re here for our dead, because we’re tired of suffering,” another occupier and leader of the camp, identified by the pseudonym Esperanza Vargas, told Semana. “I lived the war, I didn’t see it on television. That’s why I’m here.”

An art installation disaplyed names of 2,000 victims in Bogota’s Bolivar square, Oct. 11, 2016. | Photo: EFE

The camp has filled Bolivar square — flanked by the Palace of Justice, National Congress, seat of Bogota’s mayor, and Colombia’s largest cathedral — with an array of colorful tents, peace symbols and signs bearing political slogans such as “Yes to truth” and “No to war.” According to the local magazine Arcadia, as of Monday the occupation hosted some 80 tents and at least 120 campers.

The camp temporarily moved aside Tuesday to make way for an art installation by Colombian artist Doris Salcedo honoring victims of the conflict in Bolivar square. Participants in the art piece — part of an artistic peace initiative led by Salcedo called “Adding Absences” — wrote the names of 2,000 victims in ashes on more than four miles of white cloth spread across the expansive square. The encampment planned to relocate into the square at 8 p.m. local time on Tuesday after the event.

n a statement Tuesday, organizers of the encampment wrote, “We reiterate that our objective is the cease-fire and an agreement now.” Protesters have vowed to continue occupying the square until the peace deal is implemented.

Meanwhile, in the wake of defeat at the ballot box, government and FARC negotiators have resumed negotiations in Havana, Cuba, the site of nearly four years of talks resulting in the breakthrough deal signed last month.

The new occupy movement comes amid a upswell of demonstrations in support of peace in the week since the consequences of the “No” vote sunk in after the Oct. 2 plebiscite.

In Medellin — one of the strongholds of the “No” camp where 63 percent of voters rejected the peace accords — some 10,000 people marched Friday for peace. The city is located in the province of Antioquia, where controversial right-wing former president and leader of the “No” campaign, Senator Alvaro Uribe, first launched his political career. Demonstrators in Medellin’s march chanted slogans including “Antioquia is not Uribe” and called for peace.

Similar marches also took place last week in Bogota and other cities. Unlike Medellin, Bogota voted in favor of the peace deal, as did the areas hardest hit by the armed conflict on the periphery of the country, including the Caribbean coast.

A fresh peace demonstration is planned to converge Wednesday on Bogota’s Bolivar square, the site of the encampment, according to local media.

Recalling the organization of the Occupy Wall Street movement that swept across U.S. cities and around the world in 2011, Bogota’s peace camp has established a list of community rules and uses a system of hand signals aimed at keeping group meetings respectful and orderly. Participants also share tasks ranging from guarding the camp to distributing food, which has flowed in through donations.

Among young and old at the camp, the comment sentiment is clear: the movement will continue until peace is a reality in Colombia.

Colombian Victims of War Greeted by Tens Thousands for Peace

Bolivar Square in Bogota filled with Colombians calling for peace.

TelesurTelesur Some 3,000 victims and 7,000 Indigenous, Afro-descendant, and rural people are expected to march in Bogota alongside supporters.

Tens of Thousands of Colombians again flooded the streets of central Bogota Wednesday in support of Indigenous communities and other victims hit hardest by over 50 years of armed conflict to pressure the government and the country’s largest guerrilla army, the FARC-EP to quickly resolve the political crisis sparked by the recent defeat of the historic peace accords at the polls.

Under the banner, “For the victims, an agreement now!” demonstrators filled Bogota’s Bolivar square to greet with applause and flowers some 3,000 victims and 7,000 campesinos, Indigenous and Afro-descendant people who marched into the central plaza to raise their voices in the name of peace in Colombia.

The Indigenous delegation departed from the National University in Bogota, where student movements organizing for peace have been blossoming and was joined by the victims, gathered at the National Center for Historical Memory, en route to Bolivar Square in the heart of the capital city’s historic center.

Bolivar Square has been home to an encampment for peace for the past week after activists launched an indefinite occupation to demand a definitive end to the conflict, continuation of the bilateral cease-fire between the military and the FARC, and clarity about the fate of the final peace deal.

The landmark agreement between the government and the FARC-EP — concluded after nearly four years of talks in Havana, Cuba — was signed Sept. 26, but was cast into limbo after voters narrowly rejected it by less than 0.5 percent in a plebiscite on Oct. 2.

The central plaza also hosted an art installation in memory of the victims of the conflict Tuesday, when Colombian artist Doris Salcedo and hundreds of participants draped the entire squares in miles of white cloth bearing the names of thousands of victims, written in ashes.

Organizers of Wednesday’s “March of Flowers” in support of victims wrote on social media that the event planned to receive Indigenous communities and victims’ organizations “with honors” to demand that Colombia never again suffers the brutality of war.

“We want to invite all citizens to exercise empathy and solidarity with these heroes of forgiveness, the victims of violence and Indigenous peoples,” reads the call for participation in the event on Facebook.

Areas of Colombia most impacted and victimized by the more than half-century of civil war – mainly on the periphery of the country – voted in support of the peace deal. Many large cities, such as Medellin — the stronghold of far-right former president and leader of the “No” campaign, Alvaro Uribe – rejected the agreement, while other cities such as Bogota and Cali voted “Yes.”

After the defeat of the deal at the ballot box, victims lamented the lack of solidarity the rest of the population showed toward the communities most eager to see an end to violence.

Proponents of the “No” camp argued that the emphasis on truth rather than criminal prosecutions in the transitional justice portion of the deal would grant impunity for crimes committed during the conflict, and rejected the proposed participation of FARC-EP members in Congress. The “gender perspective” incorporated into the deal – including measures to protect LGBTI rights – also sparked a homophobic backlash that saw socially conservative groups also push for a “No” vote.

Since the plebiscite, both FARC-EP and government negotiators have resumed dialogue in Havana. The next steps on the path to peace remain unclear.