Boarding my plane after two years of service in post-war Democratic Republic of Congo, I thought that working in Colombia’s peacebuilding would be easy. This turned out to be naive.

Almost three years after the signing of a peace accord between Colombia’s government and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and a year after President Iván Duque’s vow to unite the country, socio-political challenges continue to mount. Today, Colombia grapples with an all-time high rate of coca cultivation since the accord was signed, violent murders of social leaders, and an influx of 1.2 million Venezuelan migrants fleeing from a crumbling Venezuela. As his approval ratings drop, Duque also struggles with an increasingly polarized political environment and strong criticism of not implementing the peace accord. 

Despite these challenges, President Duque obtained Congress’ approval of his Plan Nacional de Desarrollo (National Development Plan, or PND). The PND outlines the national government’s plan of how it will dedicate its policy efforts and economic resources over the next four years. Inside the PND lies a simple formula: rule of law + entrepreneurship = equality. Duque hopes to use it to catalyze an historic but halting peace process while ensuring reparations for war victims. PND initiatives include investment into post-conflict regions, social programs specifically created for victims of conflict, as well as “conflict compensation” or indemnización for these victims.

Why Does the PND Matter?

Broken promises. This is what Colombians, particularly those in post-conflict rural areas known as territorios, think about when asked about the peace implementation process.  Promises like reinsertion, protection programs, coca crop substitution, rural development, and long-awaited indemnizaciones originally looked good on paper. Lacking enough funding by the federal government, such promises have gone unfulfilled.

Government neglect of these programs, which the international community has begun to criticize, has increased political polarization among Colombians while exacerbating poverty conditions in dozens of territorios. For many, eating a full meal while holding a rifle seems more appealing than having no food in peace time. The result—the threat of guerrilla warfare looms large once again.

The PND could be the first government initiative to truly move the peace process forward. On the one hand, it combines the government’s financial resources with grassroots participation which the government calls “co-creating together,” a form of engagement that will play a key role in building sustainable peace. Additionally, the PND’s focus on peace will inevitably serve as a foundation for newly elected regional and municipal leaders to develop their own local development plans (PLDs) after taking office in a few months.

The Colombian peace accord hopefully closed the last armed conflict of the Western Hemisphere.  As one of America’s closest regional allies, the U.S. should not only support both Colombia’s PND and PLDs, but also call on the government to revive unkept promises and remember the most forgotten Colombians.

IRI’s Peacebuilding

Peacebuilding goes beyond negotiations, and peace itself is more than the absence of armed conflict.  In fact, sustainable peace also requires the presence of strong government institutions and economic development. So far, they have been absent. Duque’s PND calls for citizen participation, transparency, and a firmer rule of law—and as implementation stalls, these key ingredients of peace have never been more critical.

With this in mind, IRI has been working for more than four years to support sustainable peace by building local governing capacity. IRI is committed to providing local leaders with tools to replicate good governance practices and better understand their PLDs in light of the PND. Furthermore, IRI will work to harmonize these leaders vis-à-vis the peace implementation process to better incorporate local needs into local policies. These programs – such as our current Del Capitolio al Territorio initiative – will not only benefit Colombian leaders, but will provide everyday Colombians the opportunity to advance peace at the local level.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned through my work with Colombians, it’s that they have limitless potential and will thrive if only provided with the right help. Reminiscing on that sunny day in the DR Congo, I realize it was precisely this Colombian potential and resilience that I looked forward to with a smile as my plane took off.

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