After 50 years, could Colombia finally have awakened from its nightmare? | María José Pizarro Rodríguez

For more than 50 years, Colombia has suffered a war that has killed nearly 450,000 civilians and displaced more than 8 million people from their territories. My father, Carlos Pizarro Leongómez — once a commander of the guerrilla movement M-19 — signed a peace agreement with the Colombian state after years of insurgency, and stood as a presidential candidate in 1990. Forty-seven days after the agreement had been signed , he was assassinated. This event changed my life, broke my family, and devastated our country.

Now at last, we may be nearing the end of our national nightmare. On August 7, Gustavo Petro was sworn in as president of Colombia, joining Afro-Colombian land defender Francia Márquez at the helm of the country’s first progressive government. In his inaugural speech, Petro promised his incoming government will bring “true and definitive peace” to Colombia. To do this, he has invited historic political opponents to the table to reach a common agreement through which both guerrilla and paramilitary forces will lay down their arms.

The call for peace has been building across the country. Following Petro’s election victory, the last active guerrilla force in the country, the ELN (Ejército de Liberación Nacional), requested fresh negotiations with the government to lay down their arms. Soon after, a joint letter by dozens of rightwing paramilitary forces, drug cartels, and criminal gangs called for a ceasefire to negotiate terms for peace. At Petro’s inauguration ceremony on 7 August, the cries of the chanting crowd could be heard from hundreds of meters away: ¡No más guerra! No more war.

The pursuit of unity has been central to Petro’s presidential program. It is also the reason that so many progressive candidates like myself are now in Congress. Over the course of many months of deliberation, we brought together a broad coalition that embraced workers, urban professionals, farmers, Indigenous and Afro-Colombian peoples. This alliance, known in Colombia as the Historic Pact, won a landmark victory in the legislative elections in March and became the single largest force in Congress.

What would it take to win this lasting peace? First, it would mean fulfilling the peace agreements signed in 2016. Back then, the Colombian government and the guerilla forces of the Farc (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) undertook extensive, internationally coordinated negotiations to cease violent conflict. But Colombia’s former president Iván Duque abandoned this agreement as soon as he took office. The consequences have been devastating. Since 2016, more than 1,300 social leaders and signatories of the peace accords have been assassinated.

We want to redeem the promise of the 2016 accords. This includes making provisions for the full reintegration of former guerrilla fighters into society, providing economic support to help them find jobs in their communities. It also means pursuing land reforms to address Colombia’s extremely concentrated land ownership, which ranks among the most unequal in the world. Finally, it means ending the “war on drugs”, which has seen the influx of arms to paramilitary organizations that commit crimes against our people in the name of “drug control”.

Peace does not begin with a simple cessation of violence. We need to build the social conditions for a peaceful society. First and foremost, this means reorienting the Colombian state away from war against internal enemies, real and invented, and towards the development of our communities. It means investing in our people through public schools and hospitals, not riot police; deploying our planes and helicopters to build infrastructure, not to kill our fellow citizens; developing sustainable agriculture in the countryside, not raining down chemicals such as glyphosate to kill off coca production. And it means protecting and empowering women to overcome violence on a daily basis and help build peace in our society.

On the campaign trail, Gustavo Petro often framed the election as a simple choice: the old politics of death or a new politics of life. The people of Colombia have now made their choice. Our task is to convene them all — from marginalized communities in the countryside to political opponents in Congress — to initiate this new peace process.

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