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.
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