This is post-conflict rural Colombia

Picture of the Colombian countryside. Photo by Hanz Rippe Gabriel.
What are the needs in the zones where the post-conflict programs will be implemented? A study by the Democracy Observatory at the Universidad de los Andes. 
07/07/2018
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Post-conflict rural Colombia: a country of challenges and expectations

The people living in the four regions that have historically been affected by the armed conflict with the FARC see the country differently to how they saw it five years ago. The possibility of pardoning and reconciliation with this armed group, for example, increased from 50% to 66.8% in 2017. This is above the national average, which is no higher than 55%.

People’s trust in the FARC has also increased. In 2015, trust was only at 3.8%, but today it has reached 12.8%. Also, three out of ten people who were interviewed agree that the FARC will uphold what was agreed in the peace process, and four out of ten people believe the same about the government.

The most recent study by the Democracy Observatory about people supporting the different points of the agreement showed that the programs that have the most support are the following: harvest substitution programs (86.5 %), agrarian reform (83.4 %), special boundaries for peace (71.4 %), and campesino reservation areas (66.7 %).

Main problems


The inhabitants of these regions identified the main problems in 2017 to be: violence (14.3 %), the armed conflict (11.1 %), corruption (10.2 %), and unemployment (9.3 %). It is interesting to compare these results to those from 2015: violence (28.1 %), armed conflict (12.4 %), and unemployment (15.7 %) were also identified as the main problems, despite having higher percentages, while a lower percentage of citizens perceived corruption to be the most serious problem (5.8 %).
 

In 2017, the people interviewed stated that the biggest problems in their area or hamlet were that the roads and paths were in a bad condition (17.9 %) and unemployment (9.6 %).

 

Democratic attitudes and trust in institutions
 

In the post-conflict areas, only four out of ten Colombians believe in democracy as the best form of government; this is significantly less than the percentage stated in the 2016 National Sample (53.3 %) and the 2015 sample in consolidation areas (56.4 %). In regions such as Macarena, Caguán, and Cordillera Central – 35.9% and 38.3 %, respectively, of those surveyed, believe that democracy is the best form of government.
 

The result was also very similar for the presidential approval rating: 39.4 % of those interviewed approved of Juan Manuel Santos’ administration. This is less, although not significantly so, with respect to the 2015 Special Sample (41.7 %), but is higher than the result from the 2016 National Sample, which was around 25.4 %.
 

Between 2015 and 2017, trust in institutions, for the most part, decreased to a greater of lesser extent. This reduction is significant in terms of trust in the president (from 40.2 % to 31.7 %) and in the Armed Forces (from 47.1 % to 42.3 %). The only institution that received an increase in citizen trust was the evangelical Christian church (from 41.9 % to 53.4 %).

Civic participation

Participating in meetings hosted by civic organizations in rural Colombia in a post-conflict context in general increased when compared to the 2015 Special Sample.

Some of these significant increases happen within Improvement Societies or Committees (from 42.0 % to 58.7 %), Community Action Councils (from 54.6 % to 64.4 %), religious organization meetings (from 50.9% to 64.3%), and women’s associations or organizations (23.2 % to 33.5 %). This could represent a greater post-conflict mobilization and participation in these organizations.

 

The State’s ability and perceptions of the State
 

The satisfaction of inhabitants from these regions of the country with public services fell compared to what was reported in 2015: roads and highways fell from 38.9 % to 25.5 %, public schools from 57.9 % to 45.3 %, healthcare and public health from 26.8 % to 30.0 %, and water supply and sewage from 38.1 % to 33.0 %. For the Democracy Observatory, this could mean that expectations begin to increase in these regions together with citizens becoming critical of the provision of basic services within the context of the State being more present. As the services have probably not changed very much, citizens are beginning to express their greater levels of dissatisfaction. 
 

In terms of the perceived insecurity in these regions of the country: 52.5 % of people interviewed claim to feel unsafe, which is a higher percentage than that registered in the 2015 Special Sample (39.4 %). Although 53.4 % claim that either the police or military maintain the levels of security in the places where they live, 83.2 % claim that these forces are sometimes present in their area or hamlet, and 41.9 % claim that if the police were permanently present, security would decrease (29.5 % say that it would remain the same). This is a warning sign for the public institutions who need to guarantee a greater presence and do a better job whilst regaining the trust of the citizens in these regions.
 

The perception of people who claim that it is the police or military who keep order in the region increased by 53.4 %, while those who consider the guerilla to maintain security have reduced by 4.7 %.
 

In terms of perceived impunity: seven out of ten inhabitants from rural post-conflict Colombia had either little or no trust in the judicial system to punish those responsible for crimes. This perception is higher than what was registered in 2015 (56.2 %). As such, 28.8 % approved of people taking justice into their own hands, which is higher than the percentage in 2015 (19.3 %), but is less than the national average from 2016 (40 %).

 

The main expectations regarding the impact of the peace process in these regions are that it will improve campesino´s access to land (58.9 %), that campesinos will have access to technical assistance (52.7 %), and that security will improve (48.2 %).

These figures were taken from the study entitled “Post-conflict Rural Colombia 2017”
that was led by the Democracy Observatory at the Universidad de los Andes. The purpose of this research was to analyze the Colombian population´s opinions and attitudes in areas where post-conflict programs will be implemented as well as identifying their interests, needs, and expectations.

The study included municipalities in Macarena, Caguán, Andén Pacífico, Bajo Cauca, and Cordillera Central where the Agency for Territorial Renovation (ART for its acronym in Spanish) is carrying out Development Programs with a Territory-based Approach (PDET for its acronym in Spanish). There were 1,391 face-to-face interviews in these areas, 75% of which were in rural areas: hamlets where PDET operated.

Some of this research’s findings were compared with the results from the special study carried out by the Democracy Observatory in 2015 in Territorial Consolidation Areas; there are several municipalities in which the study was undertaken in 2017. Some of the results are also comparable with the 2016 National Sample.

According to the study, public institutions having a greater presence in these areas does not give hope, but this is an urgent need in the face of the population´s growing expectations and the promise of the State´s arrival as well as more investment.

Key challenges

Based on these results, and according to the co-director of the Democracy Observatory, Miguel García, rural post-conflict Colombia has five key challenges. The first is whether the State can exert a presence in these regions. “The post-conflict country is mainly rural and has low levels of education. It is a country in which half of the households survive with less than the minimum salary and where the levels of victimization that result from the armed conflict are very high.”
 

The State should arrive quickly. This is the second challenge. According to García, “The expectations as to what the State should provide are increasing. The residents from these areas have traditionally had little or no expectations from the State due to the precariousness in which they have lived and public institutions’ limited capability. However, there is now a different message: that the State, investment, and infrastructure are on their way.”
 

The third challenge is to generate more certainty than anxiety in these regions as the end of the conflict has generated much distrust. “Operational codes are changing: a player that generated certainty in terms of social order is no longer present, and we are currently in a different type of transition in all the post-conflict regions. We can see that a feeling of insecurity has grown in many of the post-conflict areas as well as the distrust in some public institutions such as the police,” he explains.
 

Another of the effects in a post-conflict environment is the higher number of social demonstrations and increased civic activity. As such, the fourth challenge is related to channeling these interests and demands that the population from these regions have expressed without restriction, and, thus, strengthening the institutionally established spaces.
 

Institutional strengthening should go hand-in-hand with avoiding and combatting corruption. This is the fifth challenge. According to Miguel García, “as the actor who enforced justice has left the arena, the view that it is acceptable for the individual to exact justice and pay bribes has elevated. These are indicators that have increased and that have begun to correlate with the national average. The State should act quickly to not jeopardize its legitimacy.”

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