Barring exceptional circumstances, Bogotá will be a post-conflict city in 2016. The months preceding and immediately after March 23 will be identified by a palpable euphoria in accompaniment of the signing of a final peace agreement between the Government and the FARC, signifying to a war-weary population the end of a conflict and of fear and a new beginning of “normality” measured, as it were, in terms of social stability, economic prosperity and freedom.
It will be a time of great hope but also of a testing and delicate aftermath to the conflict — when the formal implementation of the accords begins. Whichever candidate wins the Bogotá mayoral election on October 25 would do well to consider the implications of a peace accord on the capital.
Bogotanos and indeed Colombians grow up in a culture that is increasingly politically polarized in what is known as “Affective Partisan Polarization”. Negative feeling between the Liberals and Conservatives has always existed, but perhaps today both sides are more comfortable expressing much colder sentiments toward the other party than in the past. Politics, as well we know, is inherently confrontational, but as we start considering the significance of what a post-conflict situation entails, the unhelpful demonizing by one side of another has taken centre stage. As the practice of vilification continues, compromise becomes increasingly difficult, hardly a fitting platform for reconciliation and reparation.
New mayor, new territory
The battle lines for Bogotá are drawn up and the election will be won by the candidate who can best convince the capital’s long-suffering public that he or she has the answer to the city’s transportation and security woes (And this will also be the candidate that least resembles Mayor Gustavo Petro, so dare I say it, Clara López is out of contention).
But, who would be Bogotá’s Mayor? The new Mayor will face a thankless task of breaking ground on a metro system, will need to be seen as taking charge in a warrior-style flourish and will have to show Bogotanos that this is not just “more of the same”. There will be no hair of the dog remedies to solution the disastrous tenures of Garzón, Moreno and Petro, because the real bastard pig behind the eyes hangover is yet to come, and that is the post-conflict and its connotations.
How will Bogotá fare in a post-conflict scenario? It’s a telling question of course and much depends on how Bogotá’s politicians can, under pressure, manage to satisfy the expectations of promises of peace, prosperity and security. In short, it’s crunch time for the new mayor.
Academic studies show that public violence increases in the immediate post-peace accord phase.
Academic studies show that public violence increases in the immediate post-peace accord phase due to a variety of factors. No one ever said that the transition from war to peace was going to be easy, but, the public also needs to be informed on these facts so that when we are blitzed with morale-sapping news reports each morning, public support for the implementation of the post-conflict process is not undermined.
Look at the examples in Central America, South Africa or even in the Balkans and you’ll see the same drama played out repeatedly. Most new or continuing forms of violence in post-peace accord societies are rooted in the conditions created by the violent conflicts themselves such as the presence of ex combatants, a culture of institutional violence by the security forces, the proliferation of available weapons, severe poverty, a spike in unemployment and economic inequality.
Finding peace in the post-conflict
No one of the aforementioned points is more important than the other, but taken together they make a pretty formidable challenge. And if we look at the local government’s persistent reliance on fudging unemployment rates by sweeping the overt and crass money laundering of places such as San Andresito and San Victorino and other informal employment under the carpet, we’re going to have a problem. Unemployment in all of its expressions breeds frustration, and this increases the attractiveness of criminal activities.
So, on October 25, I am still unsure which candidate for mayor will receive my vote. I know the ink is barely dry on the initial agreement in Havana but I want to quote Hamlet and ask you to look at it in reverse: “Thrift, thrift Horatio, the funeral baked meats did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.”
So, before the bunting is strung across the Avenida Séptima and banners unfurled from the Palacio Liévano in celebration, remind yourselves that there’s a long way to go yet and your vote must reflect this, because after as prolonged a period of violence as that experienced in Colombia, the country requires a comprehensive restructuring of its society in order to move forward.
I am going to take a couple of snippets from the negative campaigning being employed right now in the Canadian elections and say that the obvious frontrunners for Bogotá are Enrique “just visiting” Peñalosa and Rafael “but he’s got good hair” Pardo and call on the good sense of all Bogotanos to use their better judgment and think about who is the candidate who will most ably usher in the post-conflict. Given the global resonance of a post-conflict era in Colombia — a country that has arguably never known peace — your vote is not only for Bogotá but for the nation as a whole.