Within the framework of the peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the guerrilla organization FARC-EP, which culminated in a historic peace agreement at the end of 2016, the territorial dimension of the violent conflict was conceptualized as a central problem for the first time. Since then, in Colombia, there has been talk about the challenge of establishing a territorial peace. The basic idea is that peace should be built from below, in concrete local spaces, in participatory processes. In this respect, the concept of territorial peace raises several questions. This article discusses a central blind spot: the importance of metropolitan areas in which numerous victims of the conflict can be identified and which have so far received little attention in the discussion about territorial peace. Using the example of the urban, informal settlement La Primavera, near the city of Medellín, some important dynamics are worked out that are central to the construction of territorial peace in urban space.
The Official Concept of Territorial Peace
The term territorial peace became popular during peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC-EP. Sergio Jaramillo, the Colombian government’s former Special Envoy for Peace, was the first to raise the issue in 2014. His interpretation of territorial peace represents that of the Colombian government under President Santos (2010-2018). Hence, the Colombian conflict is closely linked to the absence of state institutions that have favored the development of the conflict, particularly in the rural regions of the country. Strong institutions, practices and norms are therefore needed and shall emerge from a new alliance between the state and local, state-constituted communities. In order to achieve this, the local civilian population in the territories must be involved through participatory processes in order to take account of specific local characteristics and needs. In the future, this approach shall guarantee the rights of the inhabitants and in particular of the victims of the conflict and thus facilitate territorial peace.
If the Santos government spoke of territorial peace, it refers to rural areas. The same applies to the peace treaty with the FARC-EP. The resulting spatial division distinguishes between the most affected territories, which are all located in rural areas, and the rest of the country, such as urban areas, although these are difficult to separate from the rural logics of the conflict due to the dynamics of displacement. This differentiation implies an understanding of space that is not relational. Rather, it is an idea of spaces as containers. Which means that there is an inside and an outside. Within the affected, rural territories, an absence of institutions and an abundance of warlike conflicts is thus assumed. In this sense, the people in the territories appear as mere receptors or victims of the conflict, who, for lack of state presence, have no institutions through which social, political, cultural and economic interactions are regulated. This complete institutional emptiness projected into the rural territories is now to be filled by the state.
Settlement La Primavera – An urban perspective on territorial peace
The debate about territorial peace thus focuses primarily on those places that have become the starting point for displacement and escape. In particular, metropolitan regions such as the Valle de Aburrá, in the center of which lies the city of Medellín, were transformed from the 1980s into places of refuge for displaced people and families from all over the country (Jaramillo, Sánchez and Villa 2004: 30). Planning authorities in Medellín subsequently ordered the incorporation of several informal settlements. However, even these measures did not stop the migratory phenomenon, which intensified in the 1990s, especially due to displaced people from Urabá, Chocó and the north of Antioquia (ibid. 33-34). It is therefore obvious that the displacement through the armed conflict played a decisive role in the formation of informal settlements in Medellín, other cities of Colombia and their metropolitan areas. Nevertheless, little is known about the ideas of territorial peace of informal communities in urban areas of the country.
The informal community of La Primavera, which is part of the municipality of Barbosa and is located in the metropolitan region of Valle de Aburrá, is such a settlement and is an indirect product of the armed conflict. La Primavera was the temporary final destination of the displacement and converted itself primarily in a place of refuge from the war to the partially several times displaced people. Over the years, the community has grown and consolidated. Currently families in the third generation live there (Corporación Región 2018: 6). The infrastructure project “Tren de Cercanías de Antioquia” now confronts the community with the danger of being displaced again. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2020 (the NGO Corporation Region demonstrates the situation of the community in a short documentary from 2017).
But what does territorial peace mean to people, the majority of them officially recognized “victims” of the conflict, who, as in many major cities and metropolitan areas of Colombia, live in permanent informality and who, as in the case of the community of La Primavera, are actually acutely threatened by this and by the accompanying urban policy? Comparable incidents in the Medellín metropolitan region (La Paralela and Nuevo Jerusalén) have shown that collective resettlement is not to be expected from the responsible authorities and that temporary assumption of the rental costs on the formal housing market is at best limited to three months. A definitive solution to the housing question is therefore not in sight. It should be remembered as well that many of the residents tried to find affordable accommodation in Medellín before arriving in La Primavera, but this was not possible due to the rental costs.
Through empirical work by the author, between August and October 2018, the meanings of peace and territory in the community were inductively determined in order to learn something about territorial peace from this specific perspective. Looking at the territory of La Primavera, this has been constructed from the ground up, both materially and socially, and through the exercise and development of social practices and norms. The communal and solidary living together of the inhabitants is fundamental to the existence and importance of the territory. This results in a strong social fabric that provides security and identity to the residents. These social dynamics also reflect the processual, continuous and non-static character of the territory. In addition, the residents have continually resisted. Beginning with the displacement from their hometowns, continuing with the exclusion of formalized territories and other informal urban territories and finally the production of their own territory and shelters, the residents resisted. These experiences are also inscribed in the territory on which they live today.
Peace is constructed from the perspective of the community through collective, solidary and independent processes in the territory. As a result, the community and solidarity network created in La Primavera has reconstructed the peace of the individual members of the community to a certain extent (The newspaper El Espectador as well reports similar observations regarding the displaced population in informal, urban settlements). In this context, La Primavera, despite all its environmental difficulties and risks, is described by its inhabitants as a territory of peace that is based on the continuous exercise of social norms and practices that basically consist of a productive and supportive living together of the community. The integrity of the community, as well as the possibility of exercising those norms and practices, are therefore of central importance for the continuous construction of the territory and for the peace construction of the community.
Because for the inhabitants of La Primavera, the processes of becoming or appropriating the territory and the associated production of the territory by the inhabitants of the community go hand in hand with the construction of peace. Peace is thus constructed through the production and appropriation of the territory. If the community is displaced again, it loses its community, which is bound to a collective territory and consequently also the possibility to organize itself collectively and independently, that is to say to continue constructing its peace. This very centrality of a collective territory in the life of the community is characteristic of La Primavera and its socio-spatial dynamics.
Due to the informality and illegality of the settlement, however, it is now acutely threatened by influences located outside of the community. Thus, the inhabitants are currently fighting against stigmatization, discrimination, exclusion through politics and concretely against a further displacement from their territory. This is accompanied by an increasing threat to the social fabric of the community, as the looming renewed revictimization triggers mistrust towards the peace process and the responsible politicians, and thus political participation at the community level decreases. The living together and the territorial peace of the community under construction is therefore endangered.
Further central challenges, in addition to the acute threats mentioned above, are the lack of means and the vulnerability of the inhabitants as well as the lack of secure housing. Many of the vulnerabilities and losses caused by the displacement were reduced and reconstructed by the community under its own steam. Peace-building and nation-state policies must, however, recognize these local efforts and achievements both in the countryside and in the metropolitan areas and use their potential for the construction of territorial peace.
As for the settlement La Primavera, it must be given the opportunity to further construct its territorial peace. From the perspective of the inhabitants, this possibility would be provided by a formalized territory, collectively owned and free of any life-threatening risks. In the territories of the metropolitan areas and in the big cities a sensitive and supportive strategy is needed to formally recognize, legitimize and accompany the specific processes of the settlements created by violent displacement. Without such a strategy, the necessary collective and independent construction of territorial peace in these urban regions will be hindered.
The author thanks the community of La Primavera and Corporación Región and emphasizes that it is a privilege to have written this article.
-Jaramillo, A. A. Sánchez y M. Villa (2004): Miedo y Desplazamiento. Experiencias y Percepciones. Medellín (Corporación Región)
-Corporación Región (2018): Algunas consideraciones sobre la problemática del asentamiento La Primavera. Municipio Barbosa Antioquia. Medellín (Corporación Región).