Interview | 5/20/2009 12:00:00 AM
“We are doing something for combatants, not just buying them a bus ticket and dropping them at the end of the line”
Semana International interviewed Nat J. Colletta, international expert on conflict resolution. In this second part of the interview, Colletta discusses demobilization and the reintegration of former combatants to society.
First of all, the assumption is that the general population will not want to forgive them, will not want to accept them. So my experience is then, if they know that they have been treated in some way, processed with some training programs and some preparations and not just being dumped in the community, that there is actually some process helping them normalize to go back to society, this helps. If I’m telling you that I’m going to move you back to the community, but I tell the community, ‘look, they’ve been exposed to training, we’ve done this and that’ you try to reduce the stigma by trying to create a new identity. Obviously people have the feeling, specially if their own family member were victims, its not easy, but I think it helps to combine this public information of the community. We’re doing something for combatants, we’re not just buying them a bus ticket and dropping them at the end of the line.
SEMANA: How should the government deal with the middle run combatants? How do you feel about giving them an opportunity?
Well, I think you have to present them with an opportunity, an alternative to criminality, that’s number one. It’s like an alcoholic anonymous, you have to get successful converts, people who have gone through the process, you have to get them to be the front line and tell the others ‘hey, I think we can make it here’. I think they’re going to find that they are going to have to turn to success stories and hire those success stories to go back out and recruit some of these middle run people who are skeptical about the counter incentives of the criminal life, if you will. I think the other thing that works here is legitimacy, I really believe that at the end of the day we really underestimate this concept. People basically want to live a real legitimate life, they’ve been stigmatized as the criminal one, they have been worrying about this and that, it gets pretty tiring. It is no different than the mafia, in America.
SEMANA: In your experience, people would want to be legitimate, but in Colombia numbers of people actually demobilizing vary, how have you seen this problem in other areas that you know?
It’s a problem, that’s why the state keeps close to these guys for a while. This is what I like about these service centers, they’re kind of counseling, they’re putting a lot of effort in Colombia into the psycho social dimension. You find other African societies where they don’t have the resources, they can’t follow these guys, they can’t provide then with one on one counseling. They are lucky if they even see them once with any kind of psychologist or anyone who talks to them and sees them, follow then and provide support.
It helps to build this network around these guys, they are all moving together, they are not alone. This is an interesting concept, because most people think this is like a rebel unit. But I think you should maintain some of that cohesion, you brake the leadership if you don’t want them to go back to crime, but you maintain some of that cohesiveness to provide support for each other, social psychological support. Its one of the things we found in the recent study we did, contrary to conventional treatment, they used to break up their cohesion, the commander structure, but not that the support network, at least in the transition, I’m not talking about the long term.
SEMANA: How long do you think it takes to do a normal transition, as you’ve seen it in other parts?
It’s a tough question, it has a lot to do with sustainable lifestyle. My answer to that is however long it takes for the person to have a sustainable life style, and dependant on the profession. In agricultural economy, in Uganda, for example, we gave literally a nine month transition period. Why? Why not six months? Based on the growing season. We got them land, we provided inputs, and it took literally nine months to spin around the clock and sustain yourself. Once you can reach a point of a sustainable life… in urban life it might be different, with different professions, but the answer would be until they reach a sustainable lifestyle.
SEMANA: What’s the right mixture in between impunity and justice? I mean, how does the Colombian system has managed this with the demobilization of the paramilitary and the desertion of the FARC, how should it be on that?
What I’ve seen, is that obviously there has to be an additional way for justice, that there is a truth commission or some kind of, perhaps, reparation might be involved. There has to be some form of truth telling and reparation, at least a form of transition. It doesn’t have to be part of a prosecution, but the big fish yes, usually they make an example of the huge people like what’s happening in Cambodia now.
There is truth telling involved, some reparation involved, they are paying back to society for some of the things they’ve done, in some form, through some service, through some names of the victims. How do you get peace and justice without impunity? They send the wrong signal when people can get away with these things. Believe me, every place faces the same problem, the same issue. It’s not a Colombian only issue. How do you get the resistance army to come in? When the top guy and the commanders say ‘we’ll come in only if a) you don’t prosecute us, b) you provide us with means of living, c) you give us a safe place to live, you provide security for us. This are the normal things they are asking.
SEMANA: When you have a society like the Colombian, where you have had a conflict for decades, how does society prepare to go beyond the conflict?
It’s been sold to the public that this is the way… its almost that how do you change the stereotype of the country? Its been damaged because of this violent history. I think that has to be done in the public media. They’ve moved beyond this point, they are a part of the international community, and you have to demonstrate people that the country is actually governed and that the state has the monopoly over the means of coercion, that they are controlled by the State. I think beyond their faults they have been able to do a good job in reestablishing the rule of law, the credibility of the State.
SEMANA: What would you do in Colombia to apply your research findings?
I would definitively think of some kind of labor intensive, I would think of agro industrial things that I’ve been mentioning to you, where you basically make them stakeholders, so that they actually don’t feel they’re just being exploited but they actually see the results of having a share in this industry. I would perhaps set up some kind of social development services, where you happen… together, maybe, in some kind of vocational training, and life skill training, maybe within the Ministry of Labor, the public works.
One of the issues is that when people are being paid and just carrying a gun, and getting the respect, it’s not easy to hand them a shovel.
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