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'Work together', Colombian peace official tells Northern Ireland during Dublin visit

Presidential Counselor for Stabilization and Consolidation, Emilio Archila, is visiting Dublin today.

Emilio Archila is visiting Dublin today.
Emilio Archila is visiting Dublin today.

REMEMBER THAT YOU must “work together” – that was the message to Northern Ireland’s rowing political parties from the man in charge of implementing the 2016 peace agreement in Colombia. 

In an interview with TheJournal.ie, the Presidential Counselor for Stabilization and Consolidation in Colombia, Emilio Archila, said that he couldn’t offer specific advice to the region – which has been without a government for nearly three years – but said that parties should work “to overcome whatever difficulties you find”. 

Archila is in Ireland to meet with the government and Irish politicians to provide updates on the historic agreement between the Colombian administration and the left-wing militant group FARC in 2016. 

While he was not involved in the negotiation of the historic 2016 agreement, which was negotiated between the Colombian government and FARC, Archila has been charged with ensuring that the peace agreement is fully implemented. 

He said that the country had learned a lot from the peace process in Northern Ireland. 

“We have learned from the Irish experience that it is not something that you understand but something that you need to be continuously analysing and changing,” Archila said. 

It has been very enlightening that the idea of the peace-building has changed the society. It has changed the relations between the people and the government, the people and power, the people and police. It has changed the way Irish people look at each other, so we want to learn from that. 

The 323-page agreement in Colombia was reached in November 2016, after an initial deal was narrowly rejected in a referendum put to the Colombian people. 

The agreement was then revised and ratified by the Colombian parliament. 

Archila said that he believed that such a referendum – which saw former president Álvaro Uribe and other critics trash the agreement for conceding too much ground to FARC – was not “appropriate”. 

“I think that the way that the referendum was handled was, in my opinion, not a good idea. It divided the opinion of Colombians and it divided the opinion of Colombians without enough information,” he said. 

“The fact that the Colombian people were divided and said ‘yes’ or ‘no’ makes things a little bit more difficult,” he added. 

Concerns have grown in recent months that Colombia’s president, Iván Duque, has undermined the agreement, which was negotiated by his predecessor Juan Manuel Santos to end the 52-year battle against FARC. 

colombia-amazon-summit Colombia's President Ivan Duque has been criticised for this approach to the agreement. Source: Fernando Vergara/AP/Press Association Images

“I can assure anybody that is criticising President Duque for not implementing the agreement or going so fast as he should, they should take the time to see the results. It is not the rhetoric that talks. It is not the rhetoric that will change Colombia,” he said. 

However, he acknowledged that ‘playing politics’ with the agreement has caused headaches for those trying to implement peace with FARC. 

Last month, a group of former FARC rebels announced that they would be returning to arms and accused the government of betraying the agreement. Duque promised harsh action against them and blamed Venezuela’s socialist President Nicolás Maduro for backing the fighters. 

“I do not think this is going to erode the process. But it is a problem. What really concerns me is having another gang of narco-traffickers and narco-terrorists being supported by Venezuela. That is something that could do damage to the Colombian people,” he said. 

Cocaine

The cocaine trade remains one the biggest issues facing Colombia. In 2017, cocaine production in the country reached record levels, according to UN statistics, rising 31% to 1,400 tonnes. 

Addressing the Oireachtas committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade in April, former Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, now the EU special envoy for the peace process in Colombia, said that countries like Ireland need to consider how drug policies impact on poorer states. 

We should consider “the consequences of the consumption of cocaine in well-off parts of the world is resulting in for poor people in the areas where the coca is grown”, Gilmore said. 

Archila warned that people in Ireland and Europe who purchase cocaine are contributing to violence in Colombia. 

“When you demand something that is criminalised,” he said, you are helping “increase violence in Colombia”. 

“It is possible that people are not conscious they are causing it,” he added. 

Patience

Ultimately, Archila said that peace agreements were all about patience. Change, he said, does not happen overnight. 

The UK government has repeatedly been accused of putting the Good Friday Agreement at risk over its Brexit strategy. In the House of Commons on Monday, hours before parliament was suspended, one Tory MP warned that “to many in this place, and indeed in the country, the delivery of the Good Friday agreement was ‘job done’”.

When put to Archila that this was a widely held view in the UK, he laughed out loud. 

“The signing of an agreement produces nothing. And it produces nothing but the opportunity to change the way how things have been going on in your own country.”

“To have the possibility of dreaming that the things that happened to this generation and the past generation will not affect future generations. And so it is something that you cannot trust. It is something that you need to construct,” he said. 

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