Addressing Security Challenges in Colombia
On January 24, 2008, the Latin American Program, the Inter-American Dialogue, and the Hunt Alternatives Fund Initiative for Inclusive Security hosted a discussion on the current security environment in Colombia, highlighting the role of women in the formation and implementation of security and peace policies in Colombia.
Nancy Patricia Gutiérrez, president of the Colombian Senate, noted that the history of violence and insecurity that has defined Colombia during the last forty years can only be confronted with strict security policies and greater participation of women. Former Colombian defense minister and current senator Marta Lucía Ramírez observed that if the state had been stronger and more efficientin providing not only security but also education, health services, and access to justice, the situation in Colombia would be different than it is today. It was necessary to continue and deepen the advances in public security, as well as consolidate an "integral state" throughout the country's territory. Gutiérrez and Ramírez agreed that fighting inequality meant providing greater protections and access to opportunity for women, including elevating the role of women in policy debates on security matters.
Colombia's deputy minister of the interior, María Isabel Nieto, highlighted the need for a road vision of security linked not just to its military and police dimensions but also to democratic governance and access to public services for all Colombians. To achieve this, she argued, the government and civil society must support and guarantee public order at the regional and local levels. Nieto emphasized the need to transform women who had been victims of violence into important actors in the design of security policies.
Universidad de los Andes professor and member of the Historical Memory Commission María Emma Wills observed that levels of polarization in Colombian society restrict the spaces and possibilities for joint action. Nonetheless, members of the Commission from different political parties had been able to agree on a common set of recommendations and carry out their work. Women are no more peaceful and conciliatory than men, she argued, but a concern for equal rights meant that their role in security initiatives and peacemaking needed to increase. Rape, for example, had been systematic in some regions of the country, but paramilitary leaders offering their confessions to the Historical Memory Commission had not mentioned what she called a crime against humanity.
All four Colombian participants were highly critical of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's role in brokering the release of civilian hostages held by the ARC. In their view, Chávez's lack of neutrality and disrespect for Colombian governmental institutions, as well as his use of the word "hostages" to describe FARC prisoners held by the Colombian government, disqualified him as an honest broker in a humanitarian accord. The FARC's disregard for international humanitarian law and its involvement in drug trafficking made a mockery of Chávez's intimation that they deserved belligerent status.