Regional Peacebuilding Space of Montes de María
As certain regions in Colombia have entered a de-facto post-conflict situation, conversations have been happening at a national level in recent years about how peacebuilding advocacy can happen even before an official peace agreement is reached. Sergio Jaramillo Caro, the presidential-appointed High Peace Commissioner has been the most prominent advocate for these processes. In early 2014, Ricardo Esquivia of SembrandoPaz and John Paul Lederach, a renowned peacebuilding theorist and practitioner, joined in on these conversations, focusing on the importance of building relationships across different sectors, such as social actors, businesses, clergy, government officials, media, and security. The resulting project is the Regional Peacebuilding Space. With the vision of “converting the Montes de María into a national example of sustainable, inclusive peace that is representative of the region,” the space will “create and consolidate a trusted network in Montes de María through dialogue with strategic actors, probable and improbable, to together create and promote a proposal of peace by and for the region of Montes de María” (Presentation Pamphlet: “Espacio Regional.” By Facilitating Group).
The space holds three strategic focuses: 1. The strengthening of identity, including the identity of Montes de María as a cohesive region, as well as the identity of those involved in the space, 2. Peace advocacy, and 3. Reconciliation between actors, both re-encounters between equals and dialogue between those who differ in their approach to development and peacebuilding. As an organizational structure, the facilitating group is made up of 8 people who coordinate the space, designate work to members, guide the proposals for peace, and operate external relations. The base group of 30-60 people are trusted members of the key sectors, known for their work in the region, who are willing and able to give time to the space, participate in dialogues, and make decisions about the mission and work of the space. Finally, the strategic links represent those who are key actors in the region who support the space in certain moments and specific themes, but are not committed to help in a permanent way.
While based in the same type of ideas as the High Peace Commission, the space has kept its autonomy from this governmental program. Rather than subscribing to a one-size-fits-all institutional approach for the entire country, the space advocates for community-based processes that recognize the contextual realities, needs, and actors of each region. In line with these values, the space has been directly funded through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
To give an example of the types of actions the group has taken, the Regional Peacebuilding Space has facilitated on-going dialogues between community members and the transnational cement company Argos, working to reconcile with perceptions that the company used the violence of the armed conflict to benefit its business. In addition, the space is currently pursuing a project of truth-telling about who owns what land in the Montes de María, and how they came to own it. Another initiative is to encourage the telling of traditional stories of reconciliation that are culturally contextual and relevant.
Sembrandopaz is not only a member of the space, but also a facilitator who motivates the actors in the space, helps to maintain a record of the group’s actions, and encourages reflection. This participation is part of their commitment to regional peacebuilding and reconciliation.