Image Source: Jose Miguel Gomez/Reuters
July 30, 2019
REGION: Western Hemisphere

In “Peacemaking Amidst Unfinished Social Contract: The Case of Colombia,” Angelika Rettberg suggests that Colombia’s 2016 Peace Agreement (“the agreement”) will not create a more inclusive social contract without stronger state capacity and performance, as well as social cohesion. Rettberg argues the agreement is too ambitious, and that the transitional justice mechanisms it created will only serve partial justice because of political and social opposition, as well as the lack of national institutions in rural areas. However, the agreement provides a window of opportunity to make a resilient national social contract between state and society. Rettberg identifies three key drivers of a resilient national social contract: political settlements; formal, customary, and informal state institutions; and social coordination. This article analyzes these drivers through two core conflict issues: the distribution and use of land, and the ability to restrain illicit crops and the drug trade.

Addressing the core issues of land and illicit crops, the agreement created an institutional architecture which included more than 15 new state agencies, offices, and programs. The agreement also contains a chapter dedicated to land reform, which includes modernizing the tax system, formalizing land tenure, and increasing land productivity. To fund this reform, the agreement calls for a state-managed Land Fund to formalize tenure for over seven million hectares of land. However, this Land Fund is contested by workers, peasants, and many newly formed companies trying to invest in these lands. Another issue of contestation is the agreement’s implementation of crop substitution programs, which calls for 100,000 hectares of illicit crops to be destroyed. To maintain compliance, a body of central and local government officials and FARC representatives will oversee the programs.  An additional concern is that the Colombian government has recently expressed interest in resorting to aerial eradication of crops, raising health concerns.

To create a solution to these core conflict issues, Rettberg argues that to have a strong social contract, there must be a strong state. Because Colombia is still a country of geographically separate and structurally distinct regions, a circular relationship between institutional weakness, conflict, and institutional distortions results from efforts to halt conflict. This circular relationship has reduced state capacity to provide basic services and protection, elicit popular compliance with the law, overcome impunity, and halt corruption. Despite improvements in recent decades, some scholars blame institutional weaknesses, such as inequality and exclusion for armed conflict, corruption, and peasants turning to illicit crops for income.

Although the agreement developed new institutions to deal with land distribution and illicit crops, these new institutions overlap with pre-existing national and local institutions. This overlap has resulted in a slow response to address land restitution claims, which has caused only 10% of 110,000 requests to be solved by adjudication. The overlap in institutions creates confusion among local communities, who see these clashing institutions fail to address important problems. Retteberg argues that this institutional clash undermines the value of state performance and legitimacy.

Another challenge Rettberg recognizes is the low level of social cohesion in Colombia. People are turning away from politics, and formal institutions are challenging vertical cohesion. Distrust extends not just to state institutions, but towards fellow citizens, which is reflected in high levels of violence and aggression. However, Rettberg suggests prospects of achieving reconciliation look hopeful because of the general favorability felt towards victims of conflict.

In conclusion, Rettberg argues that a successful social contract will result from a dynamic network of peacemaking and evolving social, political, and economic factors. This suggests that the process of social contract-making consists of multiple transitions taking place at once, yielding an increasingly complex picture. Thus, to build sustainable peace there must be a simultaneous strengthening of institutions and promotion of social cohesion.


NOTE: This summary is produced by the Rule of Law Collaborative, not by the original author(s).

Peace-Making Amidst an Unfinished Social Contract: The Case of Colombia

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