A giant park in the center of Colombia’s capital city has come to symbolize the ongoing struggles of the nation’s internally displaced people. For more than four months, Bogotá’s Tercer Milenio Park was the de facto squatting grounds for over 1,000 families who left their homes because of internal violence, land seizures and overall insecurity throughout Colombia.
On September 9, the Bogotá Institute of Sport and Recreation (IDRD) announced a $200 million plan to restore the park, hoping to transform what resembled a refugee camp into a space that could be enjoyed by the public. The IDRD plan is the final chapter of a back-and-forth saga between the government and representatives of the displaced people in Tercer Milenio Park, under the mediation of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
After rounds of negotiations in late July and early August, representatives from the government and leaders of the displaced communities in the park agreed that 1,250 families would move in exchange for humanitarian aid, $493 per family (COL$ 945,000 pesos), sustainable work, safety, the right to dignified living, and relocation to the countryside should they wish to return.
By late August, when the government hadn’t lived up to its end of the bargain, the same communities threatened to re-occupy the park. Tensions eventually cooled, and according to UNHCR, the government should be ready to dispense funds and provide aid by the end of this month.
The successful distribution of these funds would be a minor victory for Colombia’s internally displaced community, who, in spite of being the subject of many academic studies and international attention, continue to fight an uphill struggle for the recognition of their plight and adequate appropriation of state-sponsored funding. Unlike the internal fighting between Colombia’s armed forces and guerilla groups like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which is concentrated in a few key areas, internally displaced people can be found throughout the country.
According to a map from the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, data from the Colombian Center for Studies on Economic Development (CEDE) ,and the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES) and a recently published book about forced displacement in Colombia by Ana María Ibáñez Londoño, 97.5 percent of Colombian municipalities are labeled municipios con desplazamiento individual—towns and cities where residents have been the victims of internal displacement.
Under Colombian law (Law 387 of 1997) those affected by internal violence are guaranteed the right to “assistance, protection, socioeconomic consolidation, and stabilization.” Yet administrations regularly dedicate far too little money to guarantee the enactment of this law. For example, a report published in 2004 by UNHCR revealed that only 43.2 percent of the demand for humanitarian aid was met in 2002.
A CODHES report, suggests that part of the reason for the failure of each administration to appropriate enough funding for Colombia’s internally displaced is the inability to initiate, execute and follow a consistent strategic plan. The result: one administration’s policy is upended by the next one. This lack of consistency makes sustained growth and progress more difficult. As recent as June 2009, the Colombian government announced they would not approve the Ley de Victimas, which would have provided over $41.6 million (COL$80 billion pesos) to the victims of internal conflict. The administration of President Álvaro Uribe said that passing the law would not be possible given the current budgetary bandwidth. Had this law been part of an ongoing process and not a new initiative, it may have had more of a chance of succeeding.
The occupation of Tercer Milenio Park is evidence of the displaced communities’ frustrations with the shortcomings of Law 387 and a perceived, continued mistreatment by the government. By occupying a public space in Colombia’s capital city for more than four months to obtain rights they are legally guaranteed, the displaced families proved both the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of the law’s application. They also demonstrated the ability of internally displaced communities to band together in extreme circumstances.
The results of the Tercer Milenio Park dispute could be seen as a victory for Colombia’s internally displaced population. They successfully negotiated with the government and are slated to receive the benefits they are guaranteed under the current law. Additionally, the resolution reminds the Colombian government of the internally displaced communities’ persistent needs—though how much taxpayers are willing to pay to address these needs is another issue.
The prominence of the Tercer Milenio Park dispute and the impact it had on many Bogotá residents brought the plight of Colombia’s internally displaced population to the mainstream media. The story received coverage in all of Colombia’s major media outlets, prompting the establishment of various Facebook groups along with new YouTube videos and blog posts dedicated to helping families living in the park.
Yet the success must be taken with a grain of salt. That they ultimately needed to occupy one of Bogotá’s largest public spaces for over four months to have their voices heard is indicative of the vast struggle that remains for equitable treatment.
In time, Tercer Milenio Park will be transformed back into an open public space. But the real transformation would be for that same level of resolve and funding to be dedicated to Colombia’s 2.6 to 4.4 million displaced people.
*Eliot Brockner is a guest blogger to AmericasQuarterly.org. He is an independent media analyst and writer focusing on policy, security, and crime in Latin America and U.S.-Latin American relations.