When you wander through the vivid and colourful streets of Colombian cities today, you can hardly imagine that not too long ago, this country was considered one of the most dangerous ones in the world. 

Elizabeth Santamaría was only 13 years old when she was forcibly recruited by the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). She is one of thousands of Colombian girls and women who have been forced to fight in leftist guerrilla groups during more than half a century of war. But even in times of violence and war, Elizabeth Santamaría knew militarisation was not the answer.

“Although it is true that I did not know what was good and what was bad, I was always leaning towards more social issues, for peace,” she said.

Today, Elizabeth Santamaría is an activist in WILPF’s section in Colombia – Liga Internacional de Mujeres por la Paz y la Libertad (LIMPAL) – where she supports and empowers ex-combatant women. 

Antimilitarism in Movement

From 30 July to 1 August 2019, Elizabeth Santamaría took part in the seventh International Conference ‘Antimilitarism in movement: Narratives of resistance to war’. It was a conference that addressed the necessity to challenge militarism, forced recruitment and peoples’ displacements.

Photo Credits: LIMPAL

Antimilitarism is a global movement of activists rejecting all forms of military armor. The movement believes that patriarchy, capitalism and neoliberalism are the drivers of war, and militarism and the arms trade are the enablers. For this reason, disarmament and demilitarisation are the key to peace.

The conference was organised by War Resisters’ International, a global network of grassroots antimilitarist and pacifist groups. With the aim to develop alternatives to the growing militarisation in Latin America and globally, War Resisters’ International was dedicated to creating an event whose effects would last beyond the conference itself.

A significant focus was placed on the formation of relationships based on mutual understanding, shared analysis and future cooperation. During the three days, civil society activists, human rights defenders and feminists were able to connect and exchange their experience with militarism and pacifist peace mechanisms.

One of them was Diana María Salcedo Lopez, the President of LIMPAL. “Antimilitarism must not only dialogue with multiple feminisms, but also with all forms of resistance,” she said at the conference, referring to the female combatants who saw their joining in armed forces as a form of resistance to the system.

Colombia: The Big Player in the Military Game 

Colombia was chosen as the location for the conference, due to its particular history of militarisation. A historical moment in 2016 led to a change of dynamics in the question of militarisation occurring in the country.

On 22 June 2016, the Colombian government signed a promising ceasefire with the largest guerrilla movement in Colombia,  named Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC). While for the people the peace agreement meant hope for a life free from violence, guerrillas and eventually also from the military, the Colombian Government interpreted it more as a reason to expand military expenditure and recover territories taken over by FARC. 

Amongst other reasons, this is why Colombian public forces keep growing, both in terms of budget and people. In fact, military expenditure in Colombia has reached over 10,000 million USD, which equals around 3.2% of the Gross Domestic Product in 2018.

Today, Colombia has the third largest total available active military manpower in the Americas, only to be surpassed by the United States and Brasil. 

One Step Closer to End Militarisation

We are facing constant growth of military expenditures in the world. But on the bright side, we are also finding an ever-growing pacifist movement, every year more organised, more connected, and more efficient. 

Events like the Antimilitarism in movement: Narratives of resistance to war’ are fundamental to tackling the growing militarism in the world. Thanks to War Resisters’ International, 165 activists from over 30 countries came together in Bogota to share their stories, build a platform for pacifist means and set an end to the permanent influence and penetration of militarisation in society.