Sunday marks the start of the Peace Week in Colombia, an annual event in support of peace in the Latin American country that’s seen almost 50 years of war.

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Premiering in 1987 on a regional basis, Peace Week has evolved into a national celebration, with hundreds of sponsors and thousands of participants hosting events across Colombia.

The festival is organized by the National Network of Peace Initiatives (REDEPAZ) and is supported by schools, churches, government agencies, businesses and various social groups across Colombia. This year’s schedule features a range of free public programming, including concerts, plays, lectures, demonstrations, discussion groups, movie screenings and various participatory activities for children and families.

Over the course of its existence, Peace Week has bore witness to a shifting outlook in Colombia’s long-standing armed conflict. The festival has ran uninterrupted for over two-and-a-half decades, and has seen the situation improve and worsen as the years progress.

This year, which REDEPEZ has labeled ‘The Year of the Construction of Peace’, event directors are stressing the importance of Peace Week as a forum to “elevate the level of citizen organization and action’ in what organizers say is an important moment for ‘national reconcilliation’.

The circumstances surrounding the 2013 Peace Week are the most promising in the festival’s 26-year history, according to REDEPAZ President Luis Emil Sanabria, who told reporters this year’s events would “seek to give visibility to the work being carried out by thousands of individuals and organizations from civil society already struggling to achieve peace”.

Indeed, this year’s festival comes at a particularly charged moment in the Colombian peace process. President Juan Manuel Santos, who has fallen to unprecedented levels of unpopularity over the government’s perceived mismanagement of its ongoing national labor disputes, has faced consistent political criticism for engaging the FARC, Colombia’s largest and oldest rebel group, in peace talks being held in Havana since late last year.

With the debate over a proposed national referendum on the Havana peace talks recently introduced into the Colombian House of Representatives, the opening of peace dialogues between the government and the ELN rebel group last month, and recent steps toward the development of what President Santos has called the country’s “first national agriculture policy”, 2013 Peace Week could offer an important rallying point for growing political participation and social unrest in Colombia, as well as an opportunity for President Santos to build momentum behind the Havana talks heading into the one year anniversary of the start of the formal peace process.

Congessional representatives have joined organizers of Colombia’s nationwide agricultural protests in saying that addressing the needs of Colombia’s rural population is a necessary first step in forging a lasting end to the country’s armed conflict. Already, leaders of the Catholic Church have come out in support of the festival, as well as the ongoing peace talks and protest movements. And REDEPAZ says it firmly supports the President in ongoing peace efforts.

With renewed international intention focused on the peace talks with the FARC in Havana, and the developing social and labor situation in Colombia iself, Peace Week plans to provide the country a chance to “reflect on its situation and unite around a solution”.

The festival begins Sunday afternoon with a live concert in Bogota, with programming running through next Sunday. A schedule for local events can be downloaded from the official ‘Semana por la Paz’ website.

Source: Colombia Reports