Latin America Advisor

A Daily Publication of The Dialogue

Does Colombia Need Foreign Help to Make Peace Last?

Colombia’s government and the FARC rebels jointly requested that the United Nations establish an observer mission to monitor any cease-fire and disarmament that happens with an eventual peace accord, and the U.N. Security Council approved the request on January 25. The request came just days after World Bank President Jim Yong Kim urged foreign governments to step up their funding commitments to Colombia to help ensure the survival of a future peace deal. How much of a role will the international community play in helping to establish and maintain peace in Colombia? In which ways do international actors need to help Colombia the most? Are there drawbacks to Colombia relying too heavily on international aid?

Marta Lucía Ramírez, former Colombian defense minister and foreign trade minister: “The international community’s participation is certainly positive for Colombia, not only in the verification of disarmament, but especially in the FARC’s destruction of weapons. The end of the conflict is a prerequisite for peace in Colombia, but simply signing peace accords will not mean peace for the country. It is essential that President Santos’ government make greater efforts to strengthen justice, improve security and crack down on the illegal activities of all those who threaten the peace of our country, including the ELN, the Bacrim and drug traffickers. The international community cannot replace the efforts of the Colombian government, but it certainly requires a greater commitment of Colombia’s allies to combat the illegal activity that sometimes moves so freely within our borders. To that extent, the recent U.N. Security Council resolution is good news, and the presence of CELAC countries in the verification mission should not include neighboring countries, or those who have been under the orbit of Chavismo, which has been a friend and ally of the FARC. For the negotiation between Santos’ government and the FARC to be sustainable and lead to true peace, it is paramount that the international community contribute to real justice, the surrender of weapons, reparations for victims and guarantees of non-repetition. For this reason, international cooperation is much more than just the financial contribution of which the World Bank’s president spoke. Perhaps more importantly, it involves political will as well as police and judicial cooperation in order to locate assets of the FARC abroad and ensure the compensation of victims. As for the financial resources that both multilateral agencies and friendly governments can provide for the continuity and sustainability of the peace process, it is necessary to ensure that these resources do not go to eliminate the country’s fiscal deficit. Instead, every dollar that Colombia receives from the international community must be invested in productive projects that generate employment, not only for FARC rebels, but also for Colombian peasants who have been victims of the FARC’s violence and terrorism.”

Maria Velez de Berliner, president of Latin Intelligence Corporation: “Colombians have for years wanted to have the United Nations’ Blue Helmets help them fix their country’s ills. Therefore, the Security Council’s approval of the mission is not surprising. However, despite its lofty objectives, the internecine violence of Colombia will hinder the mission’s actions because first of all, the mission’s success requires a foundation of institutional strength that Colombia does not have. New courts, eight new Zonas de Concentración, new insertion regulations, new victims’ protections and land-restitution laws, all related to the disarmament and cease-fire agreements, are good on paper, but their implementation will be undermined by the endemic corruption, collusion and patronage prevalent within Colombia’s weak institutions. Second, the United Nations cannot create institutional strength because it would require its direct involvement in the political, social, economic, regulatory and legislative process of Colombia. This the U.N. cannot do, even if it wanted to, under its Article 6, which would be the basis for the mission. Third, the mission will only cover the FARC’s Central Command and its milicianos. Other FARC fronts are not demobilizing and plan to continue their fight. And hundreds of Bacrims, narcotrafficking organizations, the ELN, the Clan Úsuga and sundry criminal gangs, all operating in the mission’s geographic areas, will continue their violent struggle for territorial control. By establishing the mission, the United Nations will go down a slippery slope of continued strife, recrimination and failed expectations. Colombia’s history of violence and criminality acts against the long-term success of the peace agreement. More so when a majority of Colombians from across the political spectrum oppose the agreement as it is known today."

Javier Ciurlizza, program director for Latin America at International Crisis Group: “The establishment of a United Nations mission in Colombia is a signal that talks between the FARC and the government are closer to their end, and such a mission should be welcomed. This mission will not substantially replace what the process still relies on: the will of the parties and the political process in Colombia. The talks in Havana have been essentially a domestic affair, with a light international touch. As past experiences show, a verification mechanism depends greatly on the mandate assigned to it by the parties, which should be as detailed as possible, as ambiguity will benefit no one. It is true, however, that the international component will increase its role and visibility once the parties leave Cuban soil. That being said, there is still a number of things that need to be clarified. For example, in addition to the technical modalities of the cease-fire and the separation of forces, it is important to assign to the mission a clear role in the resolution of differences; international cooperation must align resources around the mission; observers have to be carefully recruited, avoiding political quotas between CELAC members; the mission will need to deploy effectively in a large and complex geography; and its leadership has to be strong and acknowledged by the parties and by Colombian society. If the mission is wisely deployed, it will help get the complex process of implementation of Colombia’s peace agreements off to a good start. This would be to the enormous benefit of the Colombian people, and an opportunity for the United Nations.”

Jorge Lara-Urbaneja, partner at Arciniegas, Lara, Briceño & Plana in Bogotá: “Should peace conversations in Havana break down tomorrow, violence in Colombia would not be worse than it is today. For many years, all FARC actions have been aimed at setting the operation and financial structure of its global drug organization. Venezuela’s ruling group has been very proactive in this endeavor, not just by providing shelter and areas of operation, but by taking direct care of FARC’s leaders, like Timochenko, when they must show up in Havana. The FARC has not been engaged in any major operation against the Colombian government or major institutions in a great number of years. Instead, all collective crimes and actions of mass destruction, particularly those in Chocó and the Colombian Pacific coast, should have no other purpose than controlling production areas, crops, drug transportation and exports. As a result, Colombia, once again, has the largest base for production of cocaine in the world. However, three years of peace talks have made us all forget the FARC’s participation and responsibility in this business. This being the case, there is no reason for the FARC to go back in history and put in jeopardy its major achievements in the peace process. On the other hand, the Colombian government’s position has been weak and uncertain; it has not raised the firm and clear support necessary for its national approval. In this scenario, the participation of the United Nations, as well as that of the international community, is necessary in order to re-establish the credibility of the process and take it to a conclusion.”

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