Latin America Advisor

A Daily Publication of The Dialogue

Is Colombia’s Decades-Long War Finally Over?

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño signed the renegotiated peace accord Nov. 24 in Bogotá.

Colombia’s Senate on Tuesday approved and sent to the lower house of Congress the government’s renegotiated peace accord with the FARC rebels. The approval came less than a week after President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño, or Timochenko, signed the agreement to end the country’s more than half-century armed conflict. Rather than again seeking the approval from voters, who rejected the original accord in October, Santos has pinned his hopes on Congress, where his coalition has a majority, for the new accord’s ratification. How different is this peace deal from the earlier version that voters rejected? How likely is the new deal to receive final ratification, and what are some of the criticisms it faces?

Fernando Cepeda Ulloa, professor of political science at Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá and a former Colombian interior minister: “The accord will have no difficulty in Congress, where its ratification will be quite informal—a proposition and a debate in each chamber as agreed upon by the government and the FARC. The ‘No’ coalition recognizes that changes were made to the accord. Some of them were significant, such as the requirement that the FARC publish its assets. But the ‘No’ coalition wanted a national peace agreement that, unfortunately, was not achieved. It has been alleged that central issues such as transitional justice, eligibility to become president and the popular elections of FARC commanders did not undergo substantial changes and that the subject of the FARC’s links to illegal drug trafficking did not receive adequate treatment. The consequence is that public opinion will continue to be very polarized and that the peace accord will be a central issue in the 2018 presidential campaign. It will also be a central issue in Congress, due to the Democratic Center party, headed by former President Álvaro Uribe. For now, the Santos government and Congress lack a special procedure to implement the agreements quickly. Legislative Act 1 of 2016 reformed the Constitution to establish a fast-track procedure. This reform was conditional on the plebiscite’s approval. There is the possibility that a different interpretation of the Constitutional Court could revive it. Therefore, the reforms should be dealt with through ordinary procedures, which, despite the administration’s large majority in Congress, will be difficult and, in any case, slower.”

Barry McCaffrey, president of BR McCaffrey Associates, a retired U.S. Army four-star general and former director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy: “There is an enormous hunger for peace in Colombia. The dreadful civil war has dragged on for some 52 years and consumed many of the dreams and possibilities of the people and the nation. This has been an endless national nightmare that entangled the FARC (which began as a Marxist struggle for justice and land) with sheer drug criminal greed and abuse of the people. The FARC in the end lost its way and became a giant criminal organization that waged criminal depredations against the people. In turn, the Colombian people came to despise the FARC and the ELN, as well as the many criminal bands who created endless savage chaos and fear with drug addiction, extortion, kidnappings, murder and abuse of the rural population. The only reason the FARC went to Havana to negotiate is because the Colombian Armed Forces and the Colombian National Police were inexorably destroying their ability to fight and survive. No insurgency group negotiates away advantages they have secured through bloodshed. These Colombian security forces were viewed with heroic respect by the overwhelming majority of Colombians. The FARC was headed toward complete dissolution. Much of this success occurred because of the implacable resolve of President Álvaro Uribe and his government. President Juan Manuel Santos made a brave and historic gamble for peace. The problem remains that the new accord will never hold the FARC legally accountable for its criminal behavior with drugs and violence. The FARC refused to be vulnerable to criminal prosecution and incarceration. There will also be no bar to political participation for FARC leaders involved in criminal behavior.”

Maria Velez de Berliner, president of Latin Intelligence Corporation: “Except for the reduction of the public financing of the FARC’s political party, exclusion of FARC candidates from the Special Circumscriptions for Peace, the guarantee of private property, and disclosure and repatriation of FARC assets, the other changes were cosmetic. The exempted changes did not mollify the opponents, led by Senator Álvaro Uribe, who believe the agreement is a capitulation of Colombia’s government to the FARC’s demands. Colombia’s Senate approved the agreement on Tuesday and sent it to the House of Representatives. However, fierce opposition will continue from Uribe’s Centro Democrático, factions within the Conservative Party and the large number of Colombians who see indiscriminate violence and impunity in the country as a harbinger of the chaos a demobilized FARC will create. Colombians are already witnessing summary executions of more than 100 civic leaders of Marcha Democrática, the political movement associated with the FARC, executions reminiscent of those that disseminated the Unión Patriótica, the FARC’s former political party. Forced disappearances and internal displacement continue, along with growing numbers of casas de pique, and the proliferation of criminal organizations in areas the FARC controlled. The added personal protection and safety assurances the government has pledged to the demobilized FARC leaders show the rebels’ vulnerability to murderous reprisals and augments the belief that the peace promised by the agreement is all but illusory. That President Santos elected to have the agreement ratified by Congress, and not by the electorate, is seen as a testament to its fragility once its full implementation comes under the corruption of Colombia’s judicial system and political class, and the atavistic aversion and distrust most Colombians harbor toward the FARC.”

Jorge Lara Urbaneja, partner at Arciniegas, Lara, Briceño & Plana in Bogotá: “Preventing another surprise, President Santos switched to asking the Congress for ratification and legal implementation of the renegotiated peace agreement with the FARC. In doing so, he is relying on the support of the existing coalition, formed by different political parties, with a dissimilar direction and electoral structure. Besides, political leaders consider that this peace treaty will be the center of debates in the 2018 elections; thus, it is very risky to express unconditional approval of this peace agreement at this time, for it may negatively affect the electoral outcome in 2018. Moreover, there are legal and constitutional discussions about the peace agreement’s ratification and implementation by the Congress instead of in another plebiscite. It is being said that a congressional decision cannot replace the people’s direct vote, which is what President Santos sought in the first place. It is clear, therefore, that the renegotiated peace agreement will not be ratified and implemented by consensus. The confrontation around the new peace treaty evolves outside the ideas, origin, causes and claims that generated 52 years of political violence. The disagreement is focused on the political and business future of the FARC leaders and the creation of a transitional justice system, which would keep FARC leaders out of jail. Evidently, an agreement between both sides around such issues will be very hard to reach, because there is no middle ground to settle these discussions. FARC leaders argue that the government convinced them to exchange bullets for votes, and that does not involve any past liabilities.”

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