November 24, 2016
At 11 am in the Teatro Colón in Bogotá today, Thursday, November 24, Colombian government and FARC-EP negotiators signed the Final Agreement for the Ending of the Conflict and the Building of a Stable and Lasting Peace. (Read their joint communiqué here.)
The Colombian Congress will provide the mechanism for endorsement of the new accord. (Read Santos’s speech here.) This will entail an up-or-down vote in the national Congress on the entirety of the Accord. Details and procedures are still being worked out, but the vote is likely to take place soon, given that the Congress will recess for the holiday season on Dec. 16. (Read more here.) Some of those who opposed the original peace accords signed by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC-EP Commander in Chief Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri (aka Timoleón Jiménez or Timochenko) in Cartagena on Sept. 26 continue to oppose the new, revised agreement. Given that President Santos and his coalition enjoy a majority in the Congress, the new peace accord is expected to be approved easily there.
A New Accord Reached
In the aftermath of the Oct. 2 plebiscite that rejected by a hair the Cartagena agreements, the President launched a national dialogue that generated weeks of intense discussions and some 500 proposals. In early November, government teams reviewed and organized these inputs for discussion with the FARC-EP, and returned to the table in Havana. (See my previous posts.) There they worked around the clock for nine days with their FARC-EP counterparts and crafted a new agreement that addresses the concerns manifest by key sectors of Colombian society. Consultations with politicians and civil society leaders have continued in parallel throughout these weeks of negotiations in both Havana and Colombia.
On Nov. 12, the government and FARC negotiators announced that they had reached agreement on a new accord. (Read the new accord here.) The revised peace accord incorporates changes in 56 of the 57 thematic areas where modifications had been solicited. Revisions include corrections, clarifications, modifications, and changes in focus and in content. (See summary of changes by peace commissioner Sergio Jaramillo here; compare the versions here.)
With a new accord completed, President Santos called for his negotiators to return from Havana immediately and make themselves available to meet with the leading opponents of the Cartagena accords. The latter included Senator and former President Alvaro Uribe, ex-President Andrés Pastrana, Conservative Party leader and former Min. of Defense Martha Lucía Ramirez, former Comptroller General Alejandro Ordóñez, and a range of Evangelical Protestant religious leaders. Pres. Santos put his negotiators at the service of the NO politicians with an invitation to review jointly the considerable changes that had been made in consideration of their inputs.
The NO That Won’t Let Go
Negotiations between the government and the NO proponents on the other hand reached a new level of intensity this week. On Monday, Nov. 21, after a week of delays and no-shows, the NO leaders held a six-hour tete-a-tete with the government delegation to discuss the new document. The government team has produced a matrix showing each of the NO proposals and how they were addressed in the revised peace accord. (View it here). The Ideas for Peace Foundation has also done a broader analysis of the YES and NO proposals. (View it here.)
With prominent members of the NO sector arguing that the changes were merely “cosmetic,” it was unclear whether the new agreement might be subjected to another round of inputs and further negotiations. From the beginning, the FARC maintained that the new agreement was definitive; the government hesitated before confirming this to be the case. Nonetheless, it soon became clear that the government had the responsibility of reaching an agreement with the FARC-EP, had done due diligence in engaging in meaningful consultations with all stakeholders, and would work toward a national accord for the implementation of the agreements, but not for further revisions of the agreements themselves. Timochenko and a dozen members of the FARC-EP negotiating team flew to Bogota on Monday, Nov. 21, with the assistance of the International Committee of the Red Cross, in anticipation of an official signing of the Nov. 12 accord by President Santos and Timochenko.
A Definitive Accord
While most of the groups who had been consulted since the plebiscite were satisfied with the changes and adjustments that had been made, President Santos noted, “some of the more radical sectors of the No continue to oppose the new accord.”
In addition to the not-so-subtle political posturing evident as the 2018 presidential elections approach, there are two major and perhaps irreconciliable differences here that help explain why some sectors of the NO may find it difficult to accept any revised peace accord that does not simply eliminate the FARC as a political contender.
First, the two camps analyze the conflict and thus the avenues for its resolution quite differently. Ex-President Alvaro Uribe, one of the heads of the NO campaign, has long argued that the problem in Colombia is a problem of FARC terrorism against the State, and he has sought through military means to defeat the FARC. His solution, and that of those opposing the latest accord, appears to be to hold out for full surrender through the peace accord. Despite numerous concessions on the part of the FARC in this last round–the tightening up of conditions for accountability for crimes and drug trafficking, providing an inventory of properties to be turned over to the victims, receiving reduced political campaign financing and other benefits, renouncing elected political posts in the newly created peace districts–Uribe and his supporters are holding out for erasing the FARC’s remaining redline. This relates to jail time for the FARC and eligibility to run for political office. For the FARC, compliance with these conditions would be tantamount to a surrender.
The government negotiating team, on the other hand, has defined the conflict as an internal armed conflict fomented and perpetuated by a range of drivers. These drivers include land tenure inequalities, lack of rural development, and vast inequities for the large peasant population; limited opportunities for political participation and a relatively closed political system that is resistant to change; illicit crop cultivation and drug trafficking; and a legacy of human rights violations committed not only by the FARC, but by paramilitaries, State agents, business leaders, politicians and other civilian and armed actors.
As a consequence of these different approaches to the conflict and its solution, the two sides view the peace process itself quite differently. The government has spent some six years negotiating a political solution to end the armed conflict with the FARC-EP via a peace process with the insurgents. The recalcitrant NO advocates are seeking to negotiate the terms of surrender for a war that the government has not won.
In the absence of a consensus on the peace accords, President Santos and his negotiating team have expressed their interest in a national accord with the sectors of the NO. They are clear however that this will be a national accord for the implementation of the peace accord. The seeds for ongoing dialogue toward a national accord for implementation nonetheless will be needed to ensure that the agreement is implemented beyond the tenure of President Santos, which ends in 2018. Still, this will not be an easy path.
Shifting Political Environment Accelerates Peace Process
The speed with which the negotiators were able to come to closure on a revised final agreement and then on the mechanism for endorsing it was undoubtedly impacted by the shifting political environment both at home and abroad. In Colombia, FARC-EP soldiers are in a juridical and physical limbo. Thousands of troops are in “pre-concentration zones” where they await the formalities of ratification of the agreement and subsequent Congressional action (particularly in ratifying an amnesty law). Without these formalities, they are at risk of persecution and prosecution. With ratification of the agreement, the tripartite mechanism under the UN political mission can proceed to move the soldiers into the temporary zones where they will turn over their weapons and begin the transition to civilian life. An incident in Sur de Bolívar earlier this week underscored just how fragile the ceasefire is. While there are conflicting versions of what happened, all agree that Army soldiers killed two FARC guerrillas and that the bilateral ceasefire is increasingly vulnerable. The NGO CERAC pronounced it to be the first violation of the ceasefire since the bilateral ceasefire was formalized in June 2016. Such incidents become more likely over time in the absence of a strong international verification system.
On the global front, the Nov. 8 win of Republican candidate Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency introduces an unknown into U.S.-Colombian relations, which have long benefitted from a bipartisan consensus in Washington that recognizes the importance of Colombia as a strategic ally in the hemisphere. The Obama administration has been a strong ally in the search for a political solution to Colombia’s armed conflict. This support included sending a U.S. Envoy to the Peace Process in Havana and, more recently, budgeting for a $450 million aid package for Paz Colombia. It has claimed Colombia to be one of its foreign policy success stories. As priorities are reviewed by the new Trump leadership, the longstanding bipartisan consensus on Colombia is likely to hold, but it is not clear whether Colombia will enjoy the same level of priority status and resources as before or whether other priorities will take precedence.
On another note, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon will soon be closing out his term. He will be replaced in 2017 by Antonio Guterres, former Prime Minister of Portugal. While neither of these shifts would necessarily put international support for the peace process (which has been quite strong) in jeopardy, it may take time to bring the new leaders and their teams up to speed. The move for quick completion and ratification of the revised accord undoubtedly responds to this shifting context.
Well, it’s time for turkey and Thanksgiving, so in the name of putting this into cyberspace in a timely way, this will await further development in my next blog. In the meantime, I wish all of my Readers a joyous day with heightened appreciation for the daily blessings. In gratitude that another step has been taken today on the path toward peace and reconciliation in Colombia. Happy Thanksgiving!