7 August 2014
President Juan Manuel Santos is sworn in today for a second term. Watch the inauguration ceremony live from Bogotá:
The Colombian Constitution requires the president to take office and be sworn in when the Congress is in full session. Following the opening of today’s parliamentary session at 2 pm EST, the Congress adjourned to the Plaza Núñez, in an area between the Casa de Nariño and the Capitol, for the swearing-in ceremony. Before more that 2,000 invited guests, including 128 delegations from 105 countries and 23 multilateral organizations, President Santos is expected to focus his inauguration speech on “national unity for peace,” and the need for internal and international support to advance an agenda for social change. Santos’s first term was marked by an effort to launch and consolidate peace talks with the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC-EP) and later the National Liberation Army (ELN). Formal talks with the FARC have enjoyed steady advances and produced important agreements. Talks with the ELN are still in an exploratory phase, which began in January of this year, produced an initial agreement, but have yet to develop into formal peace talks. Santos’s first term was also marked by the passage of legislation to address the demands of victims and their claims for restitution of lands. Today’s ceremony is expected to be marked by gestures and symbols of peace, including a hymn for peace.
New Congress Elected
On July 20, 2014, as Colombians celebrated Independence Day (see my earlier reflections here), the 102 Senators and 166 Representatives who were elected to the Colombian Congress last March 9 took office. President Juan Manuel Santos urged the 2014-1018 Congress to make the necessary reforms so that it would become the “Congress of Peace” and initiate the post-conflict period in Colombia.
Indeed, if a peace accord is reached in the next four years (and there is every reason to assume it will be), this Congress will set in place the laws to regulate a range of related issues, including transitional justice benefits, political participation for demobilized excombatants, military privileges and jurisdiction and implementation of policies relating to other agreements reached in Havana, such as rural development, drug policy, and ratification mechanisms for the accords. Indeed, the FARC and the ELN issued a joint communiqué calling on the new Congress to “make effective the constitutional right and obligation to peace” and to “move from rhetoric and empty words to a period of transition, in which the Congress of the Republic legislates for the entire Colombian society and not just privileged minorities.” (Read the communiqué here.)
“Peace must be adopted as a state policy, so that in the future no one will dare to reverse the eventual reconciliation accord,” noted Timoleón Jiménez (“Timochenko”) y Nicolás Rodríguez (“Gabino”), commanders of the FARC and the ELN respectively. The communique recognized the complexity of the discussions around peace as a “challenge that we all hope to confront in order to have peace and social justice definitively.”
Before an audience that included Alvaro Uribe Vélez, exPresident and newly elected Senator for the Democratic Center party, Santos called on Colombia’s social and political forces to “make common cause in the search for peace,” and he set a conciliatory tone for the coming period, underscoring that as President he was elected to serve not just those who voted for him, but all Colombians (see Santos’s speech here.)
President Santos’s task will clearly be more challenging than it was in his first term, when Santos’s ruling coalition held 90% of the Senate and some 80% of the Congress. The ruling coalition garnered 47 of the 102 seats in the newly elected Senate and 52% of the new Congress, thus Santos will need to make alliances to move his legislative agenda forward and overcome opposition from both the right and the left. The Democratic Center party, headed by now-Senator Alvaro Uribe, holds 20 seats in the Senate and 18 in the House. The Democratic Alternative Pole (PDA) holds 8 seats, and the Green Alliance has 11. (See here.) La Silla Vacía published a useful guide to the Members of Congress, including background on each member and graphics showing the political balance of power in each chamber (click here).
The press in recent days has made much of the possibility that ex-president Alvaro Uribe and the Senators and Representatives representing the Democratic Center party would boycott the inauguration ceremony. (See “Uribe no estaría en la posesión de Santos“.) The most difficult decisions with respect to the peace process remain ahead for this next legislative period, and, as some have suggested, it will be more difficult to sustain peace with the ex-militants of armed groups if reconciliation between the politicians cannot be forged.