June 28, 2016
Against all odds and defying four years of public skepticism, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has achieved what digital media viralized as “the last day of war”.
Before five heads of state, international representatives and United Nations (UN) Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Colombia’s Government Negotiating Team and the FARC delegates signed a ceasefire agreement, which included demobilization and weapon surrender of 7,000 guerrillas and a similar number of militias.
Such an audience gathered in Havana, Cuba to witness what constitutes the core of the peace agreement that will soon put an end to a 50-year-old internal conflict that several prior governments tried to end, either by force or disappointing negotiations.
The longest-running insurgency in the Western Hemisphere, the FARC sought to emulate the Cuban revolution and install a Marxist-style government in Colombia, engaging in drug trafficking and kidnapping to finance their efforts.
As part of the agreement, the FARC will gradually abandon their weapons to a UN civil mission, a key issue to restore Colombian’s trust in the peace process. The FARC will locate all their members in a limited number of rural areas under UN supervision to start their reintegration and/or judicial processes. Timetables for demobilization and for weapons decommissioning will open way to a cease-fire and start the final countdown for the signature of the final agreement, which is expected to take place by the end of July.
Still to be agreed are the political benefits that will enable the FARC’s transformation into a political party entitled to participate in the electoral process, and the mechanism to designate the judges for the transitional justice system. Even though this is a particularly sensitive issue, as their impartiality will be critical to the sustainability of the agreements, negotiations seem to have reached a point of no return.
Besides the recent announcement, agreements have been reached in five additional areas:
In fact, not only the main points on the discussion agenda have been cleared, but both the Santos administration and the Congress have already set up the legal framework to implement the reforms agreed upon during the negotiations.
President Santos had pledged to Colombian citizens they will have the final say on the agreements and envisaged a plebiscite law that is already under the constitutional revision by the Constitutional Court. Even though the FARC negotiators had strongly opposed it and had insisted on a constitutional congress with full reform powers, both parties also agreed this week to abide by the Court ruling, and a plebiscite is likely to be called in the next 4 to 5 months. This procedure implies that Colombia will face an electoral process where opposition run by former President Alvaro Uribe will lead the “No” movement against a rainbow coalition from the left to the center right that will be supporting the peace process.
Winning endorsement might represent quite a challenge for a President with popularity levels as low as 20 percent. But even though Colombians have been skeptical of the result of the peace talks in Havana, polls show they seem to be more driven by pessimism on the outcome of the discussions than by opposition to the idea of reaching a negotiated end to the conflict.
Despite the fact that peace talks have been long and difficult and some of the agreements are controversial (i.e. the transitional justice system), in truth, it seems that the major challenge the administration will face during the process is not opposition but apathy, as plebiscite´s rules require a minimum turnover of voters. Opposition seems to be awaiting the final word from the Constitutional Court before deciding on campaigning for rejection of the agreements or for abstention.
Despite the vocal opposition and the lack of trust Colombians have with the FARC, it seems probable they would rather settle for the Havana agreements than for restarting a violent conflict that several governments since the 1980s have struggled to bring to a negotiated settlement. It is thus expected that President Santos will wrap-up 2016 having demobilized the oldest and strongest remaining leftist guerrilla movement.
In addition to the obvious consequences of diminishing a cruel violence that has resulted in approximately 8 million victims, this agreement could represent a deep transformation for Colombian political and economic dynamics. It has been estimated that the end of the conflict could represent up to a 1.8% additional growth in Colombian GDP. Furthermore, it could lead to tackling deep-rooted issues, past-due rural investment, lack of political inclusion, and clear the way for sectors deeply affected by insecurity and conflict-ridden environments.