The Depth and Solution of the Political Crisis in Colombia

After he joined WOLA two weeks ago for our conference on next steps for Colombia’s peace process (untranslated video of the event is here), León Valencia of Bogotá’s Peace and Reconciliation Foundation shared with us the following article, a version of which appeared in Spain’s El País newspaper. Here is an English translation.

In it, León lays out three possible scenarios for the fate of the peace process in the post-plebiscite period. The first scenario, which he views as most favorable and gives a 20 percent likelihood, remains possible, but the speech President Juan Manuel Santos gave last night calling “to finish this soon, very soon,” points in the direction of the third scenario (40 percent likelihood).

The Depth and Solution of the Political Crisis in Colombia

By León Valencia

The peace process, its initiatives for political openness and the modernization of the countryside, as well as the inclusion of a progressive agenda for the treatment of ethnic and gender minorities, youth, and families, opened a broad gap between political, economic, and religious elites in Colombia. The most dramatic moments of this rupture were witnessed in the electoral dispute of 2014 and now in the outcome of the plebiscite.

President Santos aimed for peace and for these modern initiatives, and was able to gather support from a vast majority of the political establishment and institutions, with the exception of the Inspector General. Special recognition should be given to the military and police forces. Santos managed to build the accords with the FARC, the left-wing, and the center left-wing, along with trade unions and social organizations. He gained the support of the international community. The primary expression of this political alliance is the peace agreements in Havana. Moreover, decisions like same-sex marriage, the right to adoption by gay couples, the law of reparation of victims and the restitution of lands, and the fight against discrimination of young people due to ethnic or sexual circumstances, are signs of democratic openness.

Those left out of these alliances and negotiations include former President Uribe and his followers, the Conservative Party, the majority of the churches, the ELN, business sectors like the Ardila Lulle group, and the majority of landowners, who were all against the proposed changes.

These right-wing opposition structures managed to win the plebiscite by a thin margin, and with this achievement they reopened the peace negotiation, by questioning deeply the alliances established during Santos’s second term. Once again, they engaged in the discussion and definition of the country’s future through a national proposal that would rely on the renegotiation of the accords with the FARC.

Santos has kept intact the ability to ratify the peace accord, despite the presidential powers granted by the Colombian political regime, and due to the limited judicial reach of the plebiscite. Although he cannot implement the accord through the legislative act 01 of July 7, 2016, he can maintain it and seek another method of implementation. Nonetheless, the triumph of the “No” forces him to open negotiations with the right-wing opposition, with no other option than to endeavor for a new pact. Since October 2nd he has organized meetings with former presidents Uribe and Pastrana, with the churches, and with different leading businessmen, and has set October 31st as a tentative deadline, as it is the same day on which the ceasefire will end.

The solution to the crisis has three possible scenarios:

The first one is to reach a national agreement that allows the FARC and other victims of the peace accords, meaning the left-wing, the ethnic and social minorities, the farmers’ organizations and the conjunction of supportive political forces, to renegotiate and find consensual points on delicate topics. These topics include: justice, political participation, democratic openness, reform and modernization of land that favors the middle and low income farmers, and the new focus of anti-drug policy. This would be the ideal scenario. The method for sealing the deal could be a Constitutional Assembly.

The second scenario would mean the FARC, the left wing, and the social organizations do not allow the renegotiation of the accords or, after the negotiation is open, they do not find consensus on several points with the right wing. In that case, Santos could realign with Uribismo, restructuring the elites and leading to the end of the peace accords and the revival of the armed conflict.

The third possibility would be that after a few weeks of negotiations, the alliances between Santos and the right wing might fracture, the peace accord would solidify, and the alliance between the liberal political elites, the left wing and social organizations would deepen. Similarly, the pressure from the international community in favor of the accords would strengthen. This would lead Santos to appeal to the Colombian National Congress and to implement the current peace accords via Congress.

The most unlikely scenario would be the national pact, because what is at stake is highly complex, polarization is extreme and the conciliation of differences very difficult. This scenario highly depends on the FARC’s disposition to coincide with Uribismo in the renegotiation of the accords. I give this a likelihood of 20 percent.

The second scenario is the saddest and most painful one, it would mean the return of the National Front and the resumption of the armed conflict with its trail of victims. This depends on the attitude of the armed forces and the international community. If these forces decide to pressure Santos in order for him to embrace the plebiscite results and agree to revise the accords with the FARC, it is likely that Santos would step back and redirect to the style of what was once called “the republican sofa,” prioritizing the accords as a way to govern the country. In any case, the Nobel Peace Prize recently awarded to Santos is going to engage him even more with the initial peace accords. I give this a likelihood of 40 percent.

The third scenario is the persistence of the liberal and progressive union that focuses on peace and pushes for changes on the national reality. This depends largely on a large mobilization from part of civil society and the ELN’s decision to join this alliance towards reforms and peace. I also believe this scenario has a likelihood of 40 percent.

Time will be an important variable in the configuration of one or the other scenario. It is very likely that Uribe’s strategy is to extend the negotiation, in order to get closer to the presidential elections in 2018. He could thus debilitate the accords between Santos and the FARC under the prolongation of a ceasefire full of incidental violations, and endeavor for the end of the civil society mobilization. On the other hand, Santos would most likely accelerate the process in order to overcome the crisis by choosing one of the previous scenarios.




Afro Descendants and Indigenous Defend Historic Peace Agreement

(First posted to World Policy Blog, October 19, 2016)

Mass demonstrations led by indigenous communities are taking place in Colombia’s capital of Bogotá in defense of the country’s historic peace accord. On Aug. 24, the Colombian state and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) announced an end to the 52-year brutal internal armed conflict that killed over 220,000 people and generated over 8 million victims. The world applauded when the peace accord was signed in the historic city of Cartagena on Sept. 26. Surprisingly, voters rejected the peace referendum by a narrow margin of less than 1 percent on Oct. 2. Multiple factors—Hurricane Mathew; a high level of abstention; an effective campaign by peace opponents to manipulate, misinform, and mislead voters into voting No; and overconfidence that the Yes vote was a given—led to this unfortunate outcome. Currently, Colombia’s peace with the FARC is in limbo with the parties attempting to salvage the peace process by trying to address concerns of the No voters.

Looking at a map of the votes, what is most evident is a tremendous difference of opinion between rural Colombians directly affected by the conflict and the mostly urban Colombians whose relationship with the war consists of viewing it on TV. Areas where conflict, violence, and displacement run rampant voted in favor of the peace accord, as did the majority of the zones where victims, indigenous peoples, and Afro-Colombians live. In other words, Afro-Colombians and indigenous, who make up a disproportionate number of the conflict’s victims, are the strongest proponents of the peace accord. Therefore, it is no surprise that they are now organizing to tell the world that Colombia should not delay implementation of the agreed-upon accord.

When the peace process began, ethnic minorities were not part of the agenda. The points to be negotiated included agrarian reform, political participation, victims, drugs, and verification/implementation of the agreement, but the process did not include these populations or consider their rights. When they realized this was the case, Afro-Colombian national and regional groups including territorial authorities, displaced people, women, youth, trade unionists, and religious sectors formed the Afro-Colombian Peace Council (CONPA) in 2014. A year later, CONPA joined forces with major indigenous groups to speak with one voice as the Ethnic Commission for Peace and Defense of Territorial Rights.

The Ethnic Commission proceeded to run a global campaign to get their opinions heard at the peace table. After multiple advocacy efforts that gained support from the Obama administration, the U.S. Congress, and the U.N., on June 26-27 the parties to the negotiations held formal discussions with afro-descendant and indigenous representatives in Cuba. The outcome of this engagement was the inclusion of the “Ethnic Chapter” in the final peace accord. This Chapter includes principles applicable to the entire accord that guarantee that Afro-Colombians’ and indigenous peoples’ rights are safeguarded. It establishes a High Level Ethnic Commission to help guide implementation in a manner that guarantees their participation in the process. This is a historic achievement for a sector of Colombian society that is often excluded and acutely suffers from the legacies of colonialism and slavery.

In the post-referendum debates, former President Álvaro Uribe Vélez, one of the leaders of the No campaign, flatly stated on national television that “Colombia is not an African tribe but a country of institutions” when asked for his opinion regarding the Ethnic Chapter. The Ethnic Commission is therefore taking to the streets and engaging in advocacy to guarantee that their ethnic rights victory does not get watered down by the parties who are trying to appease the opponents of peace and calm the turmoil they generated.

In another shocking twist, President Juan Manuel Santos was announced as the 2016 Nobel Prize winner and has stated that he will be donating the funds to the victims of the conflict, including Afro-Colombians who survived the horrific Bojayá massacre of 2002. Shortly after, he also revealed that formal peace talks between his government and the country’s second guerilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), will begin on Oct. 27 in Ecuador. While analysts project that the ELN will be more inclusive of civil society in its talks with the state, it will be necessary for all parties to ensure that ethnic minorities are involved in these discussions.

The international community must do its utmost to guarantee that the impasse in Colombia’s peace process is quickly overcome. Support for a speedy resolution on the FARC accord is required, as is political support for the complementary ELN peace process. It should not cave to those who wish to sabotage Colombia’s progress and deny victims and rural Colombians the right to live in peace. The United States, Colombia’s number one ally and donor, and fellow Latin American countries should send a clear message to the parties involved that the Ethnic Chapter is essential to constructing peace on the ground.

Gimena Sanchez-Garzoli

Indigenous Leader’s Message: Help Colombia Solidify Peace

Marcia Mejía Chirimia, of the Sia indigenous community in the southwestern Pacific region of Colombia, is visiting the U.S. on a mission to garner support for Colombia’s peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). She forms part of CONPAZ (Communities Building Peace in their Territories), a coalition of 150 war affected communities throughout Colombia that advocate non-violence and peaceful resolution to conflict. Marcia and her CONPAZ colleagues argue that for the victims of the conflict peace is essential. She asks that the international community to increase its efforts to guarantee that the accord is implemented without changes and without any further delays.

According to Ms. Chirimia, victims’ voices were integrated into the accords. The final accord reflects what CONPAZ and many other victims recommended to the negotiating parties. The accord prioritizes truth and reconciliation over extended jail time. For victims, like herself, jail time would just lead to further suffering of not knowing the full truth of the dynamics that generated horrific massacres in the communities. She believes that victims can only begin to heal when they know the full truth and the perpetrators ask for forgiveness.

Ms. Chirimia debunks the notion perpetrated by former President Alvaro Uribe that the accord would foster impunity because prison time is not expressed. She thinks that jail time for perpetrators of abuses would only breed more resentment and vengeance towards the victims by the prisoners. Also that by placing them in jail it would guarantee that they would continue their criminal activities. CONPAZ argues that persons who committed crimes should be rehabilitated so they can become productive members of society. She adds that the FARC are not the sole causes of distress in ethnic communities. Paramilitaries, ELN, businessmen with economic megaprojects, and even some politicians, were also involved in abuses in these territories, and they should be held accountable. The accord would guarantee that all perpetrators are held to account.

She notes that many of the “No” voters did not suffer the worst consequences of the war and that many made a decision based on misinformation. As such, she thinks that all efforts to end this situation must include victims’ representatives especially indigenous and afro descendants who are hardest hit by violence. As victims, what comes next will affect their lives more than the lives of those voicing their distant opinions from cities like Bogotá. Areas with the largest numbers of victims voted a booming “Yes” for peace in the October 2 plebiscite.

Ms. Chirimia is also proud of the inclusion of an Ethnic Chapter in the final accord. She explains that this chapter was written by the Ethnic Commission that represents a good number of ethnic communities. It reflects their proposals constructed by the communities themselves– not the opinions of the government or the FARC. By denying advancement of the peace accord, the No proponents are ignoring the pressing needs of rural women, indigenous and Afro-Colombians peoples.

In sum, Ms. Chirimia is advocating for continued international support for Colombia’s peace process. The U.S. should redirect its military aid to Colombia towards social programs that help to construct peace on the ground. In her view, money should go towards effective crop substitution programs, the construction of viable roads to markets, demining project and land restitution. Any further negotiations between the government and the FARC and ELN guerrillas must guarantee victims’ rights to the truth, reparations, and peace. Beyond international authorities, she thinks that NGOs play a critical role in guaranteeing inclusion of ethnic communities’ minorities’ rights by pressuring the U.S. and Colombian authorities to monitor the process.

Ms. Chirimia, who has suffered death threats due to her activism in favor of her community, emphasizes that “the voices of those on the ground are strong, but often not loud enough to reach the right people. It is difficult, and often dangerous, to be a leader in this context – which is why they need international support.”

Despite new obstacles in the way, the triumph of the “No” has certainly not defeated her. She promised to continue fighting for the peace they dream of.

—Cristina Camacho, WOLA Colombia Program intern

Post-Plebiscite Process Is on the “Best-Case Scenario” Track

Pro-peace demonstration in central Bogotá. Photo from La Silla Vacía.

On October 3, after the FARC peace accord’s narrow rejection in a plebiscite vote, our analysis listed several negative consequences that Colombia will face if the peace accord impasse is not resolved quickly.

Since then, the parties have taken steps to stave off some of those consequences.

The UN monitoring and verification mechanism remains. On October 3, we wrote, “Now, with no accord to implement, the UN mission’s present role and immediate future are unclear.” An October 7 communiqué from the Colombian government and the FARC clears this up somewhat:

“The tripartite monitoring and verification mechanism, with the participation of the government and the FARC-EP and the coordination of the United Nations mission, will be in charge of monitoring and verifying compliance with the protocol, particularly compliance with the rules for the ceasefire.
“With this purpose, we ask the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and through him the Security Council, to authorize the UN Mission in Colombia to exercise the functions of monitoring, verification, resolution of differences, recommendations, reports, and coordination with the Monitoring and Verification Mechanism foreseen in Resolution 2261 (2016) with reference to the mentioned Protocol.
“At the same time, we invite the countries that contribute to the Mission with unarmed observers to continue deploying their men and women, who will continue to count with all necessary security guarantees.”

UN-led monitoring of the ceasefire will be more difficult without guerrillas concentrated into zones around the country, as originally planned in the accord. Nonetheless, it decreases the chances of the ceasefire breaking down, at least over the next few months. Though President Santos announced an October 31 deadline for the ceasefire, its extension past that date is widely seen as probable.

The pilot coca substitution program continues. On October 3 we wrote, “Efforts to implement a new strategy for reducing coca cultivation, as foreseen in the accord, will be delayed, while coca planting continues expanding rapidly around the country.” While this remains a risk, the government-FARC pilot program to help coca growers abandon the crop in the town of Briceño, Antioquia, will continue its work without interruption. The October 7 communique reads:

“We will continue advancing in the launching of humanitarian confidence-building measures, such as the search for disappeared persons, pilot plans for humanitarian demining, voluntary substitution of illicit-use crops, commitments with respect to the exit of minors from encampments, and on the situation of people deprived of liberty.”

Peace talks with the ELN. On October 3, we wrote, “Peace talks with the smaller ELN guerrilla group, which were already adrift, are not likely to see a formal start in the near future.” This prediction was dead wrong: on October 10, government and ELN negotiators announced that formal talks will begin in Quito, Ecuador, on October 27.

Our October 3 analysis laid out a “best-case scenario” in which “the parties… agree quickly on a new agenda, taking into account the concerns of Colombia’s political right, with a clear timetable,” then “move determinedly in a process that revises the accords in a matter of weeks.” So far, that best-case scenario is playing out.

All sides—the government, the FARC, and the “no” vote opposition, led by Ex-President Álvaro Uribe—continue to insist on maintaining the peace talks. Friday’s awarding of President Juan Manuel Santos with the Nobel Peace Prize lent great weight to the government’s position and increased pressure on Uribe to avoid being viewed as the culprit for a possible collapse of the process. Revelations of deceptions employed by, and large donations to, the “no” side further decreased its room for political maneuver. And a growing series of public demonstrations in favor of peace has helped tip the political balance.

Today (October 13), Ex-President Uribe published his side’s demands for changes to the accords [PDF]. The FARC is certain to reject some of these proposed adjustments. Still, the list is surprisingly moderate—more realistic than ideological. Rather than dig in their heels for a radical renegotiation of an accord, Uribe and his party:

  • Ask for “effective privation of liberty” for fully confessed war crimes: not necessarily prison (the document mentions “agricultural colonies”), but more austere than the vague “effective restriction of liberty” foreseen by the peace accord.
  • Allow FARC representatives to have 10 automatic congressional seats for 8 years, but exclude from those seats those accused of war crimes.
  • Recommend, but do not insist on, a return to aerial herbicide fumigation.

A new accord may be several weeks or even a few months away. Nonetheless, the Uribe proposal’s general lack of overreach, combined with commitments to preserve the ceasefire and good news from other quarters, offers hope that post-plebiscite Colombia remains, for now, on the “best-case scenario” track.

Ten analyses to guide reflection on a tumultuous week

Today marks a week since Colombians’ narrow “No” vote in a national plebiscite plunged into uncertainty a peace accord with the FARC guerrillas that took four years to negotiate. A week marked by guerrillas pulling back to jungle safe zones, a newly ascendant Ex-President Álvaro Uribe meeting with his nemesis, President Juan Manuel Santos, for the first time in more than five years, and finally with Santos winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

A week like that doesn’t lend itself to calm reflection. But today is Sunday, most of us don’t have to work, and it’s a good time to step back, seek some solitude, and think a bit more deeply about how this crisis can be overcome without loss of life, and without throwing away all that has been gained since 2012.

A mountain of analysis has been produced over the past seven days. Of the portion that I’ve seen, here are ten that I think would be most useful in guiding that reflection. Most are in Spanish, but Google Translate should give the gist.

—Adam Isacson

  • Explicar el fracaso (“Explaining the failure”), Héctor Abad Faciolince, El País (Spain)

“In Colombia, as in the whole world, the democratic struggle plays out between an old and tired political class (somewhat reasonable, as corrupt as always, and discredited by decades of ferocious criticism from us, the ‘intellectuals’) against another political class that is less reasonable, more corrupt than what is traditional, but charged up with populist slogans and foolishness. Populism, the vulgar demagogy, has triumphed around the world. Berlusconi was the prologue, because Italians are the magicians of ‘trending topics’ and invent everything first. Later came Chávez, Putin, Uribe, Ortega. Will Trump and Le Pen come next? Perhaps. They are all perfect demagogues, kleptocrats who denounce the old kleptocracy. The people prefer to vote for them in the name of ‘change.’ A leap into the unknown? Yes. A leap into the unknown is preferable to the boredom of reasonableness. Reasonableness doesn’t provide votes: it produces yawns. And what the voters fear most is to be bored.”

“The forces that oppose a liberal modernization have won again this time, with the plebiscite. What has been defeated isn’t a model of justice, but a bet on building a true nation through politics, as the great democracies of the world have done, instead of doing so through war, as many nations have done under fascist or communist models. This bet has been thrown in the garbage can by the majority.… So our future could possibly be a peace accord that arrives late, surely irrelevant, that manages to end the war but not to build a stable and lasting peace.”

“The realization of this social and political pact for peace and its implementation can be achieved via different legal channels, compatible with the constitution and the already signed accord. Without trying to be exhaustive, it is possible to mention the following, all of which have their advantages and disadvantages, which we must evaluate: i) an extra-juridical pact that has no legal value but that would be implemented through ordinary legal channels; ii) an adjustment to the accord that could be submitted to a new plebiscite, which is possible because it would be a new accord, and would be backed by the social and political agreement, which would guarantee its triumph and allow the setting in motion of the special implementation mechanisms…; iii) a constitutional convention of limited scope and mixed tasks: to debate and incorporate, without possibility of modification, the consensus topics in the Havana accord (a sort of constitutional fast track), and to discuss the topics of disagreement. I prefer the second option…”

“So far, all declarations have been politically correct and a way forward appears to have opened up. The government would listen to the proposals to modify the accord formulated by those who received majority support at the polls, and later it would bring them to the table in Havana to negotiate the changes. However, the reality is very different and the panorama is darker. For this option to be successful, the proposals from uribismo would need to be moderate, the FARC would need to be willing to renegotiate, and the President would need to adjust the aspirations of one side and the other. And the truth is that none of these three conditions appears to be being met.”

“Which of these scenarios will take shape? Four factors are going to influence heavily the way things turn out. They are the armed forces, citizen mobilization, the international community, especially the United States, and the ELN.”

“In Uribe’s deployment of social media, in his reactionary populism, and in the angry slogans and feelings on display at his noisy rallies, there are uncanny parallels to Donald Trump—and, for that matter, to the anti-E.U., anti-immigrant demonstrations that were held across United Kingdom in the lead-up to the Brexit vote, last June. And, as with Brexit, the No campaign had no realistic alternative at the ready—no better peace deal.”

“I see three possible paths: he [Álvaro Uribe] can dedicate himself to delaying and slowing this process as he has been doing, until he arrives—through a figurehead—back in the presidential palace; he can keep his word and not move one iota, obligating all of us to return to war; or he could take this third option which is what I want to suggest to him: change a couple of things in the accord, approve what you can, and appear in the photo as the great redeemer who saved us from castro-chavismo. Today, Senator Uribe, another lie from you is the only thing that can save us.”

  • Así es el país que votó No (“This is the nation that voted No”), Juan Esteban Lewin, Daniel Morelo, Daniela Garzón, Camilo A. Quiroga G., La Silla Vacía

A series of interactive maps, including this one:

“Here, as always, the people aren’t called to build peace, but to approve the peace that the experts design far away from the village and the barrio. Who told Santos that the solemn signing of a peace accord in a tattered country should happen in a VIP ceremony designed only for the international grandstand, in the most elitist city in the country, leaving aside not just the humble people of that same city, but even the national media?”

  • Mentiras (“Lies”), Juan Gabriel Vásquez, El Espectador

“It’s evident: what went on here was a conspiracy in full force, and its objective was to fool the people. Nothing will happen, of course, because those who fooled so many are now—thanks to the same deceit—part of the negotiation, and they now have the power conceded to them by the superstition and the credulity of millions of Colombians. But one day we will have to undergo a test of conscience and define whether the fact that so many uribistas are in jail or fugitives from justice is a persecution, as they monotonously allege, or the natural result of Ex-President Uribe surrounding himself so often with people whose sense of decency is—to say it gently—turned down to a low volume.”

A Post-“No” Recovery Requires Quick Action and Realism About What is Achievable

“The horrible night has ceased,” a tearful Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said on September 26, quoting a line from his country’s national anthem. He was speaking before an audience of world leaders—the UN Secretary General, several Latin American presidents, the U.S. Secretary of State—at a joyful ceremony in the Caribbean port of Cartagena, where he and leaders of the FARC guerrilla group signed an accord to end a 52-year-old war.

A week later, it looks like the “horrible night” will go on for at least a bit longer. By a razor-thin margin, Colombians voted October 2 to reject the peace accord. The result confounded pollsters’ predictions and leaves the South American country wondering what comes next.

That is impossible to predict: during the plebiscite campaign, the government made clear that it had no “Plan B” if the accord was rejected. President Santos’s brief concession speech the evening of October 2 made clear that no plan exists.

A return to war is not inevitable. The FARC’s leadership says it will continue to seek peace. The leading proponents of the “no” vote, especially former President Álvaro Uribe, say they want dialogue with the Santos government on a “better” accord. Still, in the new post-plebiscite reality, those who seek war are more likely to get it.

In the best-case scenario, the parties will agree quickly on a new agenda, taking into account the concerns of Colombia’s political right, with a clear timetable. They will move determinedly in a process that revises the accords in a matter of weeks.

A Sobering List of Consequences

If this does not happen, however—in even a “medium-case” scenario in which the negotiations don’t collapse but suffer delays or a sense of drift—Colombia faces a grim list of negative outcomes.

  • The FARC is not going to spend this week concentrating its forces into 26 zones around the country to start an agreed-upon 6-month, UN-verified disarmament process. This plan was just getting underway, with the FARC declaring its troop strength, its weapons stockpiles, and its assets. However, with the accord laying out that procedure now invalidated, the disarmament timetable is frozen.
  • Even if the FARC wishes to undergo this process anyway, it cannot do so, as its members are all technically fugitives. A ceasefire between the government and the FARC, which is still in force, suspends arrest warrants for guerrillas. However, it can be lifted at any time, so the FARC’s members do not have legal guarantees.
  • Without verification or concentration, and without a clear direction for the talks’ future, the ceasefire—which has reduced armed conflict-related violence to mid-1960s levels— may become unstable, especially if efforts to arrive at a new accord drag on.
  • The UN, following two Security Council resolutions, has set up a monitoring and verification mechanism, with over 200 international observers ready to begin work immediately. Now, with no accord to implement, the UN mission’s present role and immediate future are unclear.
  • Peace talks with the smaller ELN guerrilla group, which were already adrift, are not likely to see a formal start in the near future. The Colombian electorate’s delegitimization of the FARC agreement strengthens hardliners within the ELN leadership who are wary of peace talks.
  • A prolonged state of “limbo” may cause a deterioration of FARC command and control over guerrillas in the field. Even if commanders in Havana remain committed to renegotiating, the number of fighters whom they can “deliver” for demobilization may drop as time passes. Fighters who would have demobilized may begin carrying out hostilities on their own, or forming or joining new criminal groups.
  • Efforts to implement a new strategy for reducing coca cultivation, as foreseen in the accord, will be delayed, while coca planting continues expanding rapidly around the country.
  • The White House’s proposed “Peace Colombia” aid package may suffer a deep cut. It was approved by both houses of Congress, but the 2017 foreign assistance budget law has not yet been reconciled, and may be rewritten after the U.S. presidential elections. The lack of a peace accord to implement may cause the US$450 million appropriation for Colombia to fall back to its 2016 level of about US$320 million. Meanwhile, other international donors may similarly redirect foreign aid funds to urgent needs elsewhere in the world, such as the Syrian refugee crisis.

A Shift to Surrender Negotiations?

Did Colombian voters know about these risks before they voted “no” (or in the case of 63 percent of voters, failed to vote at all) on October 2? Some did: a minority believe that the solution lies on the battlefield, and that the negotiations were premature. But many others believed that their “no” vote was a vote for a better peace accord.

Opponents said that voting “no” would force the government and guerrillas to renegotiate a pact with stronger punishments for guerrillas and soldiers guilty of war crimes. If such talks proceed in Havana, they will push for prison time for FARC leaders (perhaps similar to the five to eight years given to paramilitary leaders after they demobilized in 2006), rather than the nebulous “restriction of liberty” punishment laid out in the accords.

Opponents of the peace accord will also push to rescind the government’s concession of 10 automatic congressional seats (5 in the 102-person Senate and 5 in the 166-person House) for FARC members between 2018 and 2026. They also wish to reduce the ambitious scope of promised investments in rural development programs, which Ex-President Uribe insists Colombia can’t afford.

A renegotiation that waters down these government concessions would result in an accord that looks more like terms of surrender. This is only possible if Colombia’s government is in a position to demand surrender. That is far from clear. For Colombians in urban areas, who have not strongly felt the conflict’s impact in years, perhaps a surrender negotiation seems like the way to go. But consider:

  • In the 12 years between Plan Colombia’s 2000 launch and the peace talks’ 2012 inauguration, the conflict killed nearly 25,000 Colombians in combat, plus a similar number of civilians. The result was a two-thirds weakening of the FARC, from about 20,000 to about 6,000-7,000 members.
  • Would it take a similar effort to weaken the FARC by another two-thirds, which would render them about as strong as the smaller ELN group is today? (Recall that peace talks with the ELN still haven’t started.)
  • Even with this correlation of forces, it took negotiators four long, uninterrupted, intense years of formal talks to achieve the accord that was rejected yesterday. Of those four years, nineteen months were spent negotiating the part of the accord that deals with war crimes.

These are not characteristics of surrender negotiations. The FARC has no chance of taking power on the battlefield. But it still has wealth and the capacity to carry out hostilities in many regions throughout Colombia. A renegotiation on tougher terms is not a certainty. (Chief government negotiator Humberto de la Calle, who tendered his resignation the morning of October 3, seems to recognize this.)

Needed Now: Clarity and Momentum

The way forward is not clear. But it needs to become clear soon. A situation of drift and crisis is unsustainable, and could lead to an outcome that the vast majority of Colombians do not want: either a collapse of the talks and a return to war, or a disintegration of the FARC into structures that would be impossible to demobilize.

As soon as possible, renewed talks need an agenda, possibly a timetable, and a sense of what is achievable.

The international community and the United States have a very important role to play. The administration and Congress must send clear signals that they continue to support President Santos’s negotiation effort, and that they desire a quick resumption of talks with a new and achievable agenda. It is at crucial moments like these that the flexible, supportive role of Special Envoy Bernie Aronson is most important. To the extent that diplomatic efforts can help get things back on track, Washington should spare none.