Social Leaders Face a Wave of Attacks in Colombia. The Peace Accord’s Credibility Hinges on Immediate Action to Stop It.

With the FARC guerrillas likely to begin disarming very soon, this should be a time of hope, even joy, in rural Colombia. Instead, though, it is a time of fear. The last several weeks have seen the worst wave in years of murders of social leaders, indigenous leaders, land-rights activists, and human rights defenders. The renewed violence casts doubt on whether space for non-violent political activity will truly exist in Colombia’s “post-conflict” period.

The Ideas for Peace Foundation, a Bogotá-based think-tank supported by the business sector, counts 71 homicides and 17 homicide attempts against social leaders so far in 2016. (The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, using the definition of “human rights defenders,” counts 52 homicides and 35 attempts [PDF].) Ideas for Peace found the most attacks happening in the Pacific coast departments (provinces) of Valle del Cauca (whose capital is Cali) and Cauca; the south-central department of Caquetá; the northwestern department of Antioquia (whose capital is Medellín); and the northeastern department of Norte de Santander. The Colombia-Europe-United States Coordination, a network of human rights groups, counts 30 murders of social leaders since August 29, the day the Colombian government and FARC declared a bilateral ceasefire. The UN High Commissioner’s office counts 13 since the September 26 signing of the first peace accord with the FARC.

The wave of terror elicited statements of concern since the second half of November from the UN and its High Commissioner, the OAS, and the Colombian government’s Center for Historical Memory, which compared it to the late 1980s-early 1990s massacre of more than 3,000 members of the Patriotic Union, a FARC-linked leftist political party.

WOLA has also been sounding alarms about this. See our November 21 memo to U.S. authorities, a December 2 joint statement, and a December 2 alert listing dozens of recent cases.

Among the social leaders most recently murdered, or who barely escaped murder, are the following individuals.

Jhon Jairo Rodríguez Torres, from Caloto, Cauca, murdered November 1

A longtime local leader in the township of Palo, Rodríguez co-founded the Association of Campesino Workers of Caloto in 2003, and was active in several local organizations, including the Marcha Patriótica, a recently created, largely rural political movement that is widely viewed as a building block for the FARC’s transition to a non-violent political party. His body was found by a roadside, next to his motorcycle, with three bullet wounds.

José Antonio Velasco Taquinás, from Caloto, Cauca, murdered November 11

Velasco was a member of several campesino organizations in Caloto, and of the Marcha Patriótica. The Center for Historical Memory describes Velasco as “recognized by the community as a great friend and community member who stood out for having good relations with the whole community. On November 11 he was found in the area known as La Trampa, in Caloto, with a bullet wound in the head.”

Argemiro Lara, from Ovejas, Sucre, attempted murder on November 17

Lara is part of a community of campesino leaders organized to re-claim the La Europa hacienda, from which they were displaced by paramilitaries during the early 2000s. This case is very well known, and Lara has received so many threats that he is protected by the Colombian Interior Ministry’s National Protection Unit. On November 17 in Sincelejo, Sucre, Lara’s bodyguard shot and killed a hitman who had drawn a gun.

Erley Monroy Fierro, from La Macarena, Meta, murdered November 18

Monroy was a leader of the Losada-Guayabero Environmental Campesino Association (ASCAL-G), very active in local human rights and campesino networks including the Marcha Patriótica, and a vocal opponent of oil exploration and fracking. He was shot in the neighboring municipality of San Vicente del Caguán, Caquetá, about three miles from the base where Colombian Army’s Cazadores Battalion is headquartered. He was 54 and a lifelong resident of this region, a traditional FARC stronghold.

In May, Monroy and other local activists denounced
that “soldiers from the Battalion were patrolling together with three people in civilian clothing, taking photographs of leaders,” and that “graffiti with the name ‘AUC’ had appeared on the road” near San Vicente del Caguán, according to Colombia’s Verdad Abierta investigative journalism website. (The AUC, or United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, was a national network of right-wing paramilitary groups that formally disbanded in 2006.)

San Vicente del Caguán and La Macarena—two of five municipalities that hosted failed peace talks with the FARC between 1998 and 2002—are a flashpoint for violence against social leaders. San Vicente’s mayor, elected in October 2015, comes from the Democratic Center, the rightist political party of former president Álvaro Uribe. Mayor Humberto Sánchez told reporters he does not believe Monroy’s killing was politically motivated, speculating that he “was likely killed by disgruntled neighbors.” Sánchez had also accused Monroy’s campesino organization of being guerrilla collaborators, and said that the spate of AUC graffiti owed to “the guerrillas preparing the ground for assassinations of campesinos and cattlemen and using that to justify their actions.”

Didier Losada Barreto, from La Macarena, Meta, murdered November 18

Losada was president of the Community Action Board (Junta de Acción Comunal, a sort of local elected advisory commission) of Platanillo township in La Macarena, and a member of DHOC, the Foundation for the Defense of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law of East-Central Colombia, a local human rights network, as well as the Marcha Patriótica. He was at home with his family when two masked men burst into his home and shot him nine times.

Hugo Cuéllar, from La Macarena, Meta, attempted murder November 19

Cuéllar was president of the Community Action Board of La Victoria township in La Macarena, and a member of ASCAL-G, the same organization as Erley Monroy.

He was walking home from Monroy’s wake with his daughters, when two men on a motorcycle shot him. “They followed him all the way home on the motorcycle and then shot him,” Cuéllar’s sister told the Miami Herald. “And then they pointed at the girls, but the gun didn’t go off.”

Danilo Bolaños, from Leiva, Narino, attempted murder November 19

Bolaños, a member of the Association of Campesino Workers of Nariño (Astracan), was on his motorcycle, returning from a meeting of local pro-peace groups, when a hitman riding on the back of another motorcycle fired six shots at him from a handgun. All missed. Verdad Abierta reports that he had not received any threats beforehand, “and the only thing he know of was a pamphlet with the ‘self-defense groups’’ initials that had circulated in Leiva, without mentioning either him or Astracan.”

Rodrigo Cabrera Cabrera, from Policarpa, Nariño, murdered November 20

Like many of the victims listed here, Cabrera was a member of the Marcha Patriótica. “As a member of the Marcha Patriótica, he actively supported diverse peace initiatives,” reports the Center for Historical Memory, including the designation of a village in Policarpa as a zone for FARC disarmament.

Cabrera had not been threatened before the 20th, when two masked men intercepted his motorcycle and shot him 12 times.

Rather than push for an investigation, the mayor of Policarpa, Claudia Inés Cabrera (no relation), denied that the murder had any political motivation. The victim “isn’t recognized as a community leader,” she said. After a security meeting between the mayor and local law enforcement, a statement contended that Cabrera’s father said “he was apathetic about politics and had never belonged to a political group.” The victim’s father, Sergio Cabrera, told reporters that no, “he liked politics, but not too much. He was a man of peace.” Lizeth Moreno, a local Marcha Patriótica leader, noted that “in her communiqué, the mayor doesn’t even reject the homicide, she justifies it saying that Rodrigo presumably had a [criminal] past.”

Froidan Cortés Preciado, from Buenaventura, Valle del Cauca, murdered November 23

Cortés, a boat mechanic and member of the Marcha Patriótica and at least two local human rights networks, had been organizing protests against forced coca eradication in the rural zone of Buenaventura. A red boat with three black-clad men who were unfamiliar to eyewitnesses brought Cortés from his workshop to his home, where they shot him to death.

Marcelina Canacué, from Palermo, Huila, murdered November 25

Canacué, a 60-year-old member of her township’s Community Action Board and of the Marcha Patriótica, was shot three times on a road near her home. Though active, she was not considered a prominent social leader. “She was part of the Marcha Patriótica, one of those people who goes to all of the events and meetings,” an acquaintance told the Center for Historical Memory.

At a meeting with Huila’s governor the next day, local leaders denounced an increase in acts of vandalism and the presence of paramilitaries “hidden and poised to pounce” (agazapados). Police never arrived at the crime scene to investigate the killing. Canacué’s body remained on the roadside from 8:30 AM until 1:00 PM, when the funeral home came to recover it.

Jorge Humberto Chiran, from Cumbal, Narino, attempted murder November 28

Unidentified people threw an explosive device at the home of Chirán, governor of the Gran Cumbal indigenous reserve. On November 3, Chirán, who works with the local Marcha Patriótica, had received a threatening pamphlet from a group calling itself the “Military Bloc of the Southwest Pacific of Nariño.”

Carlos Ramírez Uriana, from Fonseca, La Guajira, attempted murder December 3

Ramírez, a leader of the Mayabangloma reserve of the Wayúu indigenous community, was shot three times by an individual waiting for him outside his residence. He is recovering from his wounds. Southern Guajira indigenous authorities say they have “detected in several communities unknown subjects on high-powered motorcycles.”

Creating a Climate of Fear

The sharpness of the increase in murders during the post-first-accord period is striking. It looks almost as though a switch got thrown somewhere within Colombia’s darkest, most reactionary quarters. Still, experts warn against attributing all this killing to a coherent nationwide conspiracy against the peace talks.

Carlos Guevara, who runs the Human Rights Observatory at the Colombian group Somos Defensores, told Verdad Abierta that the first accord’s rejection in an October 2 plebiscite did worsen the situation significantly. Because there was no accord in place, the protection measures it foresaw for opposition social movements could not be implemented, even as the FARC began clearing out of zones that it controlled or influenced. With the FARC presence reduced, other groups have moved into these zones and begun to threaten existing organizations.

Guevara cautioned, though, against blaming everything on the right wing:

Peace is Ratified. When is “D-Day?”

Update as of 8:15PM EST: The Colombian government and FARC have issued a joint communiqué assuring that the accord “enters into force after ratification by the Congress. As a consequence, ‘D’ Day is today, according to the terms of the Accord.” This clears up much of the question, making it likely that Colombia will follow the first, and most desirable, of the three timetables discussed below. However, if Colombia’s Constitutional Court decides to torpedo “fast track” authority, uncertainty about D-Day may resume.

Over two days this week, both chambers of Colombia’s Congress debated, then voted to ratify (refrendar), the government’s revised peace accord with the FARC guerrilla group. Both votes were unanimously in favor, with abstentions from opponents, principally from ex-president Álvaro Uribe’s Democratic Center Party and some Conservative party members.

The vote was the substitute for a second national plebiscite on the accord. On October 2 Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos convened a national plebiscite to ratify the accord’s first version. Voters surprisingly rejected it, by a 0.5 percentage-point margin. Colombian law does not require peace accords to be approved by a plebiscite; President Juan Manuel Santos chose to take this step because a popular vote would have conferred more legitimacy on the accord, which took four years to negotiate. After the plebiscite defeat, the government and FARC made adjustments to the accord, incorporating many of its opponents’ suggestions. These adjustments did not go far enough to satisfy Uribe and other critics, who remain opposed.

The Santos government is reluctant to submit the revised accord to a second plebiscite. First, because—in this year of unpredictable election results—its passage is not assured. And second, because organizing another plebiscite would take about two months, extending the legal limbo in which the FARC’s membership finds itself and straining a fragile ceasefire arrangement.

The Colombian government and FARC disagree about what the accord calls “D-Day”: the first day in which guerrillas must begin a six month process of gathering into twenty-seven zones and turning over their weapons to a UN mission. Five days after D-Day, the accord states, all FARC guerrillas are to begin reporting to the village-sized concentration zones.

The accord appears to indicate that D-Day was the day the final accord was signed (Thursday, November 24th), but neither side is holding to that. The government believes D-Day is now: the day after the accord’s ratification. The FARC insists that its members will not begin to demobilize and disarm without a guarantee that they won’t be subject to summary arrest for having rebelled. It wants a political-crimes amnesty law, absolving all members of the crime of sedition (rebelión), to be approved first, or at least formally presented and moving rapidly through Congress. Only then, in the guerrillas’ view, will D-Day arrive. The text of that law, which the Congress must approve, is embedded in the peace accord.

Congress must approve a series of other laws to implement the accord: establishing a transitional justice system, guaranteeing protections for opposition political movements, carrying out a new rural development policy, among others. But the amnesty law is the one that must come first, since the FARC won’t even start turning in its arms without it.

In the meantime, it is dangerous to keep waiting. At present, arrest warrants against FARC members have been suspended, and a bilateral ceasefire with UN monitoring is in place. But that ceasefire is fragile, as evidenced by a November 13 combat incident in Bolívar department, which left two guerrillas dead.

Meanwhile, it is unrealistic to expect the FARC’s entire membership to remain docile in its clandestine encampments, with no certainty about their future, for a long period. During an extended “limbo,” dissidences might emerge within the group. Even if that does not happen, every day of uncertainty could see a steady trickle of FARC members abandoning their encampments, perhaps to pursue lives of criminality, no longer available when the moment to demobilize finally arrives. And even if that doesn’t happen, each day of delay is another in which other criminal groups can establish a stronger foothold in territories of historic FARC influence, increasing the likelihood of further violence. The process is unlikely to withstand much more uncertainty.

When will “D-Day” truly happen? Here are three potential timetables, depending on an upcoming decision from Colombia’s Constitutional Court, which was already reviewing challenges to the plebiscite law (the “Legislative Act for Peace” [PDF]), which the Congress passed in July. This decision could come as early as Monday, though there is no fixed timetable.

  1. Congressional ratification with “fast-track” legislative authority: just a few days until D-Day. The July 2016 law establishing the plebiscite stated that if the accord is approved by “ratification by the people” (refrendación popular), the laws resulting from it may be approved with fewer rounds of congressional voting, and the possibility of passing laws in a matter of a few weeks. Colombians, borrowing from English, call this accelerated legislative process “fast track.”

    The government, and its majority coalition in Congress, are likely to pursue this path now, beginning debate on the political-crimes amnesty law via fast track. The amnesty could be formally presented in Congress next week, and either approved or nearing approval by the time the current legislative session ends on December 16, which would allow the FARC to begin demobilizing. This process, though, risks being nullified by the coming Constitutional Court decision.

  2. Another plebiscite with fast-track: about 2-3 months until D-Day. The Constitutional Court may decide that the fast track option is only valid after the accord’s approval by plebiscite, adopting a strict definition of “ratification by the people” to mean ratification directly, and not through the people’s elected representatives. If so, then this week’s Congressional ratification would not be enough to allow the amnesty law, and other accord implementation laws, to go via fast track.

    This, in fact, is the recommendation of the ponencia—the “first draft” decision, proposed by one of the justices (in this case, the chamber’s President)—submitted on Monday. The ponencia is not the final word, and Colombian media reports indicate that a majority of justices may be in favor of revising it to maintain fast-track authority. But if the justices agree with the ponencia, then Colombia’s government might need to go through with a second plebiscite in order to preserve fast track.

    The last plebiscite took a bit less than two months to organize. So if we assume a Court decision in early December, a plebiscite in February, a “yes” vote, and an amnesty law a few weeks after that, then the FARC might begin to demobilize in late February or early March. It won’t be easy, but the ceasefire, and the FARC’s command and control, might be able to withstand this delay.

    It’s impossible to predict whether a second plebiscite might pass. However, one of the opposition’s strongest arguments no longer makes sense today. Many “No” voters claimed that while they weren’t opposed to peace, they wanted a better accord. Now, a new accord has been negotiated, and the likelihood of going back and negotiating a third one is zero. A second plebiscite would be a starker choice between peace and renewed war.

  3. Congressional ratification without fast-track: six months to a year until D-Day. If the Court insists on a second plebiscite to enable fast track, Colombia’s government may decide not to risk a second rejection. This would leave the Congress forced to pass the amnesty law, and all other accord implementation laws, through its regular legislative procedures.

    These procedures are lengthy: eight debates over many months. These debates and votes could stretch on into June or July, and the Constitutional Court’s process for reviewing them could drag on for months after that. By the second half of next year, meanwhile, Colombia will be nearing the launch of campaigning for March 2018 legislative and May 2018 presidential elections, creating a climate in which even the smallest steps toward implementation will be politicized. It’s unlikely that the ceasefire, and the FARC’s ability to maintain a large force in clandestinity without losing much of its membership, can last this long.

Key Changes to the New Peace Accord

In a display of political discipline and maturity unlike anything we’ve seen in Washington lately, Colombia’s government and the FARC guerrilla group have produced a new peace accord [PDF]. It took them only 41 days to get from the original version’s narrow (50.2 to 49.7 percent) rejection in an October 2 plebiscite, to this new document announced on November 12 and published on November 14.

These 41 days included extensive consultations between government negotiators and representatives of sectors that supported the “No” vote in the October 2 plebiscite, among them former president Álvaro Uribe. The government and “No” supporters came up with a document outlining more than 500 proposed changes to the original 297-page peace accord. Government negotiators then took this package of proposals to FARC leaders in Havana, where they spent about two weeks negotiating around the clock.

The changes to the accord are numerous: see this side-by-side comparison of the old and new accords that somebody helpfully posted to draftable.com. They reveal that the FARC leadership gave ground on several key points. The main ones are the following.

Penalties for those found guilty of committing war crimes are specified more clearly. The original accord stated that guerrillas and others convicted of war crimes, who fully confess their deeds and make reparations to victims, may serve five to eight years in conditions of “effective restriction of liberty.” While the accord stated that this term “will not be understood as jail or prison,” it left the definition up to the judge in each case.

The new accord tightens this. (Page 164-5) The zones of “restriction of liberty” now cannot be larger than the size of a rural hamlet, or vereda. (More specifically, the size of the 20 veredas chosen to serve as sites for the FARC membership’s 6-month disarmament process.)

Some “No” campaigners wanted ex-guerrillas to serve their sentences in actual prisons, a demand that was never likely to be met by an armed group that had not surrendered on the battlefield, and was not close to doing so. In their counter-proposal [PDF], the political party of ex-president Uribe held out the possibility of “alternative conditions of reclusion, like agricultural colonies.” (Colombia’s La Silla Vacía journalism website recently profiled a facility in Acacías, Meta, that appears to be what the Uribistas had in mind.) The village-sized “restricted liberty” standard is not quite as austere as that, but it is much more restrictive than what the original accord might have allowed.

The Special Peace Jurisdiction, the justice system set up to try war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the conflict, will see its scope reduced somewhat. It will now have 10 years to operate, with the possibility of adding 5 more (page 145). It will have no foreign judges among its 38 magistrates and 13 auxiliaries, as the original accord contemplated, though 10 foreign legal experts will be able to serve as observers (pages 167-9). Proponents of the “no” vote had urged that this “special jurisdiction” be fully subordinate to Colombia’s existing legal system, and not separate from it. They did not quite get that, but the tribunal judges’ rulings can now be appealed to Colombia’s Constitutional Court (pages 160-1).

The new accord tightens up the concept of command responsibility for war crimes (pages 151-2). The earlier text had controversially stated that “in no case can command responsibility base itself exclusively on rank, position in hierarchy, or area of jurisdiction.” This meant that a commander might invoke this language to avoid prosecution for atrocities committed by subordinates. The new language holds responsible for war crimes all commanders who “should have known,” given his or her position, what those under his or her command were doing. (Edit as of November 17: Colleagues at Human Rights Watch have conveyed concern that this interpretation may not be accurate; we’re looking into it.)

The new accord specifically excludes from transitional justice any who committed war crimes for “personal enrichment” (page 149) This should mean that military personnel involved in “false positive” killings will not be entitled to shorter “restricted liberty” sentences. Any who killed innocent people in order to boost body counts, thus benefiting from bonuses and other material rewards, should have to stay in Colombia’s regular justice system, where penalties run as high as 40 years in prison. (That is the hoped-for outcome, at least.)

The entire accord will not become a de facto part of Colombia’s constitution (pages 277-8). The original accord contemplated its gaining constitutional status via an international-law maneuver: making it a “Special Accord of common article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, deposited before the Swiss Federal Council in Berne.” (This was originally proposed by Álvaro Leyva, a politician from the moderate wing of Colombia’s Conservative Party who has long had FARC leaders’ ear.) Proponents of the “No” vote objected strenuously to what they viewed as a 297-page back-door constitutional amendment. The revised accord only gives constitutional status to the parts of the accord that have to do with human rights and international humanitarian law.

The FARC had wanted the accord to be viewed as equal to Colombia’s constitution, as a guarantee that the government would comply with its commitments (to fail to deliver would be ruled unconstitutional). They did not get that: they must rely on the government’s good faith, and on new language in the accord committing to a temporary constitutional amendment stating, “State institutions and authorities have the obligation to comply in good faith with all that is established in the Final Accord.”

The FARC and its members must provide an inventory of all their assets at the beginning of the process (page 186). These will be used to pay for reparations to conflict victims. We may soon find out whether the FARC is truly broke, as its leaders claim.

Drug-trafficking charges against ex-FARC members will be decided case by case to determine whether the proceeds truly went to the guerrilla war effort (page 190). If it paid entirely for guns, food, and similar needs, participation in the drug trade may be amnestied (as “connected” to the amnesty-able political crime of sedition). If there is evidence of personal enrichment, however, that individual’s drug-related charges will be subject to criminal prosecution. The original accord had not specified the “case by case” manner in which participation in drug trafficking would be reviewed.

All demobilizing guerrillas must now provide “exhaustive and detailed” information about the group’s relationship to the drug trade (page 101). Such confessions could be dangerous to provide if they incriminate non-guerrillas involved in the drug trade, some of whom may be dangerous criminals who deal harshly with “snitches.”

The new accord reduces campaign finance assistance to the ex-FARC political party (page 69). This party was to receive 10 percent of public campaign funding between 2018 and 2026. It will now receive the average amount given to parties and political movements.

The new accord extends from 10 to 15 years, the timetable for investments in rural development programs, due to Colombia’s tight current financial situation (page 23). It now specifies that “nothing in the accord should affect the constitutional right to private property.” It specifies that the cadaster—a nationwide mapping of landholdings foreseen in the accords—will have no effect on property valuations used to collect taxes, which was a major concern of the country’s landholders.

Without changing its fundamental meaning, the new accord tightens up language on gender equity in order to avoid further misinterpretation by social conservatives. The new text (page 192) reads,

“No content in the Final Accord will be understood or interpreted as the negation, restriction, or diminution of people’s rights, independent of their sex, age, religious beliefs, opinions, ethnic identity, belonging to the LGBTI population, or any other reason; nor of the right to free development of one’s personality and of the right to freedom of conscience.”

One area that did not change: the post-FARC political party gets to keep its 10 automatic congressional seats (5 in the 166-person House of Representatives, 5 in the 102-person Senate) between 2018 and 2026 (pages 70-1). Those found guilty of war crimes will still be able to occupy these seats. The accord also creates 16 special congressional districts for zones hit hardest by the conflict, which will exist between 2018 and 2026 (page 54). In one change to the accord, the ex-FARC may not run candidates for those seats: they are meant to be occupied by representatives of victims and social movements.

The accords’ Ethnic Chapter was not edited in any significant way (pages 205-8).

The new text incorporates many of the concerns raised by ex-president Uribe and other members of the “No” coalition. However, it neither incorporates them all nor gives them everything they wanted on what was added. This makes sense: the “No” side won 50.2 percent of the vote, not 100.

We don’t know yet whether Uribe and other politicians will redouble their opposition to the new accord: so far, Uribe has complained about not having an opportunity to weigh in on the new version. If they do oppose the new text, their side risks being viewed as unreasonably stubborn or as exploiting remaining disagreements in order to push the accord’s approval period close to the 2018 presidential and congressional campaigns. The Santos government can also argue that time is of essence: it is necessary to get the un-demobilized FARC out of their current legal limbo as soon as possible, while its members are still on board with the process.

Another area that remains unclear is how the new accord is to be approved. A second plebiscite vote hasn’t been ruled out, but it is unlikely because its preparation would take too much time. (And also because of the uncertainty resulting from 2016’s surprising worldwide election outcomes.) A more likely path is President Juan Manuel Santos submitting the accords to Colombia’s Congress for approval as a package of laws.

President Santos’s coalition has a strong majority in the Congress, so approval is likely. Still, the question remains whether it can go via a “fast track” mechanism—minimal debate, few amendments, and accords made law within weeks—or through the legislature’s standard procedures, which would probably yield significantly amended laws by mid-2017. The longer timeframe may not be workable, as many guerrillas might decline to wait in their encampments until June or July of next year to find out how the Congress resolves their situation. Too many might desert or otherwise “wander off,” and be lost to the demobilization process. We will soon find out how Colombia resolves this “fast track” issue.

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