Colombia’s New President Wants to Modify the FARC Peace Accord. His Proposals Aren’t Dealbreakers.

President Duque’s new high commissioner for peace, Miguel Ceballos (left), meets with Joaquín Gómez (center), the now-demobilized former head of the FARC’s Southern Bloc. Office of the High Commissioner for Peace photo.

Along with his conservative political party, Colombia’s new president, Iván Duque, fiercely opposed the peace accord with the FARC guerrilla group negotiated by his predecessor, Juan Manuel Santos. On the campaign trail during the first half of 2018, he pledged to make “adjustments” to the November 2016 accord, which had taken more than four difficult years to negotiate. Since he was inaugurated on August 7, the peace accord’s supporters have been wondering which of Duque’s “adjustments” might prove to be dealbreakers that cause the FARC deal to fall apart.

In an August 27 interview with El Tiempo columnist María Isabel Rueda, Duque’s new high commissioner for peace, Miguel Ceballos, laid out four proposed modifications.

Publicly, President Duque has raised four issues. First, in the future there must be no connection between rebellion, kidnapping, and drug trafficking. Second, that in the face of continued crimes [committed after the accord’s signing] such as arms trafficking, money laundering and drug trafficking, the people who continue committing them will lose their benefits. Third, that those who have committed crimes against humanity can not assume political office, and this not only refers to the Congress because local elections are coming, and fourth, that the eradication of crops will be mandatory from now on, respecting the pacts of voluntary eradication signed until the day the new government took office.

While there are reasons for concern, Ceballos’s comment has led most peace accord proponents to breathe a sigh of relief. These “adjustments” either barely affect the FARC accord, are already in the accord, or will only become law with difficulty. Colombia’s La Silla Vacía journalism website headlined them as “more symbolic than real.” If this is all that the Duque government is contemplating, the FARC accord will survive. Let’s look at all four:

  1. in the future there must be no connection between rebellion, kidnapping, and drug trafficking

In just about every peace process in the world, the state party forgives the non-state party for the crime of “rebellion,” or sedition or treason—nobody goes to prison for the crime of rising up against the government. In Colombia, though, it’s a bit more complicated, as the non-state parties often break other criminal laws in order to fund themselves. They traffic drugs and other contraband. They kidnap for ransom. They extort. They degrade the environment.

In the past, members of the FARC, and of the AUC paramilitaries before them, could get their past drug-trafficking and similar crimes amnestied as “connected” political crimes—as long as a judge decides that all the financial proceeds went into the group’s war effort and nobody enriched himself or herself personally.

Here, Ceballos says that the Duque government will try to change that: in the future, any armed group that practices drug trafficking will have to pay a criminal penalty—no amnesty—no matter what.

That doesn’t affect the FARC accord, which Ceballos and Duque don’t propose to revisit. It may, however, complicate any future accord with the ELN guerrillas, with which the Santos government has left behind an unfinished negotiation process. Members of the ELN participate in narcotrafficking, and it’s safe to assume many are not personally enriching themselves. ELN guerrillas may be less willing to turn in their weapons if they face years in prison—or even extradition to the United States—for past drug trafficking.

The government’s lead negotiator in the FARC talks, Humberto de la Calle, raised this point in an August 12 El Espectador column:

The ELN has mixed itself with drug trafficking. Does this close the door for an agreement with that group? If peace with that organization comes to be around the corner, will it be necessary to repeal the offer being made today?

Ceballos mentions undoing a connection between sedition and kidnapping. No such connection exists. Kidnapping non-combatants is a war crime, and cannot be amnestied. Former FARC members who led or participated in kidnappings must answer to the transitional justice system, the Special Peace Jurisdiction (JEP), which will require that they spend up to eight years under “restricted liberty,” issue complete confessions, and make reparations to their victims. A proposal to undo a “connection” between kidnapping and sedition would change nothing, as this describes the status quo.

  1. in the face of continued crimes [committed after the accord’s signing] such as arms trafficking, money laundering and drug trafficking, the people who continue committing them will lose their benefits

This changes nothing. Any former FARC fighter found to have committed a crime after December 2016, when the peace accord was ratified, must answer to it in the regular criminal justice system and would lose the right to lighter penalties in the JEP. This is what may happen to FARC negotiator Jesús Santrich, whom U.S. authorities accuse of conspiring to ship cocaine to the United States in 2017 and 2018. Santrich is under arrest while Colombian authorities consider a U.S. extradition request. Here too, Ceballos is describing the status quo.

  1. those who have committed crimes against humanity can not assume political office, and this not only refers to the Congress because local elections are coming

Colombia’s highest judicial review body, its Constitutional Court, just ruled on this in mid-August, when it decided on the basic law underlying the JEP, the new transitional justice system. It found that war criminals may hold political office as long as they have submitted to the JEP, are recognizing and confessing the full truth of their crimes, and are making reparations to victims. Those who do this serve sentences of “restricted liberty,” but not prison, lasting up to eight years. It is not yet clear whether these sentences—which are up to the judge in each case—might interfere with an individual’s ability to hold office.

To change this ruling, President Duque and his congressional supporters would have to amend Colombia’s constitution. If they succeeded in doing that and end up disqualifying many FARC members from holding office, it’s possible that some of them—who agreed to demobilize specifically so that they could participate in peaceful politics—would abandon the peace process, remobilize, and add to the growing ranks of armed guerrilla “dissident” groups. It’s far from certain, though, that Duque and his allies would have the votes necessary for such a constitutional amendment.

  1. the eradication of crops will be mandatory from now on, respecting the pacts of voluntary eradication signed until the day the new government took office

This means that the voluntary coca eradication program begun under Chapter 4 of the peace accord would continue for the families who are already participating in it—but the program will not sign up any new families. Any coca grower who has not yet been reached by the Chapter 4 program, known as the National Integral Illicit-Use Crop Substitution Plan (PNIS), will be shut out and, most likely, will face forcible eradication and no assistance.

For smallholding coca-growers unlucky enough to live in a municipality where the PNIS didn’t get started before Santos left office, this may be a violation of the peace accord’s terms. Colombia’s courts may have to decide that.

We also need to be vigilant about what happens to the 124,745 coca-growing families covered by the framework PNIS agreements the Santos government signed, including individual accords with 77,659 of them. The Colombian government has promised them two years of stipends, technical support, and other assistance to help them integrate into the legal rural economy. The Duque government must uphold this commitment. To break a promise to so many would destroy the Colombian government’s credibility in some of the most precarious parts of the country. The effect on coca cultivation and insecurity could be worse than never attempting either eradication or substitution in the first place.

Accord commitments aside, what Ceballos proposes sounds like bad policy. For decades now, Colombia—with U.S. support—has subjected smallholding coca-growers to forced eradication, while leaving no government presence behind in their communities. No basic services (usually, not even security), no land titles, no farm-to-market roads. The result has been quick and repeated recoveries of coca-growing. Nearly all of Colombia’s current coca boom is taking place in municipalities that had coca when “Plan Colombia” began ramping up forced eradication in 2000. Very little coca is showing up in new areas. If by “mandatory eradication” Ceballos means eradication without any governance or assistance, as in the past, we can expect Colombia’s coca problem to remain severe and unsolved.

The upshot here: these four proposals could bring some problems if the Duque government manages to implement them. But they would not shake the FARC peace process to its foundations.

Iván Duque and Miguel Ceballos would do better, though, if they made other “modifications” to the peace accord’s implementation:

  • By making a small amount of land available to demobilized FARC members to work collectively, they could do much to slow the flow of ex-fighters into the ranks of the “dissidents.” Though a large number of ex-FARC fighters want to become farmers, the peace accord said nothing about making land available to them. An effort to do so is afoot, but moving slowly.
  • By reinvigorating and fully funding the national government’s new Territorial Renovation Agency (ART), local governments, and other agencies carrying out Territorially Focused Development Plans (PDETs) in 170 municipalities, they could take a large leap toward addressing the severe lack of government presence and services that underlies so much illegality—armed-group activity, drug trafficking, illicit mining—in abandoned rural areas. The peace accord’s first chapter on rural development offers a blueprint for the government’s “entry” into historically conflictive territories. It also accounts for 85 percent of the anticipated cost of implementing the entire accord. Chapter 1 is moribund right now; making it work would be a tremendously important “adjustment.”
  • They could improve the peace accord’s promise of allowing Colombians to practice politics without fear of being murdered. This would mean increasing protection for threatened social leaders around the country, and dismantling—through careful but aggressive investigative work—the networks of landowners, drug traffickers, businesses, rogue government actors, and organized criminals behind many of the 343 social-leader murders committed between 2016 and late August. President Duque signed a “pact” promising to do more to protect social leaders at an event on August 23. As the killings mount, it’s past time to move from promises to action.

Tags: Drug Policy, Post-Conflict Implementation, Transitional Justice

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