5 Ways Supporting Peace in Colombia Benefits U.S. Interests

This week, the United States Senate is expected to hold a final confirmation vote for President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson. While his nomination is expected to be confirmed, in his written testimony Tillerson made a remark regarding the longstanding U.S.-Colombia partnership that merits some clarification. When asked about Colombia’s historic peace accord, which ends 52 years of conflict between the Colombian government and armed rebels, he suggested he would “review the details of Colombia’s recent peace agreement, and determine the extent to which the United States should continue to support it.”

WOLA is confident that a look at the details will prove that Colombia’s peace agreement deserves full U.S. support. For one thing, the agreement holds immense benefits for the Colombian people, particularly those communities that have been most affected by over five decades of violence. But support for a lasting peace also carries promise for the United States as well, and it is directly in line with U.S. interests.

Last year saw widespread bipartisan support for a $450 million aid proposal for Colombia, which was approved by both houses of Congress. However, the 2017 foreign aid bill has not yet passed. When it does, this $450 million should be sustained or increased. Below are five reasons why doing so is in the U.S. interest.

1. Consolidating Security Gains will Require Sustained Investment

The accords have had a drastic effect on violence in Colombia. The historic ceasefire between the armed the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has been accompanied by a major drop in homicides: the country reported 12,262 in 2016, down 25 percent from when the peace talks began.

However, neither the Colombian government nor the United States can remain complacent. Now that the rebels are beginning to demobilize, a state presence—infrastructure, basic services, access to justice—must be established in the roughly one-fifth of Colombia’s territory with heavy FARC presence. By continuing its support, the U.S. government can ensure that the benefits of peace go beyond simply an end to fighting. Post-conflict transitions elsewhere have clearly shown the limits of military aid alone, underscoring the importance of focusing resources on strengthening democratic institutions and expanding state presence.

2. More Integrated, Long-Term Efforts are Needed to Address Drug Trafficking

According to the latest United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report, coca crop cultivation in Colombia has increased by 40 percent. With coca cultivation on the rise, now is not the time to cut U.S. aid. Instead, the United States should be helping Colombia in its efforts to build state presence in in coca-growing areas, and present rural Colombians with sustainable economic alternatives.

Fortunately, the peace accord lays out the blueprints for an innovative program that aims to supplement mandatory eradication with coca reduction through community engagement, a plan that will be aided by the participation of former FARC rebels. The plan will require resources and could benefit from parallel U.S. funding, but it holds far more promise for reducing coca crops in the long term than the failed policies of the past.

3. Peace Can Prevent Proliferation of Illegal Armed Groups

While the FARC—the country’s largest guerrilla group—have signed the accords and are participating in demobilization efforts, other smaller armed groups remain active. The United States has a role to play in ensuring that talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN) move forward, and that criminal networks and neo-paramilitary actors across the country do not fill the vacuum left by the FARC. There are already reports that criminal gangs are moving to take control of traditional FARC areas and dissuade rebel elements from demobilizing. In order to ensure that these efforts are not successful, the United States will need to provide generous support for increasing state presence and programs to reintegrate ex-combatants.

4. Supporting Peace in Colombia is a Bipartisan Policy

The Plan Colombia aid package, despite its shortcomings, has been hailed in Washington as a rare successful foreign policy initiative with broad bipartisan support. Indeed, Republicans and Democrats alike backed the initiative across five U.S. presidential terms. In today’s polarized political climate, supporting U.S. funding for Colombia’s post-conflict future represents an opportunity to show the public that lawmakers of both parties remain committed to working together to advance U.S. foreign policy objectives.

5. U.S. Support for Vulnerable Populations is Key to Deepening Colombian Democracy

U.S. policy towards Colombia has long been rooted in support for the country’s democracy. Over the last two decades, U.S. aid has been increasingly focused on the needs of vulnerable populations in Colombia, namely indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities. Because these same groups are among the hardest hit by Colombia’s armed conflict, supporting civil society efforts in their communities is essential in order to secure a lasting peace and help Colombia make its democracy more inclusive.

U.S. assistance will continue to be fundamental in Colombia’s post-conflict transition. Today, civil society leaders in rural areas are under serious threat. Despite the nationwide reduction in violence since the accords, community activists and rural organizers are being targeted by criminal organizations in a wave of threats and killings around the country. Continuing to fund civil society organizations and community initiatives in these areas would send a powerful message to those who are opposed to making political participation safe for all in Colombia.

Tags: Post-Conflict Implementation, U.S. Policy

February 1, 2017

Some of the Many Reasons Why the United States Should Keep Supporting Colombia’s Peace Accord

The Trump administration’s likely secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, has declared an intention “to review the details of Colombia’s recent peace agreement, and determine the extent to which the United States should continue to support it.” WOLA is confident that once he reviews those details, Mr. Tillerson will conclude that the 2016 agreement, which ends 52 years of fighting between Colombia’s government and the FARC guerrilla group, deserves strong support.

There are many practical reasons for such a conclusion. Here are a few.

1. The 2016 government-FARC accord, and accompanying UN-monitored ceasefire, have brought Colombia’s violence to decades-low levels. The gains are not irreversible: they depend on strong accord implementation. In 2016, only 216 members of the Colombian security forces, guerrilla groups, or paramilitary groups died in situations that could be defined as combat—a 46 percent drop from 2015, and a 93 percent drop from a decade earlier. Even before an August 29 bilateral ceasefire shut down FARC-government violence almost completely, CERAC, the Colombian think-tank that most methodically tracks violence statistics, reported that Colombia’s conflict was in its least intense since it began 52 years ago. Overall, Colombia reported 12,262 homicides in 2016, a 25 percent drop from 2012, the year the FARC peace talks started.

Before 2012, intensified security operations had brought important drops in combat and violence. But battlefield progress slowed notably after about mid-2008. This made clear that a military victory over the FARC would take many more bloody years, while a peace accord might bring the conflict to a much more rapid end—as it did last year. After a several-year plateau, violence measures did not drop further until the FARC negotiations reached an advanced phase.

2. Right now, the FARC guerrillas’ membership is gathering to demobilize and disarm. The United States must help Colombia to minimize dissidences and rearmament. As many as 14,000 FARC members and militias have arrived, or are on their way, to the village-sized sites where they will spend six months demobilizing, turning in their weapons to a UN mission, and entering either civilian life or trial for war crimes. Arrivals at the 26 zones should be complete by the end of January. While this process is behind schedule, the delays owe to logistical difficulties, not bad faith.


A UN rendering of one of the village-sized zones where FARC guerrillas are reporting for demobilization and disarmament.

These security gains are remarkable, but they are fragile. FARC dissidences are emerging in several parts of the country—a normal phenomenon at this phase in post-conflict processes, but a worrying development. Organized crime groups and the smaller National Liberation Army guerrillas are poised to fill territorial power vacuums that the FARC leave behind, if Colombia’s state proves unable to fill them first. To keep these challenges under control, Colombia will need generous, determined, and active U.S. support for increasing state presence and reintegrating ex-combatants—not criticism or opposition.

3. This is a historic opportunity to de-mine the world’s second-most mine-affected country. Anti-personnel mines have killed or injured more than 11,000 Colombians since 1990. The overwhelming majority have been planted by guerrillas, and the threat of violence has impeded their removal. With the peace accord in place, Colombia has big plans to accelerate de-mining: with a 10,000-person force and international (including U.S.) support, it has set a goal of being mine-free by 2021. But for this to happen, mine-clearers need to do their work without fear of attack, and they need ex-guerrillas to tell them where the mines are. Both require the conflict to be definitively over, and the peace accord can guarantee that.


Part of a Colombian government map showing sites identified as needing demining in San Miguel, Putumayo. This detail is approximately 6 by 9 miles in size.

4. It opens the way for reparations of millions of conflict victims, offering hope of breaking a generations-old cycle of violence. The Colombian government’s National Unit for Victims, which began work in late 2011, has approved the provision of reparations to over 297,000 people who suffered a lost relative, forced displacement, torture, sexual violence, or another tragedy as a result of the conflict. As impressive as this sounds, over 6.3 million Colombians are in fact registered with the Unit, and determined to be “subject to assistance and reparations.” (The total number of registered victims exceeds 8.3 million, or one-sixth of the entire population.)

The signing of a peace accord offers hope that the reparations process might accelerate for this enormous population. It also holds out hope that FARC members—who carried out a minority of homicides and displacements but a majority of kidnappings, landmine use, and child recruitment—will, in compliance with their accord commitments, participate in reparations and tell victims the truth about what happened to them and their loved ones. The victims’ assistance process must go forward, and the U.S. government should support it.

Tags: Post-Conflict Implementation, U.S. Policy

February 1, 2017

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:

Tags: Human Rights, Human Rights Defenders, Implementation, Political Participation

December 5, 2016

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.

Tags: Accords, Disarmament, Ratification

December 1, 2016

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.

Tags: Accords, Drug Policy, Transitional Justice

November 15, 2016

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.

 

 

 

Tags: Crises, Plebiscite

October 21, 2016

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

Tags: Afro-Descendant Communities, Indigenous Communities

October 21, 2016

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

Tags: Indigenous Communities, Plebiscite, Transitional Justice

October 21, 2016

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.

Tags: Crises, Plebiscite

October 13, 2016

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.”

Tags: Crises, Plebiscite

October 9, 2016

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.

Tags: Accords, Plebiscite

October 3, 2016

A Day To Celebrate–And Many Days of Work Ahead

WOLA looks forward to witnessing the historic ceremony, scheduled for 6:00PM Eastern time in Cartagena, Colombia, at which Colombia’s government and the FARC guerrilla group will sign a peace accord to end a bloody armed conflict that began in 1964.

This is an occasion to celebrate. It is a time to thank all who made it possible: both sides’ negotiating teams, who worked doggedly for four years; President Juan Manuel Santos, who took the initiative to open a dialogue; Norway and Cuba, the two guarantor countries; Venezuela and Chile, the two accompanying countries; U.S. Special Envoy Bernie Aronson; E.U. Special Envoy Eamon Gilmore; German Special Envoy Tom Koenigs; the UN presence in Colombia, the International Committee of the Red Cross; the civil society and victims’ organizations who worked to improve the accord’s content; and the many Colombian and international experts who gave their time to advise the dialogues.

This is also an occasion to pause and reflect, to honor the armed conflict’s millions of victims. In the coming years, we hope and expect that Colombia will fulfill the accord’s commitments in a way that fully and consistently restores and upholds their dignity and holds the victimizers accountable.

The coming months and years won’t be easy. Colombia’s to-do list is long and multi-faceted. Combatants must be disarmed and reintegrated. Tens of thousands of landmines must be cleared. A complex and credible transitional justice system must be set up. Ex-combatants must be physically protected, as should human rights defenders and civil-society leaders. And most challenging of all, Colombia must quickly bring real governance to vast areas where armed groups have long reigned, and where illicit economies continue to thrive.

The peace accord being signed today offers a blueprint for achieving all of this, and for launching Colombia into a new and more prosperous phase of its history. But now comes the difficult work of turning that blueprint into a solidly constructed house, one in which all Colombians can live. This will be expensive, will yield slow results, and will meet some powerful opposition. But making the accords’ commitments into reality is the right thing to do.

For that reason, WOLA hopes that the Colombian people will vote “yes” to approve the accords in the plebiscite scheduled for October 2. And we look forward to monitoring closely Colombia’s effort to comply with its peace accord commitments, as well as the U.S. government’s contributions to that effort.

Tags: Accords

September 26, 2016

Excerpts From the August 24 Announcement of a Final Peace Accord Between the Colombian Government and the FARC

The Joint Communiqué

The end of the conflict will mean the opening of a new chapter of our history. It means beginning a transition phase that may contribute to a greater integration of our territories, a greater social inclusion—especially of those who have lived at the margins of our development and have suffered the conflict—and strengthening our democracy so that it may be deployed in all of the national territory, and that it may assure that social conflicts are mediated through institutions, with full security guarantees for those who participate in politics.

Statement of chief government negotiator Humberto de la Calle

Surely the accord we’ve achieved isn’t a perfect accord. But with the same honesty and frankness with which we’ve informed public opinion, now I want to make clear that I have the certainty that it is the best possible accord. We all probably would have wanted something more. We here at the table would have wanted something more. But the accord achieved here is the viable accord, the best possible accord.

Many Colombians would want punishment for the FARC. But also, with the same fervor, we would have to ask the same punishment for all responsible. State agents who deviated from their mission, and third parties who financed serious crimes and massacres. The violence of the other cannot justify one’s own violence. With the application of transitional justice, and with the launching of mechanisms for truth and reparations, what is sought is that this society may understand that there is no such thing as “good violence.” That the only legitimate reaction against crime is the democratic power of the state. That straying beyond this path brings the unleashing of violence that feeds on itself and perpetuates the confrontation. Non-repetition is something that we demand of the FARC with firmness. But this should also be a great national commitment. Nobody in the future should encourage forms of the poorly named “private justice.”

In the regular justice system, punishment plays a dissuasive role. The sanctions foreseen in the accord have, instead, a great restorative content. …Many victims wish to heal their wounds, know the truth, and see those responsible admit their guilt. The sanctions contemplated in the Special Justice system fulfill this purpose. It is a case without precedent that, in the middle of a conflict in real time, the antagonists could achieve an accord to punish the most serious crimes.

I thank those who have expressed reservations and criticisms. This is a legitimate exercise. It has also been useful for us at the table. They are not enemies of peace. The enemies of peace are those who have filled social networks with fallacies and myths.

Statement of chief FARC negotiator Iván Márquez

Regrettably, in all wars, but especially in those of long duration, errors are committed and the population is involuntarily affected. With the signing of the peace accord, which implicitly brings the commitment of non-repetition, we hope to dispel, definitively, the risk that weapons may again be used against citizens.

To the government of the United States that for so long supported the state’s war against the guerrillas and against social inconformity, we ask that it keep supporting, in a transparent way, Colombian efforts to re-establish peace, always expecting from Washington humanitarian gestures that coincide with the kindness that characterizes the majority of the American people, friends of concord and solidarity. We continue to await Simón Trinidad.

We hope that the ELN may find its own path, so that the peace that we long for may be completed fully, and in so doing involving all Colombians.

President Juan Manuel Santos

Mothers should not bury their children.

Our children, our campesinos, our soldiers, should not keep suffering the mutilations of antipersonnel mines.

We don’t want more young people as cannon fodder in an absurd and painful war.

We Colombians have the right to recover hope in a better future.

With this accord we will stop being viewed as a dangerous country, and more investment, more tourism, and more employment will come.

With this accord I leave in your hands the opportunity to end the war with the FARC.

The former members of the FARC—now without weapons—may gain access to the nation’s political life, in democracy. They must, just like any partisan organization, convince citizens through proposals and arguments in order to be elected.

Until 2018 they will have some spokespeople in the Congress, with voice but without a vote, to discuss only issues related to the implementation of the accords.

Starting at that moment, they will participate in elections with a minimum representation assured for two congressional terms, if they do not achieve the minimum necessary vote.

Tags: Accords

August 25, 2016

Colombia’s 52-Year-Old Conflict with the FARC Comes to an End

Negotiators from the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group are to make a historic announcement on the evening of Wednesday, August 24. After 54 months of exploratory and formal negotiations in Havana, Cuba, they have reached an agreement to end an armed conflict that began in 1964.

Both sides’ negotiators posed for a photo last night.

That conflict has killed over 220,000 Colombians, more than 80 percent of them non-combatants. The 7,000-member FARC, the largest leftist insurgency during that period, is responsible for roughly one-fifth to one-third of these killings. (Colombia’s security forces and pro-government paramilitary groups committed most of the rest.) The FARC carried out the majority of kidnappings, use of anti-personnel mines, attacks on population centers, and attacks on infrastructure, and a significant share of forced displacement, recruitment of minors, and sexual violence. It has supported itself financially through extortion and an ever deeper involvement in cocaine production.

Once this accord is implemented, for the first time in most Colombians’ lives, much of this activity will end, and Latin America’s third most-populous country will no longer face an armed group capable of generating violence on a national scale. Though regional challenges will persist, this peace accord is worthy of worldwide celebration.

The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a research and advocacy organization that has been closely following Colombia’s peace process since its inception congratulates both sides’ negotiators for four years of hard, disciplined work, with more than 50 rounds of formal talks. We congratulate Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos for taking the audacious and politically risky step of launching the talks in 2012. We congratulate Colombia’s military for respecting civilian leaders’ decision to negotiate and for contributing constructively to the dialogues’ latter phases. We thank the “guarantor” countries, Cuba and Norway, and the “accompanying” countries, Chile and Venezuela, for their logistical support to the talks and for helping to keep the dialogues on track at their most difficult moments. We thank the special envoys sent by the governments of the United States, Germany, and the European Union, who played creative roles and contributed ideas.

The agreement to be revealed today is hundreds of pages long (it is not public yet, but earlier drafts in Spanish are here). It will include commitments on five substantive agenda points.

  • Colombia’s government has committed to making substantive investments in the rural small-landowner economy.
  • Reforms will ease the participation of political movements that have been excluded or even exterminated in the past.
  • A new approach to illicit coca cultivation will be based on governance and assistance, with forced eradication a last resort.
  • Colombia will launch a truth commission and a transitional justice arrangement that will grant alternative punishments to those who confess their involvement in war crimes.
  • Through an agreed process, guerrillas will turn over weapons to a UN mission and begin their reintegration into society.

We do not know yet how the negotiators defined some of the accord’s difficult remaining questions. It is possible that some elements, especially transitional justice, could be troubling and require revision by Colombia’s high courts.

What is happening today is just an announcement and (probably) the publication of the accords’ text. The parties will not be signing any documents yet, and it will be a while before the FARC begins turning in its weapons. Several steps remain, as WOLA described in a commentary published last week.

  • The FARC leadership will meet somewhere for its “10th Conference” to approve the accord. This is a necessary step for top leaders’ buy-in. It could also be a moment when internal dissent about the agreement manifests itself among guerrilla units. This is unlikely to be a big issue—FARC leaders have been informally discussing the accords for years, and many of them have spent time at the table in Havana—but it could be a hurdle on the way to demobilization.
  • Colombians will approve or disapprove the accord in a plebisciteto be held at least a month after President Santos sends the accord text to Congress (which could happen as soon as next week). The outcome of this vote is not certain, as the negotiations’ political opponents, like former President Álvaro Uribe, have garnered heavy news coverage. Though some pollsshow more than 60 percent of Colombians inclined to vote “Yes,” others show the two options in a virtual tie. Our guess is that, if the plebiscite is held in the afterglow of a final accord, a majority of Colombians will vote “Yes.” If Colombians should vote “No,” however, the peace accord may not go forward. President Santos and his negotiating team have said that they would not try to negotiate a new agreement.
  • Colombia’s Congress must approve a law that will amnesty guerrilla fighters accused of the political crime of “sedition” (not war crimes). The FARC have made clear that its members will not turn in weapons without a legal guarantee that they will not be arrested. Passage of an amnesty law (or a similar non-arrest guarantee) may hinge on the definition of “connected” political crimes: for instance, if guerrillas used the proceeds of drug trafficking to fund their “sedition,” can the drug trafficking be amnestied? (The answer will probably be “yes,” but some debate is likely.)
  • Once these issues are settled, we can expect a big, celebratory accord-signing ceremony, probably in Colombia. (This ceremony might occur shortly before the plebiscite.)
  • The day the final accord is formally signed is a watershed moment that the peace accords call “D-Day.” It formalizes a full, bilateral cessation of hostilities, and sets in motion a 180-day timetable for the FARC membership’s concentration in 31 gathering points around the country (23 village-sized zones and 8 encampments), at which they will gradually turn over weapons to a UN monitoring and verification mechanism. The FARC’s 7,000 members (plus an undetermined number of militia members and support personnel) will then enter into reintegration programs and convert to a political movement, while guerrillas and soldiers accused of war crimes will enter the transitional justice process.

The timetable for these steps is anyone’s guess, though sources are telling Colombian journalists that it could be completed very quickly—by early October. Deadlines and target dates have slipped before, though, so this process could take longer.

Once these steps are finished, Colombia will face serious challenges in the post-accord period. The FARC’s exit from the drug trade will not mean the end of the drug trade or the powerful, violent organized crime groups that participate in it. The 2,000-member, 52-year-old National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group remains active in some regions and has not yet begun formal peace talks. And strong doubts surround the Colombian government’s ability to fill the security vacuum and implement accords in at least 281 of the most poorly governed of the country’s 1,100 counties (the number comes from Colombia’s Peace and Reconciliation Foundation).

Despite the challenges, the benefits of a peace deal are clear and compelling. As the database managed by the Colombian think-tank CERAC has shown, even the de-escalation that has accompanied the talks has probably prevented between 1,500 and 2,000 deaths. The past 13 months have seen the least political violence in Colombia since the conflict began half a century ago.

This accord is far from perfect, and huge challenges lie ahead. But the achievement being announced today is monumental, and worthy of celebration. WOLA salutes those who made it possible, and encourages the U.S. government and Congress to be as generous and patient with Colombia’s peace effort as they were during the armed conflict’s most intense years.

Tags: Accords, Plebiscite

August 24, 2016

Explaining Colombia’s Peace Plebiscite

Updated August 26, 2016

Note: this post reflects our current understanding of the plebiscite situation, which is very complex and hinges on details of Colombian law. We may revise the text; if we do, we will indicate all revisions clearly. Any revisions suggested in the comments will receive serious consideration.

Throughout the nearly four years of Colombia’s negotiations with the FARC guerrillas, President Juan Manuel Santos has promised to submit a final peace accord to a vote, so that it could enjoy the legitimacy of a public mandate. This idea is commendable, but risky: polls have usually shown a solid but not overwhelming majority of Colombians supporting the peace talks, and strongly opposing key elements like alternative punishments for human rights abusers, or allowing former guerrillas to participate in politics. The possibility that a “No” vote could undo the entire peace effort is too great to be dismissed.

Santos’s proposal for a plebiscite to approve the eventual accord became law last December. The FARC accepted the idea in principle in May. It received a formal green light on July 18, when Colombia’s Constitutional Court completed its review of the law [PDF], making modest changes.

What happens next—and what might happen next—is confusing. Here, in question-and-answer form, is our understanding of how the plebiscite is likely to move forward, based on a close reading of official documents and media coverage, and conversations with Colombian experts.

When might the plebiscite happen?

It must take place at least one month, and no more than four months, from the date that President Santos notifies Congress of his intention to convene it.

But here the timetable gets cloudy. Several things must happen in a closely orchestrated way. In order to do that, though, the plebiscite’s implementers will have to cut through some circular logic, in which B can’t happen until A is completed, yet A depends on B being completed.

On the evening of August 24, after government and FARC negotiators announced agreement on a final peace accord, President Santos announced that the plebiscite would take place on Sunday, October 2.

The timetable could look something like this (Note that, as indicated in the graphic, the positions of the amnesty law, the final signing, and the plebiscite have changed):

  • Negotiators in Havana finalize the peace accord. This requires agreement on how ex-combatants will be reintegrated into society, and on several points of disagreement that the draft accords inked since 2013 had postponed for later. (One such point—how judges will be selected for the tribunal that will decide war-crimes cases—was resolved by an agreement announced on August 12.) Nailing down all of these questions could take several more weeks, in the most optimistic of scenarios. After a week and a half of marathon sessions in Havana, government and guerrilla negotiators reached a final peace accord faster than expected. The parties announced the agreement on August 24. Once the accord is finalized, Colombia’s government must now undergo a huge effort to ensure that citizens know what it says.
  • The FARC leadership meets somewhere to hold its “10th Conference,” where they will discuss and make a final decision about the accord. This is necessary to guarantee mid-level commanders’ buy-in.
  • The government and FARC sign a final peace accord. This would happen at a celebratory ceremony, probably in Colombia, with many invited international delegations present. Much credible speculation surrounds Friday, September 23 as the target date.
  • FARC members begin to concentrate into 23 zones and 8 encampments around the country, where they will begin a six-month, UN-verified process of disarmament and demobilization. The June 23 accord [PDF] for a cessation of hostilities and disarmament calls for the FARC to begin concentrating its members within five days of the final peace accord’s signature.
  • On October 2, Colombians vote in the plebiscite to approve or disapprove the peace accord. If Colombians vote “No,” this timeline stops. Meanwhile, in its July 18 ruling, Colombia’s Constitutional Court decreed that the amnesty law (the next step on this list) cannot be enacted unless citizens have first approved the peace accords plebiscite.
  • Colombia’s Congress passes a law that, as agreed in the December 15 accord [PDF] on Victims, would amnesty the political crime of “rebellion” (sedition). Without this law, FARC members will not begin to demobilize for fear of arrest. “If there is no amnesty law, there will be no final accord,” FARC negotiator Carlos Antonio Lozada said in early August. The FARC have backed off of this position. The final accord suspends arrest warrants for FARC members until the amnesty law is passed. It also—in 29 of its 297 pages—lays out the text of the amnesty law that will be sent to Congress immediately after the plebiscite is approved. This will not be easy either necessarily be an easy step, as Colombia’s Congress must decide to what extent guerrilla fundraising activities—so-called “connected crimes” like extortion and narcotrafficking—count as “rebellion” if their purpose was to raise money for the FARC’s war effort. It is also unclear whether, at this point, Colombia would have to release thousands of FARC members serving prison sentences for “rebellion.”

These items may not necessarily occur in this order.

For one thing, the The Colombian government would prefer to hold the plebiscite after the final accord signing, so that voters are motivated to choose “Yes” during the honeymoon phase following a national celebration of peace. But the signing triggers the FARC’s concentration into zones within five days, and the FARC understandably resists leaving its members concentrated and vulnerable if Colombians end up voting “No” and nullifying the peace accords. It is still unclear how this complication might be resolved, though with only 7-10 days between signing and plebiscite, it may turn out to be a minor issue.

Tags: Ceasefire, Plebiscite, Ratification

August 16, 2016