Colombia: a good peace deal getting lost in national politics

04 Oct 2016 - 21:55
Bron: Camilo Rueda López / Flickr

A stunning ‘no’ has put the historic peace negotiations in Colombia in jeopardy. Fortunately the two signatories to the agreement – the Colombian administration and the FARC – remain committed to peace so there is no immediate breakdown in the process. However, getting a new deal which will get sufficient support will be a difficult balancing act for president Santos, including some questions on how much political capital Santos can and will spend to get to a final deal.

The defeat deserves analysis as well as reflection on both the referendum and on the main challenge from the ‘no’ camp to the agreement, which is that the agreement is too lenient towards the crimes committed by FARC leaders and fighters. Clingendael negotiation experts and frequent collaborators in the Processes of International Negotiation and our facility Negotiation Training as an Instrument for Conflict Resolution give their comments and thoughts on the referendum in Colombia:

  • “It is a cheap shot on the part of Uribe to turn a personal vendetta into a national catastrophe” - opinion by I. William Zartman
    Zartman - who earlier advised then incoming President Virgilio Barco on opening the peace process with the formula of Normalization: Disarmament for Participation that is the basis of the current agreement - gives his opinion on the deal calling the ‘no’ camp irresponsible while emphasizing that president Santos “worked hard to get the best deal possible”. The ‘no’ in Colombia is a catastrophe in the annals of peace negotiations according to Zartman. 
  • “The deal was not about forgiveness, but about moving forward” - opinion by Valerie Rosoux and Mark Anstey
    Reconciliation and negotiation experts Valerie Rosoux and Mark Anstey are also positive about the agreement reached. They believe that the final text could hardly find a better balance in practical peace making and justice. The arguments by the ‘no’ camp in this regard fall short. They continue that we should consider more reasons for failure than the peace versus justice dichotomy. Wounds are still open and the FARC is mistrusted. Reconciliation is about more than having justice.
  • "The voters answered the wrong question - opinion by Ryan Gawn and Quintin Oliver
    Ryan Gawn and Quintin Oliver work for Stratagem International; an international political consultancy firm which has its roots in the Northern Irish Good Friday Agreement, with Quintin campaigning for the ‘yes’ camp in 1998. Both have been advising in Bogotá on this referendum. Although the ‘no’ vote has not dented their trust in putting complicated peace deals to democratic vote, they do signal a worrying unpredictability of voters and the ability of pollsters and experts to accurately predict political outcomes - which also happened in the Brexit referendum. They also provide some lessons for successful campaigning in referendums on peace agreements.

The three articles together are clear: the deal itself is a fine deal, the problem is selling it back home. That is unfortunately in many peace negotiations a formidable obstacle. As EU mediator and British diplomat Robert Cooper remarks in the documentary The Agreement on negotiations between Kosovo and Serbia: “It is easy to be against a peace agreement. It is when you reach an agreement, then people start throwing tomatoes at you”. A lesson unfortunately again proven true in Colombia with Uribe taking the easy route, while president Santos has to face the tomatoes. Tomatoes at home that is, in the rest of the world an effort like this means a Nobel Peace Prize.

Also interesting to read Anatomie van de hink-stap-sprong naar vrede in Colombia by Jorrit Kamminga and Dirk Kruijt in the Clingendael Magazine Internationale Spectator.