Trade and Globalisation


Negotiations in Colombia: a major step towards a full peace agreement?

10 Nov 2015 - 17:08
Source: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (left) with EP President Martin Schulz / cc / Flickr / EP 2014

There should be no doubt that the current round of agreements between the Colombian government at the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) is a major step toward a full peace agreement.  It provides for accountability for past crimes on both sides, even though the details still remain to be worked out on the job, and it set a deadline for a completed agreement, even though the FARC has contested its terminal status. The focus now turns to the completing of the final bits of agreement and details but the job is not over; as any negotiator knows, the devil is on the details.  In addition, we will hear remonstrances from the FARC—as with the closing date—that that’s not “what they really meant” or “really agreed to.” 

All this is to be expected, and if anything reflects the bumpy cohesion within the rebel group.  Government needs to keep its and the FARC’s nose to the wheel and move resolutely to the final agreement within six months. That is much later than the May or October deadline that the government set for itself, mainly in order to tie a referendum to the October local elections.  But the fact is that a rabbit was pulled out of the hat in October and both parties (President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC’s Timoléon Jiménez “Timoshenko” who had never been seen before) shook hands on it.

But what if?  There are several broken steps to the top that may cause the negotiators to trip.  First could be a last minute withdrawal from the process by the FARC, either from central leadership or from some regional lieutenants, which might come to the same thing.  In and of itself, the central leadership headed by Timoshenko is committed, and has pulled recalcitrant lieutenants (or less) to order in recent past.  They are committed because they are publically committed; that handshake means something.

More important, they are committed to an entirely new strategy.  Seeing the military campaign to revolutionize society and provide for rural reform collapse before the military campaign of previous president Uribe (les by then-Defense Minister Santos), the FARC decided not to give up its goals but to radically change its means.  They now want to achieve a rural reform through political means, confident that voters they organize will bring them to at least local power.  A return to military revolt would require a rebellion of local leaders again the consolidated leadership and a renunciation of the new strategy.  It is simply unlikely.  The most that can be expected in that direction is the holdout of a few local foyers of militia revolt in remote regions.  Anti-government rebellions are overcome when the rebel and government leaders make common cause against recalcitrant rebel elements.

This does not mean that agreement on all point is on the table now and needs only to be typed out.  Devilish details and real “small” difference still remain.  But there is a commitment to come out of the tunnel.

But the government side is not solidly united.  The Uribistas still launch poisoned darts at the whole process, claiming that the military successes of the previous decade could be or have been carried to an end and the insurgency destroyed.  The claim is nonsense, as is the fear that a political role for FARC would lead to a Venezuelan future, and most people recognize that.  There will be Uribista opposition, fueled above all by the personal feud of Alvaro Uriba against Santos, but followed by many who do not understand the need to bury the war, the depth of the opportunity, and the catastrophe of failure.

The government has not been effective and concentrated enough to get that message across but the space is still there to do so, and that handshake on an agreement that—in particular--provides for accountability for rebel excesses does carry weight against the nay-sayers.  If not, it means the return of one of the—if not the—most modern Latin American economies and societies to rural rebellion and anarchy that would eat out the guts of the country.  That understanding is sinking in in Colombia.