Colombia’s Presidential Election Potentially Threatens The 2016 Peace Referendum

Following the momentous 2016 peace referendum that ended a 50-year conflict between FARC and the national government, Colombia is facing a landmark presidential election that could determine the status of FARC ex-combatants. The people voted against the peace agreement in 2016, but under the leadership of President Juan Manuel Santos, the Colombian congress passed the agreement a month after the ‘no’ vote. Currently, Ivan Duque, the right-wing candidate, is projected to win the presidency following a victory in the first round of votes earlier this year. Conservative voters and politicians aim to revise the delicate FARC peace deal as they believe it did serve justice following a conflict that is responsible for roughly 220,000 casualties.

The left and right side of the political spectrum in Colombia is currently extremely polarized. According to the Telegraph, Duque is opposed to the FARC peace deal and if in office, he would revise it to sentence former leaders guilty of crimes to face proportional penalties. Additionally, he aims to keep former FARC rebels from serving in Congress, which was one of the key points in the accords agreed upon between FARC and President Santos. Ivan Duque has been mentored by former president Alvaro Uribe, who had significant military success against FARC throughout his presidency and was one of the leaders in the ‘no’ vote campaign against the peace referendum. On the left, Gustavo Petro, Bogota’s former mayor, is the first liberal candidate to make it through a presidential runoff in Colombia. Petro believes this proves that Colombia has shed their fears of the left despite his former involvement with the leftist guerrilla group M19. Since the beginning of the Havana Negotiations, the period of peace negotiations that led to the settlement, the population has been deeply divided. Pedro Piedrahita Bustamente, a political science faculty member at the University of Medellin said, “[p]olarization is common in politics around the world … but here, where there is a history of internal armed conflict, it could be a dangerous thing.” Currently, the agreement is in its implementation stages of reincorporating ex-combatants into Colombian society and is very fragile. The election could determine whether or not the peace is upheld between FARC and the Colombian government.

Although critiques of the agreement are legitimate, the peace must be held up at any cost. FARC and the government negotiated peace four times throughout the history of the conflict, the most recent time before the Havana negotiations was in Caguan in the late 1990’s and led to an increase in violence. The drafted agreement was comprehensive and called for an increase in human rights across the board including minorities and women.

By renegotiating certain aspects of the deal, the next government headed by the president could threaten the peace that ended the 50-year bloody conflict. The ex-FARC combatants are currently segregated in special zones to provide the necessary skills and education to become a functional member of Colombian society. Further increase in tension between the former guerillas and the citizens and politicians in opposition to the agreement could easily result in the continuation of conflict seen before.

FARC was a left-wing Marxist guerilla organization that sought to overthrow the government to establish socialism in Colombia. The conflict began in the 1960’s and is one of the bloodiest civil wars in recent history. The Havana Negotiations took place from 2011 until 2016 and was mediated between the countries of Norway and Cuba with the support of the United Nations. In the agreement, FARC was guaranteed 5 seats in congress, which is one of the most contested topics in the current election cycle. Those opposed to the agreement argue that justice was not served by those accused of an array of human right violations and murder. On the other hand, those who agree with the settlement believe that peace ought to be achieved no matter the cost because of the large number of casualties and the other existing guerilla organization that need to be dealt with as well.

The current presidential election in Colombia could very well become a vote on whether the conflict with FARC will continue. The guarantee to politicize and take part in the democratic system is one of the most important concessions agreed upon and by stripping away the political right from FARC it is likely they will continue to fight for their political goals.