Is The Colombian Peace Dream Falling Apart?

On November 24, 2016, in the historic Colón theatre in Bogota, the final and definitive peace agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) was signed. This final and revised peace agreement that ended a conflict of more than 50 years came after four years of negotiation between the government and the FARC; a referendum where a modest majority won and voted against the peace deal; a renegotiation between the government and the advocates who supported the rejection of the deal; and finally, based on that renegotiation, a revision and enactment of an adjusted and final document, which was signed by President and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Juan Manuel Santos and Rodrigo Londoño, the maximum FARC commander. This instrument was later approved and ratified by Congress. 

The process that began after the signing of the deal was not easy either. In January 2017, the former FARC combatants started their assembling in twenty-six zones, zones where they were to remain until all their weapons were handed over to the UN. On August 2017, the UN observers extracted more than 8,112 guns and concluded the process of armament removal. This officially meant the end of the conflict between the government of Colombia and the FARC. In March 2018, the new political party FARC (The Common Alternative Revolutionary Force) participated for the first time in a democratic process. The presidential election was finally won by Ivan Duque, a right-wing politician from the political party Centro Democrático  and a strong rival of the peace deal, who promised to reform the agreement in its most sensitive and essential parts. From the very first moment of his administration, a set of events were triggered by him and his party and the path to achieving a full peace seemed to fade.

The newly elected government, led by President Ivan Duque and former President Alvaro Uribe, presented to Congress six objections that pretended to change the peace agreement. These objections, although finally denied by Congress and the Constitutional Court, delayed for almost six months the operation of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, the first transitional tribunal in the world that was designed under the Rome Statute. Along with this measure, the government party also tried to pass bills that would drastically change the system created around the peace process, for instance, a proposition to limit the access to some information by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Furthermore, the current administration’s lack of commitment to the implementation of the five points agreed within the agreement has reignited a new wave of violence. By September 2019 and only one month before local elections in the country, 171 former FARC combatants have been killed, more than 500 community leaders murdered, 155 only in 2019, and 7 political candidates have been assassinated.

On the other hand, some of the leaders of the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, who also were part of the negotiation team that designed the peace deal, abandoned the process and joined the almost 2000 combatants that form the FARC dissidents. Ivan Marquez, Jesus Santrich, Hernan Dario Velasquez, known as El Paisa, and Walter Mendoza, former senior commanders of the FARC declared their resignation to the process and their return to the armed struggle.  Although Ivan Marquez, carrying weapons and in military dress in a shocking video, reaffirmed his intention to rebuild the old guerrilla force, the dissidents are mostly criminal groups that do not have a political claim and origin, and instead, their primary aim is to control the drug market.  In fact, the nature of their confrontation is to avoid direct combat with the Colombian army and alternatively gain influence in some specific territories. Along with these groups, other armed factions have expanded their presence and their violence: the Gulf Clan with 2500 members, the most powerful drug gang, and the National Liberation Army (ELN) with almost 3000 people which has changed its operational mode and is transforming into a more urban guerrilla force.

In accordance with a book collaboratively issued by more than 500 NGOs, El Aprendiz del Embrujo, the organizations that surveil the observance of human rights in Colombia, state that the current Colombian administration does not have a clear commitment to the peace deal. Instead, they sustain that Colombia is facing a process of war resettlement and an immobilization of the peace process. The authors of the book claim that President Duque only focusses on the reintegration of former FARC soldiers and is ignoring the commitments that were supposed to resolve the causes and problems that ignited the conflict in the first place. In other words, these organizations stress the contradictions of President Duque who, when in front of the international community, claims that his commitment to the peace process is absolute, when in fact, his domestic policies have lowered the implementation of the agreement.

Nonetheless, in spite of the distressing situation described above, the peace process has made Colombia a less violent country. Colombia is not the same nation it was a decade ago and all the indicators relating to violence and conflict have decreased. Finally, as former President Juan Manuel Santos in a recent article published by the Washington Post said, the lights are bigger than the shadows and the construction of a full peace in Colombia is a worthwhile endeavour.