what happened to the colombian peace process?

An essay

Andrea Vidal
Boston University '17

It is impossible to speak of the Colombian Peace Accords without mentioning the country’s former president (now senator) Álvaro Uribe. From their beginning in 2012, the Colombian peace negotiations have been subject to Mr. Uribe’s constant resistance. Like him, Colombians today remember each of the 3 times in the past 25 years that the government has tried and failed to negotiate with rebel insurgencies, always leading to more violence. Mr. Uribe too knows the destruction caused by the FARC on a personal level as they are responsible for his father’s death. Later during his presidency he created one of the most brutal military fronts against the FARC (a subject of criticism among human rights groups for his collaboration with paramilitary groups, among other human rights violations). Thus, the distrust is understandable and to be expected.

Much to Mr. Uribe’s disdain and surprise, however, his Secretary of Defense and preferred successor (now President) Manuel Santos, completely changed Colombia’s policy towards the FARC by engaging them in peace dialogue. Expected to continue Mr. Uribe’s military offensive, Santos took office in the former president’s good graces. However, Santos’ decision to engage FARC in peace negotiations invoked national feelings of betrayal and the wrath of Mr. Uribe who developed a new obsession: destabilizing the peace process.

In a family-dividing vote where misinformation was championed by both campaigns, the side that voted “No” to the question, “Do you support the final agreement to end the conflict and the construction of a stable and long-lasting peace?” (a biased question in and of itself) won by a .5% margin on October 3rd, 2016. While it is tempting to believe that negative feelings towards the FARC and Santos himself, along with Mr. Uribe’s No campaign alone swayed the results, there are subtler messages to be read.

Supporters of the Sí vote point out that the negotiators did little to inform the public about the details of the accord, feeding misinformation leading up to the plebiscite. Although the government did release the document to the public, even highly educated Colombians might have been disinclined to read the 297-page Cartagena Peace Accord, let alone Colombia’s approximately 1.6 million (6.6% of the population) illiterate citizens [1]. That citizens would take their country’s fate upon themselves and read the accords is a noble thought, but it is also naïve and unsympathetic of the country’s poor, those most in need of peace, many of whom are in this demographic.

Inequality is an underlying theme behind all of these speculations; Colombia is the third most unequal country in the world. Another factor that influenced the final vote is the fact that many of the Sí votes came from rural departments in close proximity to the war, while a large portion of the No were from more urban areas now distanced from the fighting (with the exception of Bogotá) [2]. Those who desperately need this peace and who do not have the luxury to wait for peace, voted Sí. Others point to Mr. Uribe’s No campaign scare tactics like saying that giving FARC political representation would convert Colombia to Castro-Chavismo.

The demonstrated commitment by negotiators to give victims a voice in the process is commendable. Negotiators agreed on creating a mechanism to receive proposals by the population throughout the negotiations. They even had delegations of victims come to Havana to observe and speak out about the process. This sensitivity carried over even after the vote. The new Cartagena Accords released on November 12th applied most of the 400 proposals, including a clause prioritizing women victims of the conflict and the decision to refer it to Congress [3].

However, despite the substantial changes, Uribe is still resisting the new accord. This brings me to question: what are Uribe and his followers looking to accomplish? Their expressed concerns have mostly already been taken into account in the contentiously renegotiated agreement after a tumultuous 6 years (including secret pre-negotiations). It seems that what Uribistas really want are the terms for the FARC’s surrender.

There are a couple conflicts of interest to take note of. Many of those against the peace deal, including Uribe himself, are big landowners that would be challenged by the land redistribution section of the agreement [4]. Additionally, many in Uribe’s administration and others close to him have been sentenced to prison for their connections with the paramilitaries connected to ‘false positives,’ leading some to question if he and his followers are afraid of transitional justice tribunals that would run investigations per the accords [5].

Mr. Uribe continually holds his ground against the peace process on points that the very accord is built on (like political representation), which has shifted the focus away from its merits like rural development plans, fighting drug trafficking, and the space for progress that a peace with FARC would create. In a country with so many persistent issues, there is simply no place for the sort of political rivalry and self-interest that Mr. Uribe has demonstrated.

An investigation in Catatumbo by the Colombian newspaper Semana found that combat with the National Liberation Army (ELN, a smaller rebel group) and narcotraffickers in light of FARC’s decline, is increasing [6]. If the country is to move forward in creating peace, there needs to be a space to fight these secondary forces. The longer the country is caught in governmental uncertainty, the less equipped it will be to hinder other armed actors. There is still more work to be done (such as, reintegration and dealing with the power vacuum FARC will leave), let us hope that this peace process can finally be enacted so that the country can tackle the more pernicious problems of inequality and corruption.

[1] "1.6M Colombians Are Illiterate: Govt." Colombia News | Colombia Reports. 2011. Accessed November 20, 2016. http://colombiareports.com/16-million-colombians-illiterate-minister/.

[2] Plebiscito 2 octubre 2016 - Plebiscito - Colombia - República de Colombia. (n.d.). Retrieved February 05, 2017, from http://plebiscito.registraduria.gov.co/.

[3] Albertus, Michael. "Even with a New Colombian Peace Deal, What Happens in the Countryside?" Washington Post. Accessed November 25, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/11/13/even-with-a-new-colombian-peace-deal-what-happens-in-the-countryside-2/.

[4] Peace Accords Working Group. "Colombian Peace Accords Comparison." Draft Table. Accessed November 20, 2016. https://draftable.com/compare/JjypTOknafBktqvc.

[5] Zambrano Pérez, M. (2016, September 25). Uribe, los uribistas y la mentira. Retrieved February 05, 2017, from http://zonacero.com/?q=opinion%2Furibe-los-uribistas-y-la-mentira-68592

[6] "Guerra En El Catatumbo - En El Catatumbo La Guerra Sigue Igual." Guerra En El Catatumbo - En El Catatumbo La Guerra Sigue Igual. Accessed November 27, 2016. http://especiales.semana.com/guerra-en-el-catatumbo/


Any opinions expressed here are the author's own.