Thursday, 22 August 2019 03:13 GMT

Peace makes strides in Colombia, but the battle is far from won

Author: Fabio Andres Diaz

(MENAFN - The Conversation) One year after Colombians initiallyrejected a peace agreement with the FARC guerrilla group , today the outlook for peace seems almost promising. On Oct. 10, the country's constitutional courtshielded that accord from any changes for a period of 12 years , removing fears that future governments could water down or undo the controversial deal.

With this much-anticipated decision, nine judges made it possible for the country to institutionalize peace after 50 years of internal conflict.

But for all the speculation among scholars about the FARC's transition from armed rebellion to political party –my own included– the end of the conflict remains uncertain. Colombia's violence was never just about the FARC, and peace won't be, either.

Not just the FARC

On the one hand, there are positive signs of calm in the country. On Oct. 1,a ceasefire went into effectwith the National Liberation Army (ELN),the FARC's lesser-known rebel sibling .

Established in Colombia in 1964, the same year as the FARC, the ELN aimed to promote aCuban model of armed revolution in Colombia . This set them apart from the FARC, withits Marxist-Leninist approach to social change . So did the ELN's less militaristic approach to violence. The group didn't shy away fromambushing Colombia's armed forces , but its preferred methods were sabotage – bombing oil pipelines,laying landmine fields– and extortion.

The ELN still has 1,500 to 2,000 troops stationed across the country, interritory that intersects with areas once occupied by the FARC . Thus, any narrative of the Colombian conflict that touts the FARC's centrality risks missing the key role that the ELN must play in building a lasting peace.

As such, the ELN ceasefire is an important step in its peace process, whichstarted in February 2017 . On Oct. 5, theU.N. announced a missionto verify its implementation.

This opens the door to broader deescalation of violence in Colombia, which remains high since the peace agreement. At least 200 human rights activistshave been killed over the past two years , anddrug cartels, organized crime groups and paramilitary organizationscontinue to operate in the country. This dangerous dynamic does not miraculously disappear along with the FARC, or the ELN for that matter.

Recidivism is another threat: In past peace efforts in Colombia, demobilized fighters from one rebel group simplyrejoined other armed organizations . This fueled the war, giving it a continuity that went beyond particular organizations to become a kind of generalized social phenomenon.

Spoiler alert

Despite recent advances, implementing the FARC agreement is still a significant challenge: The accords are ambitious, and they must be carried out in a country whose populacevoted against the peace agreement by a thin marginjust one year ago.

There werenumerous conspiracy theoriesfloated during the peace talks, including allegations that the negotiations' inclusion of gender and LGBTQ issues would promote a 'homosexual agenda' in Colombia.

But the deal's opponents raisedvalid claims , too. Somewonderedwhether conflict victims would actually see justice served, while others expressed concerns about former rebels joining the political process.

In the end, many Colombians were profoundly uncertain about how the principles of the FARC agreement would be interpreted and implemented. Just over50 percent of them rejected the peace agreement , which ultimately had to be approved via a fast-tracked passage through Congress.

As the 2018 presidential election season heats up, some candidates and parties have found thatattacking the accordsis now a good way to mobilize votes.

This, in my assessment, is a dangerous electoral strategy. FARC fighters could interpret such political bluster as the state reneging on its commitments, which could in turn produce a spike in recidivism: Why should guerrillas hold up their end of the deal if the government won't?

Indeed, there are already reports that demobilized fighters are being recruited byother armed groups . This has real potential to foil the peace process.

The court's decision has now shielded the agreement from populist proposals of renegotiating a 'better deal.' But there are other reasons why the Colombian government could fail to keep its commitments to the FARC – namely the ongoingchallenges of implemention .

Fromdelays in disarming rebelsand underfunded mental health care for ex-combatants to setbacks in passing the laws necessary to activate components of the peace deal, the process has been fraught.

Colombia, a middle-income South American nation, may simply lack the institutional capacity necessary to fulfill its own landmark agreement. After all, a weak state unable to deliver on promises made to its citizens is one reason that warlords and armed actorsgot so powerful there in the first place .

Political tensions

There have been remarkable achievements, of course. In June, the FARCsurrendered its weapons to the U.N. , and its guerrillas are now concentrated in reintegration camps. The government has even managed to keep demobilized fighters safe throughout this process.

The FARC: Not the only players in the game of peace.
AP Photo/Fernando Vergara

But the next big hurdle is just around the corner: the phases oftransitional justice and historical reckoning . Colombia's Congress is now debating legislationdetailing how FARC fighters will be punished , or not, for their transgressions.

Lawmakers must also set up theColombian Truth Commission , which will allow Colombians to understand, for the first time, the full extent of the atrocities committed in their country.

At present, this legislation is being filibustered by some right-wing politicians, who want Colombia's transitional justice to be more punitive. Meanwhile, members of the Cambio Radical Party stand accused of seekingbribes from President Juan Manuel Santos' administrationin exchange for their votes. As the May 2018 election nears, such political tensions are likely to rise.

Peace-building often looks like this . It's messy and long and nonlinear, a national process that takes political leadership, sacrifice and no small dose of patience.

    Latin America
    Transitional justice
    guerrilla warfare
    Global perspectives
    Colombian peace process


Peace makes strides in Colombia, but the battle is far from won

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