The Colombian Peace Process: Understanding the “NO” Vote

by Sofia Liemann Escobar, a second year War Studies student from Colombia. She is currently the treasurer of the KCL Latin American Society. Her main interests include security, Latin America and organised crime.

 

 

“True peace is not merely the absence of war; it is the presence of justice”

– Jane Addams, 1931 Nobel prize winner

 

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“Without justice, there is no peace”

 

On the 2nd of October, Colombians will be deciding if they support the agreement that has been reached between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the government. To many outsiders it is hard to understand why anyone could reject the agreements that as President Santos has proclaimed, will bring “a sustainable and durable peace” to Colombia. However, if they were to look closer to what is being agreed upon they might begin to understand why many Colombians are skeptical and against the proposed 297-page long agreement.

 

The FARC are a Marxist-Leninist guerrilla that have been involved in a conflict with the Colombian government since 1964. Whist their aim has been to topple the government to impose a communist regime, their means to accomplish this, including its financing, has made them criminals. They are responsible for 70% of Colombia’s cocaine production, which amounts to 40% of the world’s production [1]. In addition, they have been using other criminal methods such as kidnappings, extortions and illegal mining to finance their operations. The methods that they have used against soldiers, government officials and civilians have labelled them as terrorists. They have used bombs and mines to kill and terrorize innocent civilians. They are also responsible for the forced recruitment and use of child soldiers in the conflict, and have committed sexual crimes against women and young girls who were forcibly taken away from their homes. Despite the amount of harm, which they have brought to Colombia, they only represent around 0.03% [2] of the population.

 

This agreement that has been under negotiation for over 4 years in Havana has generated hope for peace amongst many Colombians, whilst creating serious concerns to others. For many people abroad the news of an agreement being reached on the 25th of August created great anticipation, thus making it hard to understand why anyone would have issues with it. When taking a closer look, the huge concessions that were made in favour of FARC become evident, and the much-awaited peace becomes questionable. Each Colombian has their own concern regarding the agreement depending on their values and fears. People with low incomes are generally upset that the government will pay FARC to demobilise, when they haven’t received any support from the government despite them being honest citizens. Others are concerned that those who have committed serious crimes will be eligible for appointment in public service. Whilst others are frustrated that the Colombian government will be imposing taxes to implement the agreements, whereas FARC are not required to give up their criminally earned fortune. There are many more issues with the agreement, but there is one in particular that has been very controversial: justice, or the lack thereof, especially in the cases of crimes against humanity.

 

Even though it is expected that in peace processes there is a more lenient approach to justice, it does not mean that the perpetrators of serious crimes should not go to jail, even for a reduced sentence. The government has claimed that there will be no amnesty and pardon for those who committed crimes against humanity. According to the agreements, if the perpetrators confess the crime, they get an “alternative sentence”. The agreement is ambiguous with what the sentence is, but clarifies that under no circumstance would it be jail or prison. However, if they don’t tell the truth, they go to jail for 20 years, and if they speak up at the last minute they get 8 years (article 60)[3]. The problem with this approach is that the “alternative sentence” is not a proportional punishment for the crimes they have committed. The danger in this agreement is that those who are actually innocent can end up going to jail if they don’t “tell the truth”, and those who are guilty of massacres, bombings, kidnappings, child-soldier recruitment, rape and extortion will get to confess their crimes and get awarded essentially a jail-free card. Human Rights Watch has highlighted that this agreement will “guarantee impunity for those responsible of crimes against humanity”[4]. Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director of Human Rights Watch has denounced that allowing “confessed and convicted war criminals to be ‘punished’ by no more than orders for community service is grotesquely insufficient” [5]. It is interesting that in a recent opinion poll analysis by Fundacion Ideas Para la Paz, it paradoxically showed that whilst on average 40% of Colombians would be willing to sacrifice justice for peace, only around 11% would accept FARC members not going to jail[6].

 

Another dimension into the problem of justice is that it provides amnesty to drug trafficking. It will be the biggest money laundering operation that the world will have seen, as the government has accepted that drug trafficking is a related offence to political crimes (article 39)[7]. There is no mention in the 297 pages of FARC having to use their fortune to restore their victims.  The FARC are the third richest terrorist organization in the world[8]. Most of that money has been gained through the cocaine business. If the government is unable to bring the biggest drug cartel to justice, how will they have the authority to prosecute other cartels and drug traffickers in the country?

 

Just as worrying as the many other dubious and deceiving clauses in the agreement, is the inappropriate use of democratic mechanisms to disguise the imposition of the agreement. The congress, which is controlled by the President, approved the Legislative Act for Peace. A modification to the constitution to give “security and legal stability” to the process [9] by shielding the agreements so future governments will be unable to change them. It will also be elevated to special status under the Geneva conventions, therefore treating it as an international agreement despite FARC being a non-state actor. Furthermore, it grants special powers to the president so he can expedite decrees that will fast-track the implementation of new laws and the changes in the constitution. A process that normally requires 8 debates in congress, will be reduced to 4. In addition, the proposals brought by the president can not be modified without his consent, and as a result the congress will lose its raison d’être. In order to put this in effect, Colombians must support the plebiscite,  which is polemic in itself as the threshold has been lowered from 50% to 13%. It is astonishing to see how the government slowly changes the constitution to suit a terrorist group.

 

It is a misconception that the peace process under the agreed terms will stop the conflict in Colombia. The reality is that even if FARC are gone, violence is very likely to continue as long as the drug trafficking business continues. The agreement will not bring an end to this trade [10]. There are already signs that other organised crime groups are moving into old FARC territory and taking over their criminal economies. In the past few weeks ELN, Colombia’s 2nd largest guerrilla force, has increased their kidnapping and extortion activities. They also announced that they would be having an armed strike in six departments of Colombia [11]. Many have argued that in saying “yes” to this agreement, an opportunity is given to those who have suffered the most to live in peace. The sad reality is that many of these people will not see that peace because soon they will be overrun by other criminal groups that will be extorting, kidnapping and killing. Unfortunately, the agreement fails to properly deal with the issue of drug trafficking. President Santos claims that the FARC will help to eradicate coca crops, but it is hard to see this happening when taking into account the fact that during the negotiating of the peace process, Colombia once again gained the status as the major cocaine producer in the world [12]. In fact, last week President Barack Obama highlighted Colombia’s 42% increase in coca crop cultivations between 2014 and 2015 [13].

 

Colombians that are voting NO, are not warmongers. They are concerned citizens who see the risks of the agreement, and want a renegotiation on some of the critical aspects of the agreement. Santos has said this is impossible, and threatened that war would prevail if the outcome is a no. If that is the case, then it is proof that FARC were not in it to end the conflict in the first place. As the counterinsurgency academic, David Spencer, puts it: these “peace negotiations are part of a plan [for the FARC] to take power: they are not a means to end the conflict but rather to transform it” [14]. Spencer also points out that FARC’s petitions do not resemble those of an organization that wants to reintegrate back into society, “but rather those of one attempting to dictate at the negotiating table the terms of a peace that it was unable to win on the battlefield” [15]. This agreement opens the door for the populist left that have put fellow Latin American countries like Cuba and Venezuela in complete chaos.

 

All Colombians want peace- but is it worth sacrificing justice and democracy for this distorted version? Would other countries be happy agreeing to the same terms with the terrorists that harmed and terrorized them?

 

[1] McDermott, Jeremy (2016, August 24) What Does Colombia Peace Mean for Cocaine Trade? <http://www.insightcrime.org/news-analysis/what-does-colombia-peace-deal-mean-for-cocaine-trade> [accessed 17 September 2016].

 

[2] Latest FARC numbers (15,700) / Colombian Population (48,814,452) x 100= 0.03%. Information obtained from http://www.noticiasrcn.com/nacional-pais/guerrilla-las-farc-contaria-15700-hombres & http://countrymeters.info/es/Colombia

 

[3] Acuerdo Final Para la Terminacion del Conflicto y la Construccion de una Paz Estable y Duradera: http://www.altocomisionadoparalapaz.gov.co/Documents/informes-especiales/abc-del-proceso-de-paz/acuerdo-general-proceso-paz.html

 

[4] Human Rights Watch (2016, August 25) Colombia: Peace Pact a Key Opportunity to Curb Abuses< https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/08/25/colombia-peace-pact-key-opportunity-curb-abuses> [accessed 17 September 2016].

 

[5] Human Rights Watch (2016, August 25) Colombia: Peace Pact a Key Opportunity to CurbAbuses<https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/08/25/colombia-peace-pact-key-opportunity-curb-abuses> [accessed 17 September 2016].

 

[6] Fundacion Ideas Para La Paz (2016) El Termometro de la Paz <http://www.ideaspaz.org/especiales/termometro/#p3> [accessed 17 September 2016].

 

[7] Acuerdo Final Para la Terminacion del Conflicto y la Construccion de una Paz Estable y Duradera: http://www.altocomisionadoparalapaz.gov.co/Documents/informes-especiales/abc-del-proceso-de-paz/acuerdo-general-proceso-paz.html

 

[8] Forbes International (2014, December 12) The World’s 10 Richest Terrorist Organizations <http://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesinternational/2014/12/12/the-worlds-10-richest-terrorist-organizations/#9dee35e2ffae> [accessed 17 September 2016].

[9] CNN Español (2016, Junio 2) Congreso de Colombia aprueba reforma constitucional para blindar acuerdo de paz en La Habana < http://cnnespanol.cnn.com/2016/06/02/congreso-aprueba-reforma-constitucional-para-blindar-acuerdo-de-paz-en-la-habana/> [accessed 17 September 2016].

[10] McDermott, Jeremy (2016, August 24) What Does Colombia Peace Mean for Cocaine Trade? <http://www.insightcrime.org/news-analysis/what-does-colombia-peace-deal-mean-for-cocaine-trade> [accessed 17 September 2016].

[11] Noticias RCN (2016, September 11) ELN anunció paro armado de 72 horas en seis departamentos < http://www.noticiasrcn.com/nacional-pais/eln-anuncio-paro-armado-72-horas-seis-departamentos>[accessed 17 September 2016].

[12]Miroff, Nick (2015, November 10) Colombia is again the World’s Top Coca Producer.Here’s why that’s a blow to the US. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/in-a-blow-to-us-policy-colombia-is-again-the-worlds-top-producer-of-coca/2015/11/10/316d2f66-7bf0-11e5-bfb6-65300a5ff562_story.html> [accessed 17 September 2016].

[13] News Room America Feeds (2016, September 12) Presidential Determination—Major Drug Transit or Major Illicit Drug Producing Countries for Fiscal Year 2017 <http://www.newsroomamerica.com/story/595587.html> [accessed 17 September 2016].

[14] Davies, Dickie; Kilcullen, David; Mills, Greg; Spencer, David (2016) A Great Perhaps? Colombia: Conflict and Convergence (London: Hurst Publishers) p.g 137.

[15] Davies, Dickie; Kilcullen, David; Mills, Greg; Spencer, David (2016) A Great Perhaps? Colombia: Conflict and Convergence (London: Hurst Publishers) p.g 147

 

 

 

 

 

 

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