Colombia Edges Closer to Signing Peace Agreement

El proceso de paz fue uno de los temas tratados por el Presidente Juan Manuel Santos en la reunión que sostuvo este martes con oficiales y suboficiales de la Primera División del Ejército con sede en Santa Marta. Foto: Presidencia de Colombia.

The peace process was one of the topics discussed by President Juan Manuel Santos during his meeting with officers and NCOs of the First Division of the Army in Santa Marta in mid-February. Photo: Colombian Presidency.

The Colombian government hopes to sign a peace agreement in March with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (RAFC), the oldest guerilla movement in Latin America, which would end the armed conflict that has bled the country for over half a century.

More 220,000 people have been killed, 25,000 disappeared, and 4,744,046 displaced in a period spanning from 1958 to 2012, according to a report by the National Centre for Historical Memory, published by Colombian newspaper El País.

Peace talks between representatives of the Colombian government and members of the guerilla group began in Havana, Cuba, in 2012 .

The post-conflict situation recently got a new ally, after Santos met with US President Barack Obama in Washington to commemorate 15 years of bilateral cooperation on the controversial Colombia Plan and to launch a second phase of support called “Peace for Colombia.”

The White House published on its website the Spanish-language document “FACT SHEET: Peace for Colombia: A new era of partnership between the US and Colombia,” outlining the scope of cooperation:

(…) esta iniciativa de varios años aumentaría el apoyo catalítico de EE. UU. para ayudar a Colombia a “lograr la paz”. Paz Colombia centrará la futura asistencia de EE. UU. en tres pilares: 1) consolidación y expansión del progreso alcanzado en seguridad y operaciones antidroga y al mismo tiempo, reintegración de la FARC a la sociedad; 2) expansión de la presencia del estado y las instituciones para fortalecer el estado de derecho y las economías rurales, especialmente en previas zonas de conflicto; y 3) promoción de la justicia y otros servicios esenciales para las víctimas del conflicto. Como parte de ese marco y para apoyar la implementación del acuerdo de paz, el Presidente solicitará más de $390 millones para el año fiscal 2017 de asistencia extranjera bilateral. La Administración también solicitará fondos para el año fiscal 2017 para otros programas en curso que contribuirían con los objetivos de Paz Colombia tales como asistencia humanitaria para las poblaciones vulnerables y programas para operaciones antidroga del Departamento de Defensa que, de ser aprobados por el Congreso, aumentarían nuestro nivel de esfuerzo total a más de $450 millones.

[…] this multi-year initiative will increase the catalytic support of the US to help Colombia to “achieve peace.” Peace for Colombia will focus on three core pillars: 1) to consolidate and expand prior progress in security and anti-drugs operations and reintegrate the RAFC into society; 2) to expand government presence to strengthen the state of law and rural economies, particularly in ex-conflict zones; and 3) to promote justice and other essential services for victims of the conflict. Within this framework and to support the implementation of the peace deal, the president will request more than $390 million in bilateral foreign aid for the 2017 fiscal year. The government will also request funds for the 2017 fiscal year for other ongoing programmes which will contribute to the objectives of Peace for Colombia, such as humanitarian assistance for vulnerable citizens and programmes for anti-drugs operations from the Defense Department. Once approved by Congress, will increase the total level of US support to more than $450 million.

The Colombian government echoed this announcement on Twitter:

Peace is transformation for all Colombians. We will have a better country #PeaceForColombia

In a brief written for the website Ciudadano en la Red [Community involvement], however, Olmedo Ramírez expressed scepticism of the role of the United States:

‘Mucho ruido y pocas nueces’ es la percepción de muchos colombianos frente al proyectado fondo de USA por un valor de US$450 millones ¿por año? para financiar la paz, más allá del conflicto -que todavía está en veremos- y como sustituto del ‘Plan Colombia’ por un valor cercano a los US$5000 millones, de tan profundo impacto en la modernización de nuestras fuerzas militares y el progreso de nuestra ya larga batalla contra la subversión y el narcotráfico que también le compete a los consumidores por aquello de “es la demanda la que crea la oferta”, apenas morigerado por el gran significado político que este hecho reviste, de la mano del involucramiento unánime del Consejo de Seguridad de la ONU en la vigilancia del desarme de la guerrilla en el posconflicto.

“Much ado about nothing” is the perception of many Colombians towards the planned US support worth $450 million (per year?) to finance peace. It does not compare to the nearly $5-billion “Plan Colombia” that it will replace. The previous initiative has had such a profound impact in the modernization of Colombian armed forces and the progress of our already considerable battle against subversion and drug-trafficking—largely a result of consumers as “demand creates supply.” The UN Security Council will be unanimously engaged with moderating the guerilla disarmament over the post-conflict period.

For many, peace implies a reform of the national constitution. This is how the website Pacifista explained it:

Sectores dispares parecen ahora encontrarse en la necesidad de que, ya sea para la etapa de refrendación o de implementación de los acuerdos con las Farc, se convoque a una asamblea nacional constituyente que tenga a su cargo moldear una constitución acorde con el escenario que se abriría con la terminación del conflicto.

A range of sectors, whether for the stage of endorsing or implementation of agreements with the RAFC, now seem to feel the need to call a National Constituent Assembly that will be tasked with forming a constitution in line with the anticipated post-conflict scenario.

Despite differing opinions, all Colombians say an end to the conflict is what they want, Alfonso Ojeda Awad points out on the website Kien Y Ke:

Para alegría de todos los colombianos, amantes de la Paz y la Reconciliación, en el año de 2016 se firmará por fin, el esperado documento que ponga fin a la guerra fratricida que por más de cincuenta años ha ensangrentado todo el territorio nacional. Los significativos esfuerzos realizados por las delegaciones oficiales, tanto del gobierno nacional como de las Farc, indican que van llegando a conclusiones posibles y factibles que permitirán darle un ejemplo al mundo de cómo se solucionan contradicciones que en determinados momentos y circunstancias se consideraron insuperables y solo se veía la guerra como el único camino existente.

To the delight of the Colombian people, lovers of peace and reconciliation, in 2016 the much awaited documents will finally be signed which will bring an end to the civil war which for more than 50 years has bloodstained all our national territory. The significant efforts carried out by the official delegations, both the government and the RAFC, suggest that workable conclusions are being reached which will allow us to set an example to the world of how to overcome situations which had once been though insurmountable. War is no longer the only way forward.

If the peace deal is signed in March, as scheduled, “Colombians will be called to the ballot box during the first half of 2016 to support or reject the peace deals that are achieved with the RAFC,” according to newspaper El Tiempo.

On Twitter, Jeisson Zubieta Díaz expressed his support for the referendum and his opposition to constitutional reform:

The RAFC say that the peace referendum is a “political error.” The real political error is the proposal to amend the constitution.

Luis Fernández expressed his support for peace:

[…] we support him in his efforts for peace in Colombia which will be peace for all Latin American and Caribbean people.

Nerita Versicolor acknowledged all parties in Colombia that have worked towards peace:

It is also time to thank everyone that works tirelessly and anonymously every day for peace in Colombia.

Luis Alberto recapped what's now necessary to achieve and maintain peace:

Peace in Colombia is not possible without justice, equality, bringing down paramilitarism, and a frontal assault on corruption.

With the final and hopefully definitive phase of the peace process is under way, agreements have been launched in areas related to “integrated agricultural development, the political participation of the guerilla once they have demobilized, and solutions to the problems of the drug trade and victims and justice.” It's this latter issue that is the most delicate for the RAFC.

According to the government's website, the justice system establishes four divisions: 1) acknowledgement of truth and responsibility, 2) amnesty or pardon, 3) “definition of legal situations” and 4) investigation and prosecution. This implies that not only the guerillas will be accountable, but also anyone who has supported and financed the paramilitary groups that continue to operate in Colombia.

It's still uncertain how the country will deal with other armed groups, such as the National Liberation Army and the Popular Liberation Army, which are not involved in the current discussions.

The government is nevertheless making great progress in the post-conflict scenario, through alliances and associations for peace, while simultaneously establishing an awareness plan in education centres, at public events, in public places, and elsewhere.

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