Colombia has a new deal to end a 52-year war, but violence and uncertainty still loom over it

Just a few weeks after the original deal suffered a surprising loss in a nationwide referendum, the Colombian government and the left-wing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia rebel group announced a new peace agreement on November 12.

The new deal contains a number of modifications, and the Colombian government hopes to secure a quick approval and pursue a rapid implementation process, as several hurdles to success – deadly violence in particular – remain.

After the failure of the original deal, which was voted down by a margin of about 57,000 votes out of more than 13 million cast on October 2, the government of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leadership returned to negotiations in Havana, where they started talks in 2012 in an effort to conclude the multisided civil conflict that has dragged on since the mid-1960s.

The new version of the peace accord was signed in a simple, quickly organized ceremony at a theater in Bogota on November 24 – a far cry from the fanfare accompanying the first signing in late September. The signing marks the start of the six-month period for the rebel group to begin demobilizing and forming a political party.

The new deal is 310 pages, 13 pages longer than the original, and has some 50 changes meant to address some of the concerns raised by critics of the deal.

Santos has said lawmakers will debate the deal in the country’s congress, where he has majority support, but it is unlikely that the latest version will again undergo a national vote, as the opposition has requested.

People form the word Peace with letters at the Bolivar square outside the cathedral in Bogota, Colombia, September 26, 2016. REUTERS/Felipe Caicedo

Foto: People form the word for “peace” with letters at Bolivar square in Bogota, Colombia. source Thomson Reuters

Several key points were revised, as detailed by the Washington Office on Latin America:

    The original deal said those who confess could face “restriction of liberty” but not jail time. The new deal further defines “restriction” to be in an area no larger than a rural hamlet. This is not quite as austere as what the opposition proposed after the deal’s initial defeat, WOLA notes, but it is more severe that what was originally proposed. Opponents had also wanted the special tribunal system set up to review cases of war crimes and crimes against humanity to be fully subordinate to Colombia’s regular legal system. “They did not quite get that, but the tribunal judges’ rulings can now be appealed to Colombia’s Constitutional Court,” WOLA reports. The new accord also includes language meant to hold commanders who “should have known” what their subordinates were doing responsible for those subordinates’ crimes (though some questions remain about the wording on this point).

FARC rebels Colombia peace plan demobilization

Foto: FARC rebels attend the inauguration of their conference in September. source AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan
    It also includes specifications to exclude war crimes committed for “personal enrichment” from the transitional justice process, meaning Colombian troops involved in “false positive” killings will remain in the regular justice system, and FARC rebels who put proceeds from drug trafficking toward uses outside of the guerrilla campaign could face criminal prosecution. Demobilizing guerrillas must also now offer “exhaustive and detailed” information about their group’s involvement in the drug trade. This could be dangerous, as WOLA notes, if such disclosures reveal the involvement of non-FARC personnel in trafficking, as it could open demobilizing forces to retaliation from drug gangs and other criminal groups. FARC leaders must also provide an inventory of all their assets at the outset of the process, which will be used to pay reparations to war victims.

Colombia FARC rebels peace deal cocaine production

Foto: FARC member Marco Leon Calarca, left, talks to other members at a camp. source REUTERS /John Vizcaino
    The new deal also includes language on gender equity, meant to prevent misinterpretation by social conservatives, some of whom rallied opposition to the original deal by casting it as a threat to “family values.” The FARC will also keep the 10 automatic seats in the legislature that were to be apportioned to it in the original deal; those seats can be held by FARC members convicted of war crimes. The new deal also prevents FARC members from running for seats in 16 special congressional districts that are in zones hit hard by the conflict. Only representatives of victims and social movements may hold those seats.

Even with these changes, those in opposition to the deal, led by former president and current Sen. Alvaro Uribe and his political party, still argue the deal doesn’t offer enough punishment and compensation for those involved in the more than half-century conflict, which killed about 250,000 people and displaced millions more.

Members of Uribe’s political party are weighing whether to boycott next week’s congressional debate over ratifying the latest version and to call for street protests against what they’ve called a “blow against democracy.”

Colombia FARC peace deal protest Alvaro Uribe

Foto: Colombian opposition members march to protest the government and denounce concessions it made in peace talks with the FARC. source AP Photo/Fernando Vergara

While many in Colombia loathe the FARC, and support for negotiations has at times been tepid, Santos’ government, members of civil society, and members of the public have criticized the opposition for its stance against the deal. And Santos’ government has said there’s no more room for negotiations.

“Keeping the door open for modifications would be condemning it to fail,” Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo told the Bogota newspaper El Tiempo on November 15, the day after the new accord was published, according to Colombia Reports.

The sense of urgency for approving the peace deal and starting the demobilization process is in part impelled by fears about a resurgence in violence related to the conflict.

Santos wants to complete a deal as quickly as possible to prevent risks to the fragile ceasefire that has endured since the end of the summer.

Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia's (FARC) Tatiana, 36-year-old and six months pregnant, sits next to her husband and gifts for the baby at a camp where the FARC will ratify a peace deal with the Colombian government, near El Diamante in Yari Plains, Colombia, September 17, 2016. REUTERS/John Vizcaino

Foto: Tatiana, a FARC member, sits next to her husband. source Thomson Reuters

On November 16, for the first time since that ceasefire went into effect at the end of August, two FARC rebels were killed in a clash with Colombian forces.

FARC leadership and the Colombian government have offered differing accounts of that confrontation and why it occurred.

While deaths related to the civil conflict are at their lowest level in decades, there is also concern about a rise in violence against activists and former FARC rebels left vulnerable by the demobilization process.

So far this year, 70 community leaders and social activists have been killed – six on the weekend after the new peace deal was announced – in areas where the FARC has been present, which is more than in all of 2015 or 2014. More than a dozen have been killed since the first version of the deal was signed in September.

FARC leadership has called on Santos to come out against the killings, saying some 200 people have been killed “under a complete cloak of impunity,” and that “a new genocide is now underway against social leaders and peasants.”

Santos has called emergency meetings with his cabinet and UN officials to discuss the killings, according to The Associated Press. The killings have reminded some of the wave of violence against former FARC rebels and other leftists in the wake of a 1984 peace deal, which is thought to have left thousands dead.

Fears that criminal groups present in the country could move into territory and activities vacated by the demobilizing FARC have also been present throughout the peace process, as have concerns that FARC rebels could slip back into illicit activities like drug trafficking and extortion.

The timetable for approval and implementation is also yet to be resolved. There are “fast track” options, but waiting too long may result in FARC members slipping out of their encampments and away from the demobilization process.

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos inspects an honour guard during his ceremonial welcome at Horse Guards Parade, in central London, Britain November 1, 2016.   REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Foto: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. source Thomson Reuters

Enforcing certain components of the deal, such as rural development and efforts to prevent FARC members from rejoining criminal groups, will present logistical and financial challenges for the Colombian government, which has had little presence in rural, underdeveloped areas and is currently dealing with a fiscal crisis caused in part by low oil prices.

In the signing ceremony on November 24, Santos himself stressed the importance of quickly organizing a timeline for the peace process and establishing a plan for demobilization and bringing an end to the seven weeks of limbo that FARC rebels have been in since the original deal’s failure on October 2.

“We have to act,” the Colombian president said during the ceremony. “We have no time to lose.”

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