Colombia’s year of peace

Posted on Dec 23 2013 - 11:48am by Editor

At Christmas next year there will be extra cause for goodwill in Colombia. In 2014 the FARC guerrillas will sign an end to their self-proclaimed war against the state, silencing the guns that have taken over 220,000 lives in 50 years of bloodshed.

Two generations of Colombians, the majority of the nation, have only known conflict. Officially there are 6 million victims; but the truth is, the entire nation has been scarred by decades of brutal and degrading violence.

Heartening then, that this year’s advances between the guerrillas and the Santos government in Havana seem irreversible. Never before have the FARC consented to trade the bullet for the ballot box, and never before have the government promised to address the “causes” of the “insurrection” (in the eyes of the FARC), through agrarian reform and guarantees for those exercising political opposition.

Despite frustration with the guerrillas’ remorseless rhetoric throughout 2013, and dismay at the slow progress of the talks, the game changed in November when the FARC accepted their “revolutionary” ideas were best pursued through politics not violence.

Yes, there remain thorny issues to negotiate. But the FARC have agreed to the principle of ending their violent “struggle.” A decision has at last been reached on where to put the finishing line; we`re now forced to move on the task of agreeing how we cross it.

The remaining points on the Havana agenda, ending narco-trafficking and ensuring justice and reparation for the victims, (the final point, disarmament, is to an extent the procedural outcome of an agreement on the previous four sections) can only really be talked about at this stage. The output of the discussions is most likely to be a woolly route map for, say, how to end coca production and to square the impunity circle. Yes, the implementation stage will be much trickier, but this comes later, only once the FARC are signed up, and the proposals have worked their way through congress. Seeing the talks in this way allows us not to get bogged down in the detail until we really need to, until the benefits of peace are already being felt.

I predict that in the second half of the coming year, after President Santos has most likely been re-elected by a coalition for peace, the negotiations will conclude in Havana and within months Colombians will vote yes in a referendum on these accords.

There will be those like the Inspector General, Alejandro Ordoñez, parts of the Conservative Party, and those within the Uribista Democratic Center movement, who will oppose this negotiated end to the conflict.

There will even be a section of Colombian society that will understandably resent the sight of guerrillas – especially so if they remain as unrepentant as they have been during the talks – walking relatively freely, and see this as an affront to the victims.

However, polls show support for the talks is consolidating, and a yes vote remains the most likely outcome.

I suspect Colombians will grit their teeth for the good of future generations.

Of course post-conflict will be harder still, as Colombia’s sclerotic institutions and inefficient legal system struggle to cope with the demands of implementing a transitional justice that must ensure on the one hand, victim reparation, and on the other, political integration of the demobilized combatants.

But just as the “Good Friday Agreement” in Northern Ireland was the beginning of a long walk to peace, so the “Havana Accords” too will be the start of a process for whose success all Colombians are responsible.  Splinter FARCRIM (the FARC equivalent of the neo-paramilitary criminal gangs, BACRIM) are inevitable, but should not be taken as evidence that peace is not working.

President Santos’ administration has been characterized by weak leadership; but his decision to bet on peace was brave and right. History will judge him kindly for this, and will perhaps forget his failings elsewhere (though Colombians may not).

2014 will be an historic year not precisely because of what happened, but instead for what the decisions made in that year catalyzed in the years that followed.

Colombia’s structural problems will not be resolved over-night, but once peace has been secured there will be no argument for maintaining the status quo.

Peace can transition Colombia. Santos said yesterday that the “money spent on the war would be re-directed to education.”  Now that would be revolutionary indeed.

Here’s to the next decade, one of real change and progress in Colombia.

Merry  Christmas.

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