Following the results of the Colombian Peace Referendum between the Colombian government and the guerilla group Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia—Ejército del Pueblo (FARC _EP), President Santos and his negotiating team, those from the ‘No’ campaign, and other important sectors of Colombian society engaged in a extensive and respectful national dialogue. Eventually on November 12th the two parties reached a new agreement and signed the amended document including approximately 50 changes intended to appease all the concerns that impeded the acceptance of the original agreement. After the initial signing of the new document President Juan Manuel Santos has said there will not be a second referendum, and on November 30th the revised accord was officially passed by the Colombian Congress, with the Senate and House of Representatives, voting overwhelmingly for the agreement 130-0, though some members staged a walk out in protest ahead of the vote.
According to USA Today, some the changes require the FARC to be more open about the illicit activities it engaged in to support its resistance. However, the FARC rejected one of the opposition’s strongest demands, in regards to jail sentences for rebel leaders for war crimes and stricter limits on their future participation in politics. It is evident that there were significant efforts made to listen to the concerns of Colombians even if not all expectations were able to be met, this is a reality of any negotiation. Now approved and implemented into the constitution, the process of peace is beginning to shape the nation. Such a controversial time in the country’s history has brought with it many different reactions both domestically and internationally, from retaliations and lack of acceptance to more emphasis on dialogue and peace.
On the one hand, it has been feared by many that there is a risk that peace could trigger more bloodshed, as it has following a previous peace process with the FARC in the 1980s. Although the times are not comparable, worries about new bloodshed have become more urgent with more than a dozen human rights defenders and land activists in areas dominated by the FARC having been killed by unknown assailants since the initial signing ceremony in September. In response to this concern, the UN warned on December 11th that Colombia was moving too slowly in taking action on the agreements, which has resulted in a “power vacuum” that could be exploited by gangs.
Spokeswoman of the UN, Ravina Shamdasani pointed out that as the FARC leave areas that are traditionally under their control, the state has not yet fully reclaimed control which is where this power
vacuum is being created. “Armed and criminal groups are vying for the control of illegal economic activities in these areas.” She warned that “practical aspects of the demobilization and disarming of FARC members, set out in the accord are not being prioritized.” “International experience shows that the initial days of demobilization are the most critical in ensuring combatants do not abandon the peace process,” she said and “two weeks into the demobilization process, none of 27 zones outlined are equipped to adequately participate”. She pointed to limited access to safe drinking water, food, health services and electricity as markers in these zones. Considering growing number of challenges facing the implementation of the ambitious peace agreement, the UN urged the Colombian government to appoint a crisis manager with executive authority to take on the practical problems. The UN also urged for immediate, determined, and visible state action on the ground to provide security and basic services. All this in hopes of implementing all aspects of the accord and ensure that it lives up to the promise of peace for Colombia.
On the other hand, in an unexpected diplomatic initiative aimed at consolidating the fragile peace accord, Pope Francis brought together the country’s president, and his archrival and a strong opponent of the accord, former president Senator Álvaro Uribe, on December 16th. In a statement issued after the meeting between the three leaders, the Vatican said, “The Pope spoke about the ‘culture of encounter’ and emphasized the importance of sincere dialogue between all members of Colombian society at this historical moment.” Pope Francis stated he has always supported the peace process in Colombia, hoping and praying for a definite end. He is said to have closely followed the efforts to reach an enduring accord and promised at this meeting he would visit the country in honor of their great achievement.
Both theses aspects of peace on the ground and in the ideologies of the country’s top leaders share a similar goal. Thus, let us hope all the pieces that need to come together do and the country beings to take fast action in turning the agreements a reality. The international community wish them only the best in this new chapter that will be long and hard but will hopefully shape the future of many and result in improved access to basic human rights, freedom, and security for all Colombians.
By Sayumi Teshima
Please note that opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views and values of The Blank Page.