The rejection of the first peace accord between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrilla in a nationwide plebiscite on 2 October 2016 came as a surprise to the world. Less than two months later, a revised agreement was signed following renegotiations.
Everything was ready for the big peace celebration in Colombia. After 52 years of armed conflict between the government and the FARC guerrilla, after four years of difficult negotiations with international involvement and after tough political discussions, a peace agreement was finally in place. Not just some sort of document but a real agreement that spelled out structural changes for crucial problems of the country and offered at least an opportunity to not only silence the weapons but tackle the social ills underlying the conflict; an agreement that addressed the concerns of victims of the conflict and offered a gender perspective; and an agreement that met with the overwhelming approval of the international community. In the plebiscite of 2 October 2016, however, this chance was at first turned down by a very narrow majority of Colombians who rejected the peace accord in its initial form.
The victorious opponents of the agreement, who had already been written off politically and were equally surprised, were strengthened and reaffirmed their criticism as a result. Those who had described the treatment of former guerrilleras/os as too gentle were particularly triumphant at the beginning. Yet it was the population in the areas most affected by the conflict between the government and the FARC who had voted for the accord in their majority. In contrast, in regions that had not, or not for a long time, been affected by the conflict, many voted against the accord. After the unsuccessful referendum, many supporters of the agreement therefore asked themselves in desperation: If the victims of the war are able to forgive and look ahead, why not the rest of the society? The result of the plebiscite initially deprived Colombians, many influenced by half-truths and untruths, of a great opportunity. It was therefore necessary to make a “detour” by renegotiating.
The mutual ceasefire, the most important outcome of the negotiating process so far, could fortunately remain in place because both the government and the FARC reacted in an altogether level-headed manner in the wake of the vote. Nor did defeatism spread among the public at large and organized civil society; instead, an unbending will to save the peace process prevailed. After initial uncertainties, the dialogues between the negotiating parties and representatives of the “No”-campaign started fairly quickly. On 12 November 2016, a new accord was presented incorporating some explicit concessions to the critics and spelling out the punishment as part of transitional justice, for instance. Yet the most important figures of the “No”-campaign did not give up their obstructionist attitude and the agreement will now be adopted by parliament without their consent.
Even with a peace accord in place many problems and challenges remain for Colombia, such as other armed illegal groups and modest prospects economically. These factors are complicating the implementation of reforms planned to tackle the causes of the conflict. Settling the conflict with the FARC is key to more democracy and social justice in Colombia.
Active support for a negotiated end to the armed conflict is a major area of work of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung in the country. Political consultancy and education, and also the creation of platforms for a discussion of potential solutions, are intended to strengthen stakeholders who are committed to end violent confrontation and create sustainable and lasting peace. By awarding peace and human rights prizes in Colombia and Germany, the FES also helped draw greater attention to the Colombian conflict and the many courageous and creative initiatives for its resolution. The negotiating process was accompanied by many and diverse events organized by the FES, including for the purpose of analysing the great challenges that need to be addressed in implementing the peace accord.
As a political foundation, the FES has taken a clear stand in favour of a peace agreement with the FARC. The facts that no broad-based consensus could be found and that this time the new agreement will be passed by parliament after having been rejected in a plebiscite will be a heavy burden on the political dispute about the peace process which is strongly polarized as it is. In this difficult time of implementing and protecting the progress made, the FES will continue to support the progressive forces in their efforts to forge broad-based alliances for peace and to promote the creation of sustainable peace.
Thomas Keil is Project Assistant at Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Colombia Office.
Translated from the German, the article first appeared in the December newsletter (link in German) by the Department for Latin America and Caribbean at FES.
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