Colombian Peace Process: One Step at a Time

By Nicolás Jiménez


Some of the biggest news from South America this fall has undoubtedly come from Colombia—and for good reason. After six years of private and public negotiations, the Colombian government struck a deal with the largest and oldest guerrilla group, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) in Havana, Cuba.

The accords enjoyed widespread international support, and their official signing on September 26 was attended by presidents from many Latin American countries, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and Secretaries of State from the US and the EU. International support, however, was not enough. In a national referendum summoned by incumbent President Juan Manuel Santos to legitimize the accords, a slight majority of 50.2% of electors voted against the deal and blocked the process. High abstention rates, campaigns of misinformation, and even bad weather caused by Hurricane Matthew (which prevented many voters in the coast from going to the polls) influenced the outcome.


After collecting proposals from the political opposition, from religious leaders, business leaders, and victims’ organizations, the government and the FARC renegotiated major points of the accords and signed a new peace deal on November 24. At the time of writing, these accords are expected to be passed through the Colombian Congress to legitimize them, sidestepping the risky option of another referendum.


The agreements address a wide range of issues from disarmament and reintegration by the FARC to rural development and land distribution, and from transitional justice and truth commissions to the FARC’s political eligibility and participation. Negotiators attempted to address the roots of the conflict: grievances regarding inequality, lack of opportunities, the absence of political involvement, and comparatively poor quality of life in the countryside.


To achieve such structural change, the accords lay out a Comprehensive Rural Development plan, which includes land distribution measures, comprehensive access to services like irrigation, credits, technical assistance, formalization of land at a mass scale, and conversion programs from illegal crops like coca leaf to legal crops such as cocoa or palm oil. According to Ana María Ibáñez, Professor of Economics at Universidad de Los Andes and visiting professor at Yale, the plan is not as thorough and radical as the government maintains, but it is certainly significant.


Ibáñez was a key resource in designing the plan, and led the team that designed the land distribution program. “The big question in terms of rural development is not whether the accords propose the right projects and policies,” she says, “but whether the government has the capacity to carry them out fully – and the outlook there is not positive.”


“The victims are the centerpieces of the accords” has become a common phrase in government press releases and in statements by public officials. To do the victims justice, the accords establish the creation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that will investigate 52 years of displacement, kidnapping, rape, murder, and other crimes against humanity. David Simon, Professor of Political Science at Yale, compared the proposed Commission with the Guatemalan Commission for Historical Inquiry (CEH, for its Spanish acronym), a non-governmental truth and reconciliation agency created in 1993 after a similar negotiated peace process. “This truth commission was one of the few things the Guatemalan rebels got out of the negotiations, and in the long run it did establish a sense of truth and closure,” said Simon.


But this commission was severely limited in Guatemala– it could not name individual perpetrators of crimes nor was the Guatemalan government obliged to abide by its recommendations concerning justice and victim reparations. The hope is that the Colombian commission, with the institutions designed in the peace accords to judge the former guerrilla members, will be more effective. “Whatever this commission finds, the Colombian government may choose to ignore it by and large,” Simon states. “However, as in Guatemala, having those findings is good for victims, and even if ignored by the government, for historical records.”


With the present accords, decisive steps have been taken to break the paradigm of a stark rural-urban divide. In the coming months we will witness the slower and more frustrating work of implementation – work that every sector of Colombian society must be a part of to bring about the highly anticipated and necessary change.


Nicolas Jimenez ’19 is a prospective Ethics, Politics, and Economics major.