Historic development in Colombia: peace process underwayThe Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have been locked in a civil war with the state for more than half a century, but in the past four years the rebels have engaged in talks with government negotiators. Recently, the two sides signed an historic ceasefire agreement in Havana, paving the way for a formal peace treaty.

Mr. Adriaan Alsema, the editor-in-chief of Medellin-based Colombia Reports shares his opinion on the peace process.

 

Interviewer: Rusif Huseynov

 

 

Huseynov: The war began in 1964 when the FARC first took up arms to fight for land reform and greater equality. But the war devolved into a quagmire that has outlasted 10 Colombian presidents. Three previous attempts to negotiate peace dating back to the 1980s collapsed. What were the main reasons and/or motivation that led to peace accord now?

 

Alsema: The war had entered a stalemate in 2008, leaving both the government and the FARC with no realistic options other than negotiations. After a decade of military and paramilitary offensives the FARC had lost almost two thirds of its fighters. Facing that reality, the guerrillas switched the classical guerrilla warfare. In Colombia, which is full of jungles and mountains turned the conflict similar to that of Vietnam. The military no longer could claim major territorial advances while the FARC had the chance to carry out high-profile hit-and-run attacks.

At the same time, the military entered in crisis over the mass killing of thousands of civilians to inflate their apparent success and ongoing ties between paramilitary death squads, the military and the country’s political elite. Additionally, the offensive came with such a massive human cost that it was almost impossible to justify. To give you an example, in the year 2005 alone, half a million Colombians were displaced. This was creating a humanitarian disaster of epic proportions.

This evaporated international support and forced the United States, Colombia’s main ally in the hemisphere, to cut funds and remove itself from the scandals unfolding in Colombia. Both sides basically came to the conclusion that they could keep the war going for decades without it ever resulting in the victory of either side or find each other in the middle. I believe that this realization, plus tons of foreign pressure, has kept the talks alive in times of crisis and ultimately led to the current peace deal.

 

 

A referendum to ratify the Final Agreement on the Termination of the Conflict and the Construction of a Stable and Lasting Peace is scheduled be held on 2 October 2016. The aim of this referendum is that citizens must express their approval or rejection of the agreements signed with the FARC.  One can think the natural civic response will and should be a “yes”. Yet there is some protest of parties and individuals against the agreement. What are their arguments and how strong is their position?

 

I would divide the opposition in civilian resistance and political resistance.

Colombia has long been divided between conservatives and liberals. This division is still very much alive. Liberal citizens are more willing to accept concessions to the FARC than the conservatives for who the concessions on, for example rural reform, are too much to ask.

Additionally, there is great resentment about the crimes committed by both parties. The peace deal allows war criminals who fully collaborate with justice not just evade prison, but even take place in Congress. Again for the conservatives this simply is too much to ask, and understandably so because it goes against common sense on justice.

The political opposition is different because those actors are trying to prevent being taken to court for war crimes committed when, for example, former President Alvaro Uribe, was in power. This political elite simply wants to maintain the status quo and out of court for the thousands of war crimes they carry the political responsibility of and will have to respond for once a transitional justice court takes force. It’s almost like they feel they are beyond common justice and feel their war crimes are justified, while those of the FARC are terrorism.

 

 

The cocaine trade is assessed a valuation of $10 billion per year in U.S. dollars. With the biggest share in this trade, Colombia has been the world's largest cocaine producer and exporter for years. What are the forecasts regarding the illegal drug trafficking inside and from Colombia after the peace accord?

 

This is one of the main uncertainties, but also not really the essence of what the peace talks were about.

The peace deal introduces the substitution of coca, the basic ingredient for cocaine, as the primary means to curb drug trafficking. This strategy has worked well in Peru while Colombia’s aggressive fumigation strategies have only spurred innovation in the drug industry.

There is no saying how drug traffickers will react to farmers who no longer want to provide coca. There could be violence targeting demobilizing FARC guerrillas and farmers as both have detailed knowledge about who traffics what.

Additionally, Colombia has just been through “El Niño,” a weather phenomenon causing major drought. This coincidental weather condition has forced even more farmers into coca, making substitution more expensive. At the same time, oil prices have plummeted and have dragged down the economy. So, how the government plans to pay for the substitution programs is entirely unclear. In the end, I believe drug trafficking should be dealt with separately, after the peace process with the FARC is over. This strategy will be less complex without the FARC in the mix.

 

 

More than 200,000 Colombians have died in the fighting while millions more have been uprooted from their homes. Although peace in this long-lasting conflict has been the most wanted objective by the local population, how ready is it for the post-conflict period and integrational processes?

 

Not ready at all. For decades, people have lived in war and have been called to support the war by either the state or the guerrillas. Now, all of a sudden, the same parties are calling on the people to support peace. Imagine how profoundly confusing that is.

Paradoxically, victim organizations are leading the country calling for reconciliation, but the mass media, some of whom are accused of war crimes themselves, are lagging behind and the culture in the past 50 years has not exactly been one of reconciliation, but vengeance.

This transition is going to take time, also because while there might be peace with the FARC, other illegal armed groups continue to victimize the population.

 

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