Colombia approves revamped peace deal with guerrillas

EPA/Leonardo Muñoz

People against the agreement with the FARC guerrilla group wait outside the Congress facilities in Bogota, Colombia, 30 November 2016.

Colombia approves revamped peace deal with guerrillas


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Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos faces a tough road ahead in implementing a revamped peace deal with the communist guerrillas.

As reported by The Wall Street Journal, the country’s legislators on November 30 overrode opposition from former President Álvaro Uribe to overwhelmingly approve an agreement ending the 52-year conflict between the 6,000-strong Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the government, which has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and created millions of refugees within the country.

The vote in the 166-member house was 130 to 0, but in a sign of lingering division over the issue, lawmakers allied with Uribe walked out of the Congress just before the vote.

The agreement outlines an ambitious vision to revamp Colombia’s primitive countryside through major infrastructure investments and wean the FARC from their links to the country’s cocaine trade, long a key source of funding for the guerrillas.

However, constitutional amendments are necessary in order to provide the demobilised guerrillas with 10 seats in Colombia’s congress as well as a special tribunal to mete out justice to former rebels and military officials convicted of war crimes.

“This is a much better agreement than the last one,” Frank Pearl, a Colombian government official who helped negotiate both agreements, was quoted as saying by The Wall Street Journal.

“It had the muscle of the whole country, including the people who were for and the people who were against the last agreement,” he added. “The FARC got the message loud and clear, and they understood it.”

According to Pearl, 40 legal and constitutional changes must be carried out to implement the peace accord. He said the government was hopeful Colombia’s courts would grant it “fast-track” authority to push for the legal changes.

Under the agreement ratified on November 30, the guerrillas will have six months to turn in their weapons and start a political party. The government will also undertakes to implement programs to further peace such as improving conditions in the countryside.

The FARC is unpopular with the vast majority of Colombians. Top guerrilla commanders are widely for crimes such as the mass kidnapping and murder of legislators and the induction of child soldiers.

Luis Moreno Ocampo, former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, said the main challenge of the peace agreement is to prevent attacks against demobilised, rank-and-file FARC guerrillas.

“The role of the armed forces will be key, because now they will be in charge of protecting their former foes,” said Ocampo, who participated in discussions in Havana between FARC leaders and the Colombian government during the course of the peace negotiations.

“The main, overall challenge is to prevent violence from returning, particularly in the areas previously controlled by the FARC that could now be vulnerable to organized-crime gangs and other armed organizations,” he was quoted as saying by The Wall Street Journal.

The peace deal is likely to dominate Colombia’s 2018 presidential and congressional elections. The opposition, led by Uribe, who is now a senator, has called for at least a delay if not a rollback of the plans.

In a separate report, the Reuters news agency noted that the agreement to end Latin America’s longest insurgency was put together in just over a month after the original pact was narrowly defeated in a referendum on October 2.

The amnesty law, which would protect rebels not involved in war crimes or human rights violations from prosecution, would be the first to go to lawmakers, Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo said. Some 7,000 fighters are set to lay down their weapons under the deal.

According to Reuters, other laws would include rural reform, victims’ compensation, removal of land mines and a United Nations-monitored ceasefire all agreed to in the peace deal. The FARC, which started as a rebellion fighting rural poverty, would be allowed to form a political party.

 

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