Like all treaties, Colombia’s peace accord represents a compromise. As chief government negotiator Humberto de la Calle said Wednesday night as before signing the final pact, “we got the best deal possible. Everyone would have liked to get a little more.”
The Marxist-Leninist FARC long ago gave up any pretense that it could use the talks to force major changes to the political and economic system it has been fighting for 52 years to overthrow. Now it says it will keep fighting to change Colombia — only with its leftist ideals, not AK-47s and grenade launchers.
What FARC has achieved at the bargaining table is more modest. Most of its leaders will probably be able to avoid prison. They got new guarantees the government will do more to protect them from assassination by their enemies. If the guerrillas can successfully transform into a political party, they will clearly pay a big role in the rural parts of Colombia where they have long projected influence, and where the government has promised to bring major new investments.
President Juan Manuel Santos’s goals in the peace process were simple: end the 52-year-old war without giving away too much and agreeing to a deal that would be politically indefensible. From the outset, and to the FARC’s chagrin, he insisted that the accord would ultimately face the judgement of Colombian voters. Therein lies the risk. Now everything is riding on the plebiscite he has scheduled for Oct 2, and his powerful political foe, former president Alvaro Uribe, will be campaigning against the accords.
Santos insists there’s no going back if voters reject the peace deal. The 52-year war with FARC will be back on.
Most of the major elements of the accords were worked out long ago, and versions of their contents have been released publicly. But here’s a quick rundown of what Colombia’s peace deal consists of — what Santos described in an televised address Wednesday night as the five main points.
1. The end of political violence. FARC ceases to be a rebel army and transforms into a political party. Once the accord is officially signed, as soon as late September, the rebels will begin moving into UN-monitored camps where they will disarm in phases over a period of 180 days. Colombia’s military — the lifelong enemies of the guerrillas — will be in charge of setting up security perimeters to protect the camps from potential attacks by drug trafficking groups, right-wing militias and other FARC rivals.
2. Justice for victims of the conflict. Colombia will establish special tribunals to adjudicate war crimes and other atrocities committed by the rebels as well as paramilitary groups and government security forces. It will be akin to a truth-and-reconciliation process. If combatants fully attest to their crimes, they will be eligible for alternative sentences and “restorative” justice aimed at making amends to victims. If they don’t tell the truth, they will be vulnerable to criminal prosecution and up to 20 years behind bars. This is one of the most controversial elements of the peace deal, because Uribe and other critics liken it to a slap on the wrist for FARC “terrorists” guilty of war crimes.
3. Rural development. This was the low-hanging fruit of the peace accords. The government has promised to invest heavily in infrastructure projects and state-building in the long-neglected areas where FARC has held sway. Naturally, once they’re in politics, FARC commanders could play a big role in directing — or administering — those projects. For a country with one of the fastest-growing economies in Latin America, rural Colombia has a shockingly deficient infrastructure, and the government is simply not present in wide swaths of the country. All that is supposed to change if the deal goes through, ostensibly to the benefit of small farmers.
It should be noted that it is not a land reform agreement: Santos insisted Wednesday that “private property won’t be affected,” in an obvious appeal to powerful landowners who remain skeptical of the deal.
4. FARC in politics. This one is another gamble for the government, and it was the last major sticking point to the final accord. FARC has always insisted it was forced to take up arms in self-defense because so many of its members and other leftists have been wiped out by right-wing assassins while trying to participate in democratic politics. Santos said Wednesday that the rebels will be granted a limited number of seats in Congress through 2018, where they will not have voting rights but can speak on matters pertaining to the implementation of the peace accords. They will be assured a number of seats for two electoral terms after that, but then they will have to win at the ballot box, Santos said. His opponents have already savaged this concession as an outrageous giveaway to the rebels.
5. Ending the drug trade. This is a big one, especially for the United States, the biggest consumer of Colombian cocaine. Colombia’s illegal coca crop is the gasoline that has kept the armed conflict running all these years, and the rebels owe their massive military expansion in the 1990s to an increasing dominance of the drug trade. Under the peace accords, FARC essentially agrees to go out of business as a narcotics trafficking organization, and to work with the government and others attempting to wean Colombia’s rural farmers off coca. It won’t be easy. This is one of the most fraught aspects of the peace deal, and many are bracing for a period of increased bloodshed as other illegal armed groups compete to take over FARC’s considerable share of the billion-dollar coca business.