World

Colombia Sets Deadline for Ceasefire With FARC

The announcement came as a surprise to FARC leaders who have been in talks with government negotiators in Havana since the plebiscite.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (L) and Marxist rebel leader Rodrigo Londono (R), better known by the nom de guerre Timochenko, shake hands after signing an accord ending a half-century war that killed a quarter of a million people in Cartagena, Colombia September 26, 2016. Credit: Reuters/John Vizcaino

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (L) and Marxist rebel leader Rodrigo Londono (R), better known by the nom de guerre Timochenko, shake hands after signing an accord ending a half-century war that killed a quarter of a million people in Cartagena, Colombia September 26, 2016. Credit: Reuters/John Vizcaino

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has announced that the ceasefire with the FARC, which went into effect on August 29, will end on October 31. The announcement came in the wake of the shock plebiscite in which Colombians rejected the peace deal agreed between Santos’ government and the rebel group by a slim margin – only 50.2% voted against the deal, while 64% of the population didn’t vote at all.

Had the deal been accepted by voters, the FARC would have moved onto the next phase of the peace process – demobilisation and disarmament. According to Colombia Reports, immediately after Santos’ announcement., FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño, better known by his nom de guerre Timochenko, rhetorically asked, “and from then on the war continues?”

The announcement of the ceasefire deadline came as a surprise to FARC leaders, who have been in talks with government negotiators in Havana, Cuba, since the plebiscite. According to the Guardian, FARC commander Pastor Alape tweeted, “All of our units should begin to move to safe zones to avoid provocations,” in response to Santos’ announcement.

Another FARC member, negotiator Carlos Antonio Lozada, also took to Twitter and invited Colombian citizens to participate in a vigil at FARC camps on October 31 to deter bombardments by government forces. He tweeted, ““We invite everyone who wants a Colombia without war.”

Turf war

According to Colombia Reports, the biggest danger at present is a possible turf war between other guerrilla groups who may try to take advantage of the chaos following the vote and capture territory currently controlled by the FARC. The presence of successor paramilitary groups further complicates the situation. The report said, “While nervous and armed FARC guerrillas wait in the jungles, police reported that alleged paramilitary successors had attacked a police station in the Valle del Cauca province just hours after the results were made public.” Additionally, some police units had started moving into FARC areas in anticipation of the peace deal but the “operation was also stopped in its tracks”.

Santos made the announcement ahead of his meeting with former president and current opposition leader Alvaro Uribe, who opposed the peace deal for being too lenient on FARC members. Notably, Uribe himself is accused of committing the war crimes similar to those of the FARC, “including a massacre, the promotion of paramilitary groups and the execution of thousands of civilians to inflate the military’s apparent effectiveness” Colombia Reports says.

An article in The Nation analysed the domestic politics at play in Colombia, which also contributed to the ‘no’ vote. Greg Grandin wrote “No” won because the right wing, led by former President Álvaro Uribe, was able to turn a vote that was supposed to be on peace into a vote on the FARC”. Grandin continued by saying that class politics contributed to the vote as well, “The Colombian elite, especially the retrograde sector Uribe represents, has much to lose with peace: The end of fighting would create a space in which the country’s many social conflicts—having to do with land, labor, and resource extraction—could be dealt with on their own terms, rather than distorted through counterinsurgent politics. And peace would be costly for some sectors, especially for all those Colombians in the “security” business who for years have fed off the Plan Colombia trough.”

Human Rights Watch stressed the question of meting out justice to FARC members as a part of their literature on the plebiscite, earning the accusation that it unwittingly helped Uribe’s campaign and his right wing supporters in the plebiscite. These are all factors likely to contribute to the talks being held between Santos and Uribe as they decide how to move forward after the plebiscite.

Colombian former President and Senator Alvaro Uribe arrives before a meeting with Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos at Narino Palace in Bogota, Colombia, October 5, 2016. Credit: Reuters/John Vizcaino

Colombian former President and Senator Alvaro Uribe arrives before a meeting with Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos at Narino Palace in Bogota, Colombia, October 5, 2016. Credit: Reuters/John Vizcaino

Holding on to hope

Santos and Uribe met for over three hours on Wednesday to discuss the government’s next steps in its negotiations with the group. After the talks, Uribe addressed the media and “emphasized the need for “adjustments and proposals” to ensure the deal includes all Colombians,” Reuters reported.

Santos too released a brief statement after the meeting. “We identified that many of their worries come from points that need clarification or precisions. Today we began to work with them to firm up those points and resolve their doubts.”

As Santos and Uribe disagree on the level of leniency that should be accorded to FARC rebels, “the future of the deal seems to hang on whether the FARC will accept tougher conditions for demobilisation, perhaps combined with a softening of Uribe’s hard-line demands,” a Reuters report said. The report also added that the Colombian government has stated that the ball is now in the FARC’s court when it comes to reopening talks.

Meanwhile, analysts told the Guardian that Santos’ declaration of the end of the ceasefire “was necessary because the bilateral ceasefire that went into effect on 29 August – which had been labeled “definitive” – was contingent on approval of the peace deal. Announcing an extension to 31 October gives all sides time to take stock of the new political panorama”.

“I think that it’s to renegotiate the bilateral ceasefire,” analyst Ariel Ávila told Caracol Radio.

On Wednesday, thousands of Colombians, many wearing white, marched in various cities in support of the peace deal, while many members of Santos’ cabinet joined the march in Bogota’s main square, Reuters reported.

Colombians now have to wait as Santos and Uribe decide on what to do next. As Colombia Reports put it, the two sides can “either reconcile and agree to resume the peace process or resume the fighting that has already cost the lives of 265,000 Colombians, left 45,000 forcibly disappeared and approximately 7 million displaced”.