The Deal May Be Signed, But Colombia’s Search for Peace Will Continue

Colombia’s Congress may have ratified the Santos government’s revised peace deal with the FARC, but the path ahead is unlikely to be easy, given the revival in social and political aggression against the left.

A peace deal supporter holding a 'for peace' sign. Credit: Reuters

A peace deal supporter holding a ‘for peace’ sign. Credit: Reuters

Over the past week, the tension has been palpable in Bogotá. Many are reminded of an episode from the last peace process in 1984: Luciano Marín Arango, a congressperson elected by opposition party Unión Patriótica (UP; established to provide a democratic way for the left), shouted while standing at the Plaza de Bolívar – “Do not kill us, please do not kill us”. It was the beginning of the era of paramilitaries, when Colombia’s elites felt justified in arming children, torturing families and assassinating social leaders. Most of the party’s members (numbering around 4000) were assassinated, with the rest going into exile or rejoining the guerrillas.

Today, after some years of institutional recovery, in which the courts have attempted to dismantle the military and political complex that has infiltrated the state, many former governors and generals are in prison, and the security agency has been dissolved for illegally taping the opposition.

Although many people privately support the paramilitaries, it is socially reprehensible to talk about it in public.

Arango, now better known as Iván Márquez, the FARC’s chief negotiator for peace, is one of the few to have survived the massacre in 1984 and to have returned to the jungle to keep fighting as part of the FARC, while the UP slowly disappeared from prominence. He and other members of the FARC leadership are now in Bogotá after their arrest warrants were suspended as part of the peace process. But the road to get here was not easy.

In recent days, there has been a revival in popular expressions, with one social movement facing the brunt. Marcha Patriótica (MP), an umbrella organisation of the radical left, did not condemn the insurgents and instead urged the government to start a dialogue with them, in a stand completely unlike that of the opposition parties. It has now become the target of attacks and aggression, with its leaders being vilified, threatened and at times even captured or killed. In this tense political environment, UP leader Aída Avella has warned that another “political genocide” may be coming.

FARC lead negotiator Ivan Marquez (R) adresses the audience while lead government negotiator Humberto de la Calle (L) and mediator Dag Nylander of Norway look on, after signing a new peace deal to end their 52-year war, in Havana, Cuba November 12, 2016. Credit: Reuters

FARC lead negotiator Ivan Marquez (R) adresses the audience while lead government negotiator Humberto de la Calle (L) and mediator Dag Nylander of Norway look on, after signing a new peace deal to end their 52-year war, in Havana, Cuba November 12, 2016. Credit: Reuters

Uncertainty remains

One of President Juan Maunel Santos’ strategies to prepare for peace had been to allow for the participation of the UP in parliamentary and presidential elections (2010), and to attempt to tone down anti-communist rhetoric. This was one of the causes of rebellion within his party from the ultra-conservatives who wanted to see the rebels surrender unconditionally.

Today, peace with FARC is signed. It was ratified in Congress after the Constitutional Court allowed Santos to maintain the legal framework of the deal, despite it being rejected in a referendum in October, as long as he made political changes in its application.

Santos then attempted to separate the interest of the electoral bases of the opposition from that of their leadership. Santos knew that most people had voted against the peace deal because of a dirty campaign that tried to convince the people of an impending attack on traditional families through a gender ideology. However, rather than actually being concerned about this ‘attack’ on the family structure, the conservative leaders wanted to negotiate the freedom of their captured political, military and commercial allies.

Santos did away with a great part of the discontent among the people by eliminating the policies related to sexual education, planning and prevention, or the teaching of sexual diversity and the free development of one’s personality.

The result is a situation where things are legally resolved but politically uncertain. The FARC has expressed doubts about the abilities of the current government to protect its fighters after they lay down their weapons and has refused to adhere to the government’s peace process timeline for the group to demobilise since the legislation granting amnesty to a majority of its fighters remains pending in court.

FARC mulls its options

Alejandro Ordóñez, a member of the Lefebvrista Society of Colombia, who on 13 May 1985 collectively burned books and magazines in front of the Public Library in Bucaramanga, Colombia.

José Alejandro Ordóñez seen burning books and magazines in front of the Public Library in Bucaramanga, Colombia.

In Colombia, the right has rallied behind former prosecutor general José Alejandro Ordóñez, a strict Catholic fanatic, who is best known for publicly burning books in front of the municipal library in the Parque de los Niños in Bucaramanga in 1985. Ordóñez is perceived as a defender of the faith, willing to turn back decades of social conquests to return to the way things were before negotiations with the M-19 urban guerrillas led to the proclamation of the current constitution (1991). On economic policy, Ordóñez is closer to rural landowners than to the Bogotá bourgeoisie, whom he feels have betrayed the people.

This makes him the perfect candidate to unify the rightwing under a common platform for the next elections, due in 2020. On the other hand, the multiple centre and leftwing forces will have a lot more trouble achieving unity because they favour ideological purity over pragmatic benefit. The result might be the same that secured Santos’ second victory, an unpopular Bogotá liberal supported grudgingly to prevent another administration that was tolerant of the paramilitary.

In the meantime, things are going to be hard for activists. Technically, now that the deal is ratified, people should be able to freely express sympathy for the rebels and be willing to work with them in the future. However, all attempts to establish a connection with civil society have suffered from attacks and/or threats.

Even so, several universities, student groups and civil society organisations have arranged visits to the encampments of former FARC fighters and their areas of influence. Local mandataries have sometimes been reprimanded by the presidency for treating the peace initiatives as if they were hostile to the country.

So far, the FARC has not announced the political collectivity under which it plans to organise. Although there is plenty of speculation, their sympathisers are unknown. Few organisations have expressed willingness to give the former guerrillas a platform to express their ideas. Perhaps this is the reason why FARC leader Pablo Catatumbo awaits the results of a parallel negotiation with a different insurgency (ELN) – the Colombian radical left must carve its own space in a country that hasn’t quite decided if the leftists have a right to live or not.

Sergio Andrés Rueda is a philosophy student at the Universidad Industrial de Santander.

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