Looking Forward to Peace in Colombia
Written by Luke Musto
“There is a signed agreement, and it is a fact… It resulted from a fundamental strategy to recover the stability of the country. Peace in Colombia makes the country move forward and builds the future the country needs.”
These comments come from part of a much longer speech Juan Carlos Pinzón, the Colombian Ambassador to the United States, made in Miami on 30 March 2017. The speech had a clear message—Colombia is now looking forward to a future which includes long-term stability and prosperity, with an increased ability to compete in the global economy. Colombia is “open for business” on the world-stage.
The signed agreement Pinzón refers to is the historic peace deal between the Colombian government and FARC leaders, which was signed 24 November 2016, with the aim to bring an end to more than 50 years of conflict in the country.
The agreement that was finally brokered was not the first of its kind to be offered, with an earlier version of the same agreement having been brought to a national plebiscite a little more than a month earlier in September 2016. That version was rejected by voters amid concerns of a lack of repercussions for perpetrators of war crimes and a perception of excessive funding for FARC political participation. The Colombian government, lead by President Juan Manuel Santos, claimed to have addressed the majority of the concerns of No voters in the new agreement, carefully balancing the needs and desires of both sides of the conflict.
Under UN supervision, more than 7,000 rebels are now in the process of giving up their arms and relocating to temporary encampments. However, the process is not unfolding without setbacks, as in recent weeks complaints have arisen from both the government and FARC.
Representatives of FARC are claiming the government has failed to deliver its promises of food, money, clothing and housing. There are many cases where the government has failed to prepare adequate temporary housing for rebels arriving from jungle and mountain hideaways. The government has counterclaimed that FARC has been too slow to hand over arms and explosives, that it has blocked construction workers’ access to encampments and that many of FARC’s current demands are overreaching what was agreed upon in November.
But is the Colombian government now becoming a victim of its own overreaching in the initial negotiations? The government will indeed find it difficult to deliver on many of the promises it made in the 2016 agreement, primarily because it lacks the funding to do so. While under the Obama administration, Colombia had received a number of generous aid packages and benefits, which had been declared to increase during 2017 to help with the transition period, President Trump has placed less emphasis on foreign aid and his administration has not yet indicated whether it will prioritise Obama’s commitments to the nation.
Another key component of the agreement, the re-integration of ex-rebels into mainstream society, is going to be a key difficulty for the Santos administration, because much of mainstream society will struggle to accept former combatants. Getting the private sector on board with the government’s vision will be critical to Colombia’s future, as at the moment business is seen as reluctant to hire former rebels.
A very promising start has been made towards a brighter future for the third biggest economy in South America. To keep the process on track, the Colombian government now needs to be able to demonstrate a greater capacity to keep the lofty promises it made during the peace deal. Fortunately, both the government and FARC have shown an understanding that the path to prosperity for their country is deeply linked with the peace process’s goal of reconciliation. And most importantly, everyone involved has their eyes on the ultimate goal—a long-term future for Colombia that includes durable peace and a bright economic outlook.
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