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Colombia. A long way to build peace

Government and FARC to sign peace agreement in March of 2016. But there are still stumbling blocks. 

The announcement was made in Cuba, last 23 September, by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and the leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) Timoleón Jiménez “Timochenko” after three years of negotiations. The two sides have reached agreement on the last two key topics on the negotiation agenda. They are, transitional justice: amnesty for combatants, excluding those who have committed the most serious crimes, and political participation of rebels once a peace deal is reached.

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The agreement establishes a ‘Special Peace Jurisdiction’, formed around courts that will be set up to try those considered to have been responsible for the most serious and representative crimes committed during the conflict. Those who cooperate with this judicial system and acknowledge past wrongdoings would, if convicted, serve between five and eight years under special conditions that would in any case ensure effective restriction of their personal freedom. Alternative sentences can be applied such as: compulsory (unpaid) work on community projects; or  participation in specified activities, such as education or training. Those who are slow to come forward and accept responsibility for wrongdoings could eventually serve the same term but in ordinary prisons, while those who do not cooperate could eventually be convicted and punished with prison sentences of up to twenty years. Certain crimes (crimes against humanity, genocide and serious war crimes) cannot be granted any legal pardon and will be prosecuted. The courts will be largely staffed by national judges, with a minority international presence.

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Reactions to the agreement were generally positive, both abroad and in Colombia. Nevertheless, there are powerful voices in Colombia questioning the peace process, such as many representatives of former President Alvaro Uribe’s Democratic Center party. Uribe himself has been sharply critical of the negotiations. He argued the rebels are ‘getting away with murder’, referring to the amnesty offer for rebels willing to confess their crimes. At the same time, Mr. Uribe strongly opposes the possibility of the political participation of rebels. Different reactions were reported  within organizations representing the victims of the conflict. The people linked to 200,000  dead, thousands of ‘disappeared’ and tortured people, and many others who were dispossessed of their home and land, are about 7.5 millions. Some of them, such as the leader of the victims of the province of Antioquia, Farid Alberto Usme, have been critical of the fact that the guerrilla leaders are unlikely to go to jail. Some others, instead, accept that the Farc rebels may be granted soft sentences if they confess and contribute to the reparation of the victims, such as Senator Clara Rojas, who was kidnapped by the guerrillas and was held hostage for six years, and the former General Herlindo Mendieta, prisoner of the Farc rebels for 12 years.

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Until recently, 82% of Colombians wanted to see the Farc pay for their crimes behind bars; but today, many think it is time to end the 50-year conflict. Despite the conflict and the presence of other guerrilla groups, such as the ELN, which hopefully will soon join the peace process, Colombia’s economic growth ranks among the fastest in Latin America. It is estimated that peace might increase Colombia’s GDP by 2 percentage points. But above all, many Colombians will  have a chance to build a future, which today is denied them. Unknowns won’t be missing certainly, but in the meantime the ‘dismantling’ of war has started, paving the way to the building of peace. (A.B.)

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