The signing of the Havana Peace Accords between the Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) on 24 November 2016 is the cornerstone of reconciliation and the starting point for every possible evolution. But also this historic agreement has created divisions in all sectors of society, confirming that the road to true peace is still long.
Among the main uncertainties is Farc’s future, which after returning weapons last August intends to transform from a revolutionary combat movement into a political force. The Farc congress at the end of August in Bogotà began to provide the first answers: the new party will be called “Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Común” – thus preserving the acronym of the past – and its symbol is a red rose with a star at the center. “Farc become an exclusively political organization that will carry out its activity in legality and will continue to strive to build a democratic regime that guarantees peace and social justice”, said their leader, Rodrigo Londoño.
Former guerrillas aspire to become a government force, but they know it will take time to achieve this goal. According to surveys, the great majority of the country still have feelings of hatred for the Farc. A rejection confirmed by the triumph of “no” at the referendum that was to approve the first peace agreement on October 2, 2016. The negotiators had to draw up a new one in record time, accepting many changes proposed by the “no” party: the new agreement obtained the approval of the Colombian Parliament in late November 2016, without going to the polls for a second time.
To broaden consensus, the Farc know they will have to change their image, especially in the eyes of voters of big cities. That is why they decided to resort to foreign communication consultants in an effort to mitigate their language, to fight prejudices and to offer the public a more friendly face. It is too early to say whether the organization looks like a modern Social Democrat party or is approaching traditional Marxist schemes.
For the time being, the Colombian press clarifies that the new political force will not present its candidate for the 2018 presidential election, but will rather aim at building alliances for a transition government.
A new approach to drug trafficking
Another big question is about the effects that the peace process will have on drug trafficking, a source of funding for the guerrilla that has always held monopoly over the sale of cocaine, establishing its price and protecting crops. For some observers, Colombia now has a unique opportunity to reduce coca production, pushing farmers to switch to other types of production. Recent history, however, is not encouraging: in the last three years there has been a substantial increase in coca cultivation, which according to some estimates has reached its maximum historic level. It remains to be understood who will take Farc’s place in the production areas. Dissident groups and former ex-guerrillas may be tempted to return to old businesses, in spite of peace agreements.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Nobel Peace Prize 2016, preferred to focus on alternative drug-fighting programs and – also thanks to Farc’s support – intends to persuade farmers to dedicate themselves to different forms of production. The new approach implies the end of repressive policies, which revealed to be a failure in the long run. Even for the fight against drug trafficking, a new era could open, as long as the Farc respect the treaties. For its part, the government has committed itself to building the necessary means of communication so that the products of new crops can access the agricultural markets and provide new seeds and services to farmers.
The pact with the National Liberation Army
If Farc completed the transformation process into a political party, the country’s second guerrilla movement, National Liberation Army (ELN) was still missing for a complete peace. Negotiations with the government, which began in Ecuador at the beginning of the year, have been experiencing frenetic hours in recent days in view of Pope Francis trip. The goal of a bilateral ceasefire agreement before the arrival of the pontiff was reached on 4 September. Pablo Beltran, leader of Eln, said the agreement is “a greeting to the Pope’s visit so that the world knows that it continues to seek full peace in Colombia”. A special commission, formed by the Catholic Church and international organizations, will verify compliance with the truce that will come into force on October 1st.
Desaparecidos and the legacy of violence
Another heavy legacy of the conflict regard tens of thousands of desaparecidos. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (Cicr), forced disappearance is “a drama that shatters the social fabric of the Country”. To finally give an answer to thousands of families who want to know what has happened to their loved ones, the issue must therefore become one of the priorities in the coming years. Many commentators call this issue a “fire test” for peace-keeping: “The way we respond to this challenge will show how far Colombia really aspires to implement the peace agreement”. explains Cicr chief in Colombia Christoph Harnisch.
The last knot, less tangible but not least important, concerns the traces that many years of violence, misunderstanding and fear have left in the hearts of many Colombians: fatalism, pessimism and mistrust. Sufferings that can be cured only thanks to genuine reconciliation, which turns peace agreements and greater social equality into facts. If the progress in recent years has been fundamental, years of violence and divisions can only be overcome by a patient job, capable of involving all sectors of Colombian society. The challenge is far from easy. The latest figures on victims of the armed conflict provided by the “Registro Único de Víctimas” are frightening and far above the most common figures: 7,134,646 displaced persons, 983,033 murders, 165,927 desaperecidos, 10,237 torture cases and 34,814 kidnappings.