Colombia Political Reviews
Much has happened in Colombia in recent years. Implementation of the peace agreement presents challenges and the election of President Iván Duque Márquez, a clear critic of the peace process, does not make things any easier. Latin American groups are currently working on updating the country pages to provide a more updated picture of Colombia. In the meantime, please read this 2017 article.
The peace agreement between Colombian government and the FARC guerrilla was ratified by Congress in November 2016 and the demobilization of the guerrilla is now underway.
Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos received the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10, 2016 for his role as a proponent of the peace agreement with the FARC guerrilla. The peace agreement was ratified by the Colombian Congress on November 29 after first being rejected in a referendum by the lowest possible margin. The armed conflict in Colombia lasted 52 years, making it one of the most long-standing ongoing armed conflicts in the world. The war has claimed at least 260,000 lives and nearly seven million Colombians have been displaced from their homes. The left-wing guerrillas, right-wing paramilitary groups and the national army are all key players. While many civil society organizations and leftists explain the conflict as a result of extreme economic inequality and social and political exclusion.
The peace agreement between the Colombian authorities and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – Ejercito del Pueblo (FARC-EP) was ratified by the Colombian Congress on November 29 last year. This happened after the Colombian people rejected the then-current agreement on October 1. The no-side won the poll by 50.2 percent. The no-pushers were President Alvaro Uribe and his political party, with the support of the Catholic Church. In retrospect, the agreement has been revised and received a number of minor changes and the church has waived its opposition to the agreement. On December 10, 2016, President Juan Manuel Santos received the Peace Prize for his role as a proponent of the peace process. This was on the grounds of the Nobel Committee: “… President Santos initiated the negotiations that resulted in the peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrilla, and he has always been a driving force in the peace process. Knowing that the agreement was contentious, he helped Colombian voters get their say on the peace agreement in a referendum. The outcome of the vote was not as President Santos had wished: a scarce majority of the more than 13 million Colombians who voted cast no to the agreement. The result has created great uncertainty about Colombia’s future. The danger that the peace process will stop and the civil war flare up again is real. More importantly, the parties, with President Santos and FARC guerrilla leader Rodrigo Londoño at the forefront, still respect the ceasefire… ». 
The peace talks between the authorities and the FARC began in Oslo in October 2012. The parties have since been in negotiations in Cuba, where they have discussed five issues: land reform, resolution of the drug problem, political participation, settlement of armed conflict, and victims’ rights. In May 2013, the representatives reached an agreement on the issue of land distribution. This was difficult because the uneven land distribution in the country is much of the basis of the armed conflict, and a point where many special interests are involved. In December 2013, the Political Participation Agreement was finalized and a joint strategy to resolve the drug problem was agreed in May 2014. In December 2015, the “Integral System of Truth, Justice, Compensation and Non-Repetition” was in place, which will ensure that victims of the conflict gain access to what has happened and otherwise safeguard their legal certainty. In September 2015, President Santos and Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, alias “Timochenco”, chief of Fuerza’s Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – Ejercito del Pueblo (FARC-EP) announced that the parties had reached an agreement on the final point of the negotiations; settlement of armed conflict.
In short, it was made clear that the FARC is recognized as a warring party and that neither rebellion against the state nor regular acts of violence between the parties will be prosecuted. On the other hand, a separate court will be set up to resolve war crimes and convict war criminals from all sides of the conflict. After the final peace treaty is signed, the guerrillas have a limited period of time to lay down their weapons and sign up. Those who agree to demobilization, show full openness to the court and acknowledge the guilt of war crimes (such as kidnapping, torture, rape, wrongful executions, etc.) will be sentenced to between five and eight years of community service without the right to free movement. Those who do not register within the deadline, but later admit guilty of war crimes will be sentenced to between five and eight years of ordinary prison sentences. Those who do not admit guilt, yet are found guilty of war crimes, will be sentenced to up to twenty years of ordinary prison sentences. Foreign judges will be given key functions to avoid repeating the demobilization process in 2003 to 2006, when a small number of guerrillas and 17,000 paramilitaries were disarmed and sentenced to greatly reduced prison sentences or various forms of house arrest.
The FARC is expected to form its own political party. They will receive state support for this and will be entitled to three observers in Congress and three in the Senate in 2017. Following the 2018 election, FARC is guaranteed five members in Congress and five senators in two congressional periods (8 years). If, during this period, they manage to get the vote of congressmen or senators, they will lose as many of the guaranteed seats. Former guerrillas can sit in Congress or the Senate as long as they do not serve prison sentences.
Step towards real peace
On August 29, 2016, the FARC and the Colombian Army entered into a mutual truce according to Countryaah. As of October 15, FARC has used agreed itineraries to gather in temporary concentration zones. From there, the guerrilla will go to 20 demobilization zones and seven guarded camps throughout Colombia, where weapons closures and surrender to the authorities will take place. According to the independent conflict observatory CERAC, the mutual ceasefire has been broken three times since November 15, 2016. The ceasefire is thus well functioning and gives hope that the demobilization process can be carried out without major loss of human life.
Most of the combatants have now moved to the demobilization zones. The demobilization started in January 2017 and is expected to be over by the summer. The Army estimates that the FARC has between 7,000 and 8,000 active combatants and just over 8,000 “sleeping” extras. In August 2014, CERAC estimated the number of guerrilla soldiers in FARC to 15,700, which indicates a certain degree of improvement in figures in the Ministry of Defense, but the dropout in the guerrillas has been large. Most of these will probably sign up to the authorities in the coming months. In addition, 4100 imprisoned guerrillas will be offered the opportunity to join the demobilization in the first place. There may be several rounds of judicial finishing of previously convicted.
Demobilized guerrilla soldiers will receive social security; 90% of the legal minimum wage (just under NOK 2000 a month) for up to two years after they have put down their weapons and until they have obtained work. In addition, they receive 2 million pesos (NOK 6,000) in one-off payment when they lay down their weapons and up to 8 million pesos (NOK 24,000) in establishment support if they wish to start their own productive business.
Since the peace negotiations have started, the situation in war-affected parts of Colombia has improved. The FARC made concessions during the negotiations, which helped to reduce the level of conflict significantly. On February 12, 2015, the guerrillas raised the internal low age for recruiting guerrillas from 15 to 17 years to show that they want to end the use of child soldiers. On March 7, 2015, FARC and the authorities agreed to start mine clearance work in areas where anti-personnel mines and other hidden explosives are a major problem. The mine clearing started in restricted zones in 2015 under shared leadership between the army and Norwegian People’s Aid. Several international players have joined and disarmed guerrillas will take part in efforts to find anti-personnel mines and other explosives that have been deployed throughout Colombia. So far, three Colombian municipalities have been completed and 17 projects with 46 known explosives have been initiated. By comparison, it is estimated that half of Colombia’s 1122 municipalities and 31 of 32 national regions have deployed explosives that must be disposed of.
The FARC declared unilateral ceasefire on December 20, 2014. According to CERAC, the guerrilla organization stopped attacking civilians and carried out the attack on private and public infrastructure, while warfare between the FARC and the army largely degenerated into guerrilla defense. The date of the ceasefire is symbolically important. FARC’s founder, Manuel Marulanda, declared the creation of “The Independent Republic of Marquetalia” on December 20, 1954. The ceasefire was broken on April 15, 2015, when the guerrilla attacked a troop of sleeping soldiers in Buenos Aires, Cauca, and killed on May 22 the army responded by attacking one of the guerrilla camps in Cauca, killing 26. The next two months, the guerrilla blasted a number of oil lines and high-voltage towers and attacked the army’s positions on several occasions. The unilateral ceasefire was resumed 20.
An increasing level of conflict can be expected in the country after the FARC has been demobilized. There will be a vacuum of power in many places in the countryside that will be filled either by the state or by illegal, armed groups. In addition, it is expected that individual soldiers and troops in the guerrilla army will not be allowed to demobilize nor continue illegal vigilance. This process is underway: On December 13, 2016, FARC announced that they had evicted 5 commanders (and their subordinates) from blocks 1, 7, and 16 of FARC, all east of the country. This is done so that attacks on the army and civilian population from these former guerrillas should not violate the peace treaty. The army, in turn, can attack these troops without breaking the peace treaty.
Just before the spring 2014 presidential election, President Santos announced that he had begun peace talks with the leadership of ELN, Colombia’s second active guerrilla. Since then, there have been regular reports from official teams that the government and the ELN are meeting for talks. Official negotiations between the authorities and the ELN were to start in Quito, Ecuador on October 27, 2016, but the meeting was canceled when the guerrilla group refused to release politician Odin Sanchez. Sanchez was later released and official negotiations started in Sangolqui, Ecuador, February 8, 2017. ELN declared unilateral ceasefire in September 2016. According to the Colombian Department of Defense, ELN has about 1,500 soldiers.
The 2014 presidential election
In the run-up to the election, it was clear early on that it would be even between the two leading candidates; incumbent President Juan Manuel Santos of the center-right party Unidad Nacional and Óscar Iván Zuluaga of President Álvaro Uribe’s newly formed party Centro Democrático on the outer right. Santos was Minister of Defense in Uribe’s last government and was Uribe’s favorite in the 2010 presidential election. After coming to power, Santos broke with Uribe’s hard line and since then Uribe has been his worst competitor. On June 15, Santos won 51 percent against Zuluaga’s 45 percent, and peace talks with FARC could continue uninterrupted.
In Colombia, the presidential election is referred to as dirty, due to the reciprocal black campaign between Santos and Zuluaga. It peaked on May 17, when Revista Semana magazine released a video showing Zuluaga receiving a report of illegal surveillance by peace negotiators in Havana. Zuluaga could still continue their election campaign, apparently without losing support. From a historical perspective, however, this election appears relatively clear to voters. According to Transparency International, all of the presidential candidates declared their revenues and expenses, of which Zuluaga had by far the largest campaign budget. Ahead of the 2014 congressional and presidential elections, the Independent Electoral Observatory, Mision de Observacion Electoral, reported a marked decline in threats to voters from armed groups. At the same time, the estimate for constituencies where voting and other forms of pressure against voters were likely to be high was high: 410 out of 1123 constituencies, against 291 in 2010. National media took part in the elections to a greater extent than ever before, and they Most supported Santos. There are several journalists and editors in the Santos family and they are part owners of the country’s largest newspaper El Tiempo.