CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA —
A final peace agreement between Colombia’s government and a national guerrilla movement is to be signed Monday, bringing to an end the longest-running insurgency in the Western hemisphere and the last full-blown one inspired originally by Cuban and Soviet ideology against democratic institutions in the Americas.
The conflict between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, whose funding was primarily derived from the country’s illicit cocaine industry, is blamed for displacing millions of people and leaving more than 250,000 dead.
The front page of Monday’s El Tiempo newspaper put it more precisely: "La paz luego de 267,162 muertos". (Peace after 267,162 dead).
Numerous heads of state and foreign ministers, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, are to attend the signing ceremony at the convention center in Cartagena.
Kerry told reporters Monday in the Caribbean port city, founded in the 16th century, that depending on the implementation of the peace pact, the United States could remove the FARC from its terrorism list.
“The announcement is an idea,” Kerry said. “The implementation are facts so let’s see how it proceeds but we clearly are prepared to review and make judgments about that as the facts come in.”
FARC has also agreed to cooperate with de-mining. Colombia has the second highest number of land mines in the world after Afghanistan.
The United States is taking some of the credit for bringing about the peace pact, which diplomats in Washington describe as a transformational event for Colombia and the region and one that President Barack Obama has described as one of the most important achievements during his presidency.
Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos, who has staked his reputation on ending the war, had asked the United States to increase its engagement in the four year negotiating process, which mostly took place in Cuba, and a special envoy, Bernard Aronson, was named who participated in the talks.
“It’s about far more than just giving up weapons of war,” said a senior U.S. administration speaking on condition he not be named. “It really includes a major transformation of Colombia itself, it includes a far-reaching commitment to bring government services, security, police, education, health, roads, economic development to the vast stretches of the interior that have been left out of national life.”
Proponents of the deal also note the commitment to work with farmers to get land titles, access to transportation networks for their harvests of legal crops, rather than cocoa leaf production. It also includes transitional justice efforts that will hopefully lead to reconciliation in the countryside.
They also predict it will be the catalyst for Colombia’s GDP to grow at twice its current place and triple foreign directly investment following years of negative growth and capital flight.
Hoping compromise pays off
Not everyone supports the deal on which Colombians will render a verdict in a nationwide binding referendum set for October 2.
Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe contends the deal gives total amnesty to drug trafficking by labeling it a political crime. He said, “Colombians have learned over decades of attempted negotiations with other terrorist groups that impunity always becomes the seed of new forms of violence.”
Recent public opinion polls in the country, however, show a double digit advantage for the “Yes” camp, despite widespread loathing for FARC and a robust “No” campaign spanning the political spectrum.
"The consequences of a loss would be catastrophic," Humberto de la Calle, the government's chief negotiator, said in announcing the agreement.
Reporters asked Kerry what happens if the referendum is not approved.
“I’m not going to contemplate failure,” he responded. “I’m not going to venture any speculation. I’m here to say that the United States supports this agreement and the people of Colombia in their wisdom will make their own decision in the next days.”
President Santos argued compromise was necessary to convince the rebels to turn over their weapons after more than a half century of conflict and stop causing bloodshed and havoc throughout much of the country.
Other peace threats
The peace pact also includes a large new security commitment by Colombia’s government to go after the extremely violent bandas criminales (known by the acronym BACRIM), some of which are successors to right-wing paramilitaries engaged in cocaine production and smuggling, killings of right activists and have clashed with FARC fighters and other left-wing guerrillas.
The immediate, biggest threat to the October 2 peace referendum could be low voter turnout. To be valid it must be endorsed by at least 13 percent of all registered voters. A 2003 referendum on political reform backed by Uribe failed to cross the threshold.
It’s unclear what happens if the referendum is defeated.
“Although the FARC has reiterated a commitment to peace in recent months and said it will not return to war even if the accord isn’t approved, the fear I’ve heard is that a strong “no” vote would leave those favoring a military solution with the upper hand,” according to Ginny Bouvier, senior advisory for peace processes at the U.S. Institute for Peace.
“It could also lead to a resurgence of violence in the countryside against social leaders and politicians who have led the charge for victims’ rights to restitution and reparations.”
Besides BACRIM, the smaller Marxist-Leninist rebel National Liberation Army still remains active thus even with the Cartagena signing total peace in Colombia will remain elusive.