The Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have begun the peace process to end a fifty-year civil war in their country. Texas A&M University-Kingsville’s International Affairs Group met with lecturer Consuelo Donato-Molina, a native of Colombia and award winning advisor, to discuss the opportunities and obstacles of the current peace deal.
On Sept. 26, a peace treaty was signed between Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Rodrigo Londono, better known as Timochenko. The treaty was to end all armed conflicts in Colombia; fighting that had spanned the nation since 1964. “Since the 60s we have had a well-armed feud that has killed more than 200,000 people and has displaced more than 6 million people. These people have been displaced from rural areas to the seas, whenever you go to the country or the big seas it is really sad…,” said Donato-Molina.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia are an armed guerrilla movement which formed during the Cold War, often focusing on anti-imperialist ideologies. They implement tactics such as guerrilla warfare, kidnapping, drug dealing, and general acts of terrorism to spread their message and agenda. During their strongest days they had about 13,800 active members, in the last few years due to mass incarcerations and deadly conflicts, the group has dropped down to less than 7,000 fighters, leading them to the negotiating table.
A week after the treaty signing, president Santos held a referendum vote for the people, asking ‘Do you support the accord that puts an end to armed conflict and constructs a stable and durable nation?’ Of the 13 million voters, 50.2% voted against the deal. With a population of around 47 million, roughly 38% of the population ended up voting, the rest choosing to abstain. In the end the vote was split by a difference of a mere 54,000 votes.
The actual peace process came about after four years of negotiating in Havana, Cuba, far away from the war-ridden jungles. Donato-Molina acknowledged, “One problem with that agreement was that the president was very confident that everybody would like to have the peace, that we would vote positive for the peace. The agreement was not socialized; people really don’t know what the agreement said.” After some time, the opposition found some problems with the deal. For instance, the deal guaranteed the FARC 10 seats in the Colombian Congress, giving them an unfair advantage, while also rewarding criminal behavior.
After the negative outcome of the referendum vote, Santos and FARC leaders renegotiated the peace deal in Cuba. On Nov. 13, a new deal was reached and released to the public, the new agreement held over 100 different changes to the original document. Changes included: guerrilla fighters whom confessed to their crimes and made reparations to their victims would only receive 5 to 8 years of “effective restriction of freedom,” the FARC would have to provide “detailed and exhaustive” reports about its former drug activity as well as a full inventory of current assets, and while FARC leaders can run for office, they no longer were guaranteed seats in Congress.
Colombia still has a lot to do politically when it comes to the deal. The Supreme Court and Congress must both approve the agreement. Opponents of the agreement also call for a second plebiscite concerning the new agreement, the government has yet to decide if they will have a second vote. Currently, both the government and the FARC are adamant about implementing the accord as soon as possible. Finally comes the reconstruction of the rural areas of the country, some of the more damaged areas. The agreement envisions a regionally based land fund to dole out property to the land-poor, the development of rural infrastructure, and greater subsidies to small farmers, a plan which will take years to put into action.
This luncheon was the last lecture the IAG will hold for the year and seemingly had a great effect on some of the students who attended. Jeffrey Tuck, a member of the department of mathematics and geology, stated, “I had a personal interest in the peace process of Colombia because I recently saw that this vote had negated the deal. [The meeting] was really informative and I was happy to have been here.”