A ruling by Colombia's Constitutional Court has created an opportunity for opponents of the country's peace process with the FARC to sabotage the implementation of the accords, potentially fueling dissent among the guerrilla ranks as well as violence and uncertainty in the underworld.
On May 17, the court declared unconstitutional two aspects of the legal framework established for implementing the peace agreement struck last year between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC).
Firstly, the court struck down the clause stipulating Congress could only vote to approve or deny blocks of laws and reforms related to implementing the peace process rather than debating and voting on each point individually.
Secondly, it overturned the clause establishing that modifications to peace legislation can only be made with adjustments to the agreement itself and with the approval of the government.
Both clauses were central elements to the framework established by the government to allow it to fast-track peace process legislation through Congress and begin implementing the accords. However, five out of the eight judges ruled that the two clauses equated to replacing the constitution by altering the deliberative and decision making powers of congress, reported La Silla Vacía.
Constitutional Court President Luis Guillermo Guerrero said the ruling was not intended to hinder implementation of the accords, but rather to "open up spaces for democratic deliberation," reported El Colombiano.
The decision was welcomed by opponents of the peace process, most notably the Democratic Center (Centro Democratico) political party of ex-President Álvaro Uribe, which had pushed for the legal review.
The court recognized that fast-track "usurped the functions of the legislature and arbitrarily handed them over to the Santos government and the FARC," Centro Democratico Senator Samuel Hoyos told Semana, referring to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.
However, supporters of the peace process and the FARC themselves are alarmed at the far-reaching implications of the ruling, which they say could undermine the integrity of the peace process.
"The decision has put the peace process in the most difficult situation it has lived through since it began," said a statement released by the guerrillas' leadership.
"The court's decision doesn't help the implementation of the accord, it opens the door to return to war," he wrote.
InSight Crime Analysis
Hidden among the dry legalese, legislative processes and legal procedures in the Constitutional Court's ruling is a decision that has the potential to sabotage Colombia's peace process and provoke violence, insecurity and underworld chaos.
The ruling has left the peace accords vulnerable to attack from two sides.
Firstly, the political bloc led by Uribe now has the capacity to paralyze peace legislation in Congress, bogging it down in endless debates, modification demands and votes, even as the FARC demobilization process continues.
With presidential elections coming in May 2018, this will allow Uribe and the Democratic Center to undermine the implementation of the accords for their own political gain in the run-up to the campaign. Stringing out the process also means much of it may remain unresolved and unimplemented by the time a new government takes office, allowing them to more easily unravel the peace agreement if they win the presidency.
The accords are now also vulnerable to further erosion through Constitutional Court rulings. The court is set to rule soon on the constitutionality of peace laws already passed, including the critical amnesty law that establishes the legal status for demobilized guerrillas and the law that establishes the special justice system to be set up to judge war crimes.
This strengthening of Uribe and the Democratic Center's hand, and the potential errosion of the integrity of the agreement struck with FARC negotiators, sends a powerful message to both guerrilla fighters and the FARC leadership that the peace process could be at risk of political sabotage.
Many demobilizing fighters already have tenuous faith in the promises the government made in the agreement and are anxious about their futures. If they feel that even the most minimum guarantee offered by the government -- their legal status -- is at risk, then dissention rates could soar, and many ex-fighters could join other guerrilla insurgencies, criminalized paramilitary groups or form their own underworld networks.
For the FARC commanders, meanwhile, the now-enhanced possibility of Uribe and his allies weakening or even taking power and unraveling the peace agreement creates an incentive to invest more in whatever insurance policy they may have against the collapse of the process -- a policy that likely involves arms.
There remain numerous political and legal battles to be fought in the year ahead that will play a huge role in determining the future of Colombia's peace agreement. But this week's Constitutional Court ruling could come to be seen as a milestone in the peace process, as it has created an opportunity to gravely undermine the integrity of the agreement and, as a result, the disarmament and demobilization of the FARC.