Can Opposing Sides Reach Consensus on Colombia Peace Process?

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The FARC’s commander in chief and Colombia’s political opposition have staked out their positions on the renegotiation of a peace deal with the guerrilla group, but questions remain about whether or not the two sides are willing to make concessions on key points of disagreement.

On October 12, the top leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC), Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, alias “Timochenko,” suggested to Caracol Radio that his organization would not renegotiate any judicial benefits as part of ongoing attempts to salvage a peace process with his guerrilla movement.

The interview was the first Timochenko has given since a nationwide referendum on October 2 rejected an agreement between the FARC and the government after four years of grueling talks in Havana, Cuba. Following the vote, government representatives and opposition politicians entered discussions to address concerns with the original deal and reach a viable alternative.

When asked whether the FARC would be willing to reconsider the agreements reached in Havana regarding transitional justice and the rebels’ eventual participation in politics, the guerrilla leader said, “It would be a kneejerk reaction to relive a discussion that took us…one and a half years, which was one of the hardest discussions.”

On the same day as the Caracol interview, the main political party leading opposition to the signed peace deal, the Democratic Center (Centro Democrático), published a document with their proposals to modify elements of the process and form a “Grand National Pact.”

Many of the proposals made by the Democratic Center are similar to those included in the rejected agreement. For example, the document proposes that guerrillas responsible for human rights abuses who recognize their crimes would receive five to eight years of “effective deprivation of liberties” — a condition similar to the contents of the previous agreement — though the Democratic Center proposal specifies that this could include confinement in “agricultural farms.”

Those who are found guilty but refuse to admit to their crimes would be imprisoned for 15 to 20 years — conditions identical to those in the previous deal.

According to the original agreement, all guerrillas would be eligible to run for political office, regardless of crimes committed. The Democratic Center manifesto accepts the provisions of the previous deal that would have allowed the FARC to form a political party that would be guaranteed 10 seats in Congress for two four-year terms. But it also proposes a new condition: that guerrillas sentenced for crimes against humanity not be allowed to run for office.

Perhaps the most substantial difference between the Democratic Center proposal and the previous agreement centers around the issue of the transitional justice mechanism. The opposition proposal asks that the “Special Peace Jurisdiction” that was to assume transitional justice responsibilities be replaced by a transitional justice system within Colombia’s ordinary justice infrastructure. This would include “Peace Courts” within the Bogotá Superior Court and units within the Attorney General’s Office responsible for prosecuting conflict-related crimes.

The Democratic Center proposal also differs from the previous deal in another important aspect: Drug trafficking would be treated as an “autonomous crime that is not eligible for amnesty.”

The explicit exclusion of drug trafficking from the list of pardonable crimes could prevent many FARC members, including important commanders, from receiving amnesty. As InSight Crime has previously reported, this could have major implications for the willingness of FARC fighters to participate in the transitional justice process.

Regarding the previous agreement’s ban on extradition of FARC members, the Democratic Center document suggests that this provision require FARC members seeking protection from extradition to contribute to the truth and justice process, provide reparation to victims and to not repeat their crimes — a condition that also appears to be similar to the provisions of the rejected agreement.

The Democratic Center also proposes that agents of state security forces who have been prosecuted or are under investigation for conflict-related crimes should be given the “broadest benefits possible,” including reducing their sentences, granting them conditional freedom “as early as possible,” and allowing them to be confined in military or police garrisons.

InSight Crime Analysis

The peace process now depends on just how many compromises the FARC leadership and the political opposition are willing to make.

When talks with the FARC began four years ago, the guerrillas came to the table with some positions they described as non-negotiable: They would not hand over their weapons or go to prison, and they would be able to carry their movement over to the political sphere.

They eventually conceded on the issue of disarmament, but Timochenko is clearly still standing firm to reach an agreement that keeps FARC members out of prison. This may reassure the guerrilla rank and file, but it could lead to a political stalemate over what is arguably the most important element of the peace process.

However, it appears that opponents of the Havana deal may be willing to give some ground on the issue of jail time. Former President Andrés Pastrana — who also campaigned against the rejected agreement — has presented his own recommendations for renegotiation, which do not seek prison sentences for most FARC members. And the Democratic Center’s openness to confinement in “farms” as an alternative to jail cells may prove to be a form of “deprivation of liberties” that the FARC could be willing to accept.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of the FARC Peace Process

Similarly, there appears to be space for compromise on the issue of the FARC’s eventual political participation. The opposition has decried the idea of FARC members sitting in Congress as one of the most outrageous conditions of the previous peace deal, but the Democratic Center has again been somewhat lenient in this area.

Still, their proposal to ban human rights abusers from holding office would essentially rule out the entire FARC Secretariat and Central General Staff (Estado Mayor Central – EMC). The Attorney General’s Office has found both responsible for “war crimes” for establishing the recruitment of minors as an organization-wide policy. This could prove to be a red line for FARC leaders with future political ambitions.

While the opposing parties hammer out the future path of the peace process, there is a growing danger that with time, more FARC fighters will break away from the unstable deal. And there has been speculation that the leader of the Democratic Center, former President Álvaro Uribe, wants to draw out the re-negotiations until the next presidential elections in 2018, and use the situation as political fodder to boost his party’s chances of electoral success. This dynamic means that a great deal depends on the ability of the negotiators to quickly find common ground on these contentious issues.

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