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No Peace Yet in Colombia Despite War’s End

War between the Marxist –oriented Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government ended on December 1. Colombia’s Congress that day finished endorsing the peace agreement that President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC top leader “Timochenko” signed on November 23. Voting in both chambers was unanimous, but only because Congressional opponents led by Senator Alvaro Uribe, Santos’ predecessor as president, walked out.

War lasting 52 years killed vast numbers of Colombians, 80 percent of them civilians, including rural community leaders and human rights activists. The negotiations, preliminary talks included, consumed five years. Uribe, representing Colombia’s landowning class, headed the campaign opposing the process. A final accord, signed and celebrated on August 29, went to a popular vote, a plebiscite, on October 2. Voters responding to Uribe’s well-funded campaign narrowly rejected it.

Opponents claimed the agreement didn’t help victims but did favor communists, LGBTI people, and impunity for guerrillas.  A Colombian economy in distress, they said, can ill afford money for implementing the peace deal.

The Santos government scrambled to recover.  Negotiators reconvened to consider dozens of proposals from the No side and did fashion a revised pact signed by the heads of both negotiating teams on November 12.

The revisions represent fine – tuning rather than fundamental change. The significant ones are:

+ The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), set up to identify and sanction combatants who committed crimes, does remain, but won’t be part of the Constitution and will go out of existence in ten years. Participating foreign judges serve only as advisers now.  Colombia’s Constitutional Court will review JEP rulings. Opposition forces called for existing state institutions rather than the JEP to decide the fate of former insurgents. Now the JEP is a “state institution,” but on “an ad hoc” basis.

+ Ex – guerrillas will submit “all information” related to narco-trafficking. FARC resources will be collected for use in paying for reparations. Some guerrillas whose involvement with narco-trafficking came about through “rebellion or political crimes” may be amnestied.

+ The revised agreement still allows former guerrilla leaders to participate in electoral politics, although state monetary support is diminished.

+ Protection for the “so-called ideology of gender” disappeared, although rights are supposedly guaranteed for all population groups including LGBTI people.

+ Land reform provisions are weaker now; the new agreement affirms the right to private property and sets up a committee of experts to review land-reform projects.

+ Provisions for punishing ex-FARC leaders ineligible for amnesty were vague; under the new agreement they will be confined to small “agricultural colonies.”

Three sets of peace negotiations over 30 years failed. Now with an agreement in force, war will end – but not completely: the government’s talks with the guerrillas of the National Liberation Army are stalemated, and a dissenting contingent of the FARC’s Northern Front, having rejected peace talks, is still fighting.

Tellingly, violence has engulfed the country once more. The “Patriotic March,” a coalition of 600 social and political organizations, issued a report November 22 saying that “72 defenders of human rights” have been murdered so far in 2016, 32 between August and November; 279 were threatened and 30 evaded attackers. Since September 11, 2011, 124 Patriotic March activists have been assassinated, 18 of them in 2016.

The report emphasizes that, “[P]aramilitary action … looms as the principal threat to the peace process.”  Basically, “genocide [is] being implemented through systematic actions directed at the extermination of our movement for political reasons.”

Aida Avella, president of the recently reconstituted Patriotic Union (UP) Party, agrees: “Intellectual authors [and] financiers” have mounted a plan against the Patriotic March. She indicates that genocide is not new; “paramilitary structures were never dismantled.”

Avella knows about genocide. Earlier peace talks failed in1984, but demobilized FARC guerrillas were allowed to enter regular politics. They were instrumental in forming the UP electoral coalition. Subsequently assassins killed 5000 UP members.  Avella herself left for exile in 1996 after a bazooka struck the taxi she was riding in.

The paramilitaries operate mainly in the countryside. Colombian Senator Ivan Cepeda claims their task is to block restoration of land to the displaced and to protect big economic interests. Ex-President Uribe, accused of links to paramilitaries, alleged that the rejected peace agreement would serve to “collectivize the countryside and destroy productive agriculture.”

Deaths squads attacked nine Patriotic March members between November 17 and November 20; five were killed and three escaped. All but one belonged to Patriotic March’s affiliate Fensuagro, Colombia’s largest agricultural workers union.

Reporting the attacks, the Tucson – based Alliance for Global Justice recalls that U.S. military advisors to Colombia’s government in 1962 advanced the idea of using paramilitaries to control the countryside. U. S. military aid under Plan Colombia (2002-2016) benefited paramilitary formations, directly and indirectly.

FARC members are now deploying to “zones of concentration” where they will be handing over arms to United Nations officers. But conservatives tied to Uribe are preparing to retake the presidency in 2018. Some army officers broke rules in order to advance Uribe’s crusade against the FARC, and maybe they’ll do so again.   Big agricultural interests, ranchers, narco-traffickers, and promoters of dams and mining projects seek to hold onto useful land.  And 9000 political prisoners are still languishing in Colombian jails. For a while at least, peace will be a stranger in Colombia.

Jorge Eliecer Gaitan’s words bear repeating. Two months before he was assassinated on April 9, 1948, the Liberal Party leader spoke before a vast crowd. He was responding to murderous attacks on land – hungry small farmers.

He implored President Mariano Ospina Perez:  “Sir, stop the violence. We want the defense of human life, that’s what a people can ask for. Instead of unleashing blind force, we should take advantage of the people’s capacity to work for the benefit of the progress of Colombia … [T]his silent crowd and this mute cry from our hearts just demands this of you: that you treat us, our mothers, our wives, our children and our property as you wish yourself, your mother, your wife, your children and your property to be treated!”

The Alliance for Global Justice on December 1 issued an “Open Letter to Fensuagro, the Marcha Patriótica and All the Colombian People.” The letter expresses condolences from 39 groups and 192 individuals and lists the names of victims.  To add your name or that of your group, send an Email to:  afgj@afgj.org

More articles by:

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a retired pediatrician and political journalist living in Maine.

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