The Battle of Weapons Ends as the Battle of Ideas Begins

The world’s longest continuous conflict, between the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (in Spanish – Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) (FARC) has come to an end. After more than five decades, and a trail of destruction that has left tens of thousands dead and millions displaced, both parties have agreed a groundbreaking peace deal.

Leading a breakaway communist group from the Liberal Party, Manuel "Sureshot" Marulanda (real name is Pedro Antonio Marin) founded Farc in 1964 and declared their stand against the government, aiming to ensure social justice throughout Colombia with the ideology of the Left. However, Farc has demonstrated deadly guerrilla tactics and attacks, murdering anyone who spoke out against them or attempted to subdue their activities, from the Colombian ruling elites and public figures to innocent civilians caught up in the violence. One question still remains unanswered - how did Farc rebels survive this long in battling the government? The answer is unfortunately a simple one;

“According to a US justice department indictment in 2006, Farc supplies more than 50% of the world’s cocaine and more than 60% of the cocaine entering the US.” (unric.org)

Now, both sides are compelled to declare that they are in a beneficial, win-win agreement. Both sides are now suturing their wounds with kind words and with the agreed compensations. This deal was made public after four tough years of secret negotiations presided over by Cuba, and has been met with strong criticism from opposition parties and the affected public. Both accuse the government of conceding too much in order to secure the disarmament and agreement, and failing to fully recognize the hard battles, tireless efforts and valuable accomplishments of the previous governments attempts to uproot the rebel force from Colombian soil. Whatever may be, the Colombian government owes appreciation and gratitude to the Cuban leadership for mediating and providing a path for this breakthrough. The agreed peace deal is to be ratified by the 2nd of October, after the Colombian public votes on the decision.

Criticism against the accord will continue to be strong for various reasons. First, history has taught us that in any conflict negotiations the rebel side and the government fail to fully trust each other. The Colombian - Farc peace deal is no exception. The skeptic’s views will be more vocal and accumulate more column inches, which in turn will be widely consumed and considered by the public, government figures and opposition parties. This will be exercised as a strategy by the main opposition leader Alvaro Uribe; the previous president of the government from 2002-2010. Uribe not only opposes the deal, but has asked Colombians to out rightly reject it, vehemently favouring an all-out war against Farc instead. Hopefully the deal can and will survive, with the Senate able to by-pass and overrule any public veto.

Second, reports from the Colombian media claims that President Juan Manuel Santos’ popularity is at an all time low. For Santos, the only hope in winning the next election cycle rests in the hands of a successful peace accord ratification. A humble reminder of election temperament and assurances is the sharp presentation Santos’ gave running for his term, in which he promised a peace deal would be brokered between Farc and the government under his administration. As public approval of Santos’ prior approach and methods for negotiations dwindled, the average Colombian voted for a future that would put an end to the 52 year violence, and constant fear for their own lives. In the eyes of a Colombian voter, a deal which would end the murder of innocent civilians and attacks against government forces meant Santos’ approach could be marketable.

In previous post negotiations, every deal has stalled within the actual implementation, mainly because of the level of commitments required by either side. To realise the full potential and beneficial outcomes of the deal, only high-ranking government officials and Farc members should communicate as one group, prohibiting second-level leaders access to the deliberations and eliminating the capability to air their doubts for public discussion. If a more inclusive yet private dialogue was to take place, this would not only be advantageous for the opposition parties in domestic politics, but sailing aboard one boat until the voting date would increase public trust over the deal. Moreover, the government should initiate policy measures in rural districts and these communities should be given priority for infrastructural development. This would create more local jobs for rural areas and people, and in turn help them fund their own health care and education.

Third, ‘converting words to action’ is the main issue in turning the deal into a reality. It has many complex issues, most of which have angered the opposition and large sections of rural societies . For example, one stipulation of the deal was in giving Farc rebels community service instead of jail sentences. This condition suggested by the government caused fury across the Colombian public. After decades of kidnapping and deadly attacks on civilians, Farc has earned hatred across the nation. So now, the government works meticulously with the rural communities to ensure victims receive justice and compensation, otherwise the polls would suffer on voting day.

Fourth, since more than a month until the public votes on the deal, – the government needs to actively move forward with its goal in reaching out to the public. During these times, the public need to be vigilant in regard to observing former rebels activities, and in turn Farc leadership needs to fervently tackle any wrong doing, misconduct or criminal behaviour perpetrated by their members. However, the big questions remain - how are rebel soldiers who previously profited and relied on the lucrative drug trade going to dismantle their illegal activity? And what measures are going to be taken to ensure the challenge of transitioning Farc members into a normal, legal working life is successfully undertaken, monitored and achieved? Though their brutalities are forgotten by the government through this accord, they not only require jobs from the Colombians, but forgiveness. If the general public fails to accept them back into civilian life, then the possibility exists that smaller guerrilla groups will welcome them. This is the responsibility of both the government and Farc to account for the 7000 rebel soldiers that will be forced to lay down their arms and reintegrate into Colombian society.

Fifth, after swallowing more than 220,000 people (BBC), the June 2016 ceasefire which has lead to the agreement (in August) has pledged the beginning of the end to this deadly, five decade conflict. Every Colombian has eagerly looked for peace for years. The war is over. Only you can debate about this deal. However, you cannot reject it on the October 2nd referendum. The rejection will case more damage to the people of Colombia. Márquez, the Farc’s top negotiator, said: “The battle with weapons ends and the battle of ideas begins” (The Guardian). The reply from the government side was: “It is the time to give peace a chance”.

No matter how complicated the agreement is, if there is a political will, then let us hope the best for Colombians.

Antony Clement

Antony Clement is currently a student of the International Relations program at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, UK

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