Despite Nobel, peace process in danger
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’s Nobel Peace Prize gives the country’s troubled peace process a major boost, but saving a deal voters recently rejected still won’t be easy, analysts say. The prize closed out a roller-coaster week for Santos, who suffered a major defeat Sunday when Colombians narrowly voted against his signature achievement as president, a peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
Santos, who has staked his legacy on ending the country’s half-century conflict, has sought to battle back by opening talks with the deal’s top opponent, his predecessor and former boss, Alvaro Uribe. He simultaneously sent his negotiators back to Havana, where the peace talks were held, to see whether the FARC would be open to revising the deal. He scored a small victory in the wake of the Nobel announcement, when government and FARC negotiators said they had agreed to discuss changes to the deal and continue a bilateral ceasefire.
But Santos will still have to pull off a difficult balancing act. “The government is looking for a way out on two fronts: With the opposition and with the FARC,” said political scientist Marc Chernick, a Latin America specialist at Georgetown University in Washington. The Nobel “will strengthen Santos,” he said. But it might not make much difference, he added. “There isn’t much room for maneuver to change the accord that was already reached.” “If they manage to make any amendment, it will be cosmetic,” he said. “And time is running out to save it. It won’t be easy.”
The Colombian conflict has killed more than 260,000 people and left 45,000 missing, drawing in several leftist rebel groups, right-wing paramilitaries and drug gangs. The FARC, a Marxist guerrilla army launched in 1964, is the oldest and largest rebel group. It was to relaunch as a political party under the peace deal. But Uribe, the rightwing hardliner leading opposition to the deal, claims the rejected agreement would have given the rebels impunity for their crimes and put Colombia on the path of “CastroChavismo” - a reference to the far-left governments of Cuba and Venezuela.
Santos has warned the country is in a “very dangerous limbo” as it scrambles to salvage the peace process. In the referendum’s aftermath, he had said the army would halt its ceasefire with the FARC at the end of the month if the impasse were not settled. Although both sides have since vowed to continue the ceasefire indefinitely, they are locked in a risky game, political analyst Laura Gil said. Santos may still pull out of the ceasefire “if there is no clear and definite roadmap by Oct 31” in order to pressure the peace deal’s opponents, she said. “The opposition is panicking because they know the first person to die will come crashing down on their heads.”
The ceasefire is currently worth little more than the paper it’s printed on - which is to say not much - said Jorge Restrepo, head of the Conflict Analysis Resource Center in Bogota. Now that the peace deal that established the ceasefire has failed, “it means the conflict starts again,” he said.
The FARC, which had begun grouping its nearly 6,000 fighters together for a UN-monitored disarmament process, has now ordered its fighters back to their hideouts in the Colombian jungle and mountains. “It’s a logical military decision. The implementation of the deal has been frozen,” said retired army colonel Carlos Alfonso Velasquez, a specialist in the Colombian conflict at the University of La Sabana, outside Bogota. The FARC, he said, has grown “moderately mistrustful”. That could deepen what has in recent years been a low-intensity conflict, he added. “This has been a conflict with only tenuous characteristics of a civil war,” he said. “But if (the impasse) isn’t resolved, it could now reactivate as a full civil war.” — AFP