De­spite No­bel, peace process in dan­ger

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS - By Alina Di­este

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

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