Vot­ers put Colom­bia at cross­roads

Pres­i­dent scram­bles to re­work peace deal

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Nick Miroff

BOGOTA, Colom­bia — Colom­bia’s pres­i­dent tried Mon­day to keep alive an agree­ment to end Latin Amer­ica’s long­est-run­ning war af­ter a shock­ing re­jec­tion by vot­ers, but his op­po­nents made clear their price for join­ing the ef­fort will be steep.

Pres­i­dent Juan Manuel San­tos in­vited Colom­bia’s po­lit­i­cal par­ties to an emer­gency meet­ing Mon­day and asked them to form a big­tent coali­tion to re­work the deal and make it more ap­peal­ing to the vot­ers who spurned it in Sun­day’s ref­er­en­dum by a nar­row mar­gin.

San­tos told Colom­bians that a month-old bi­lat­eral cease-fire with the Revo­lu­tion­ary Armed Forces of Colom­bia would re­main in ef­fect. He or­dered his ne­go­ti­at­ing team to re­turn to Cuba, where the peace talks were held, to re­sume con- tacts with FARC lead­ers.

But de­spite San­tos’ res­cue at­tempts, the peace process was thrown into the lurch. For­mer Pres­i­dent and Sen. Al­varo Uribe, who led the cam­paign against the ac­cord, did not even at­tend the emer­gency meet­ing nor did the lead­ers of his party.

The path for­ward was fur­ther mud­dled by a state­ment Mon­day from FARC leader Ro­drigo Lon­dono — known as Ti­mochenko — claim­ing that the peace ac­cord is legally bind­ing be­cause it was signed by San­tos. But that was not the San­tos govern­ment’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion when it in­sisted on a voter ref­er­en­dum.

With the deal at risk of col­lapse, a half-cen­tury war that has killed more than 220,000 could eas­ily flare up again.

The pos­si­bil­ity of peace in Colom­bia — a key U.S. ally in South Amer­ica and the con­ti­nent’s third-largest econ­omy — now comes down to A sup­porter of Colom­bia’s ac­cord with FARC rebels joins a rally Mon­day in Bogota. two critical ques­tions. How much are the guer­ril­las will­ing to give up for a rewrit­ten ac­cord? And how badly do Colom­bia’s po­lar­ized po­lit­i­cal par­ties want to work to­gether to end the war?

It may be im­pos­si­ble to pro­duce a vi­able 2.0 ver­sion of the agree­ment un­less the San­tos govern­ment can get Uribe and his sup­port­ers be­hind it. Uribe’s party is­sued a state­ment say­ing it re­mained will­ing to dis­cuss the for­ma­tion of a “na­tional pact.” But Uribe, the son of a cat­tle rancher who was killed by the FARC, is the guer­ril­las’ long­time arch­en­emy.

He may of­fer a form of amnesty to the rank-and-file troops of FARC’s nearly 5,800 fight­ers, but he will al­most cer­tainly in­sist on a peace deal with far tougher terms for FARC com­man­ders, who have main­tained they are not will­ing to go to prison.

Ti­mochenko said Mon­day that the FARC re­mains com­mit­ted to end­ing the war. But he now faces a ma­jor test of lead­er­ship.

He and other com­man­ders could re­ject Uribe’s terms, and they would have few lo­gis­ti­cal ob­sta­cles to ramp­ing up the war again. The ma­jor­ity of their guer- rilla units re­main in their jun­gle hide­outs. They have their weapons and their tra­di­tional sources of rev­enue, with Colom­bia’s il­le­gal coca out­put boom­ing.

But a re­turn to com­bat may be a psy­cho­log­i­cal chal­lenge for rebel fight­ers, who have been pre­par­ing for the tran­si­tion to civil­ian life and reuniting with their fam­i­lies.

On the govern­ment side, the ques­tion is how much Uribe is will­ing to help fash­ion a new of­fer to the rebels. The op­po­si­tion leader may be in no mood to of­fer San­tos a po­lit­i­cal bailout, es­pe­cially since their par­ties be­gin to ma­neu­ver

FER­NANDO VER­GARA/AP

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