Voters put Colombia at crossroads
President scrambles to rework peace deal
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