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Published On: Sat, Dec 2nd, 2017

After one year, half of Colombia’s peace agreement is still stuck in Congress

nsnbc : The UN Security Council praised the peace process in Colombia and encouraged all parties to continue implementing the peace agreement. One year after it was signed, half of the peace agreement is still stuck in Congress, and the execution of key elements for victims has become uncertain and could be put on hold until the second half of 2018.

paz_peace_colombia_farc_nov-2016Colombia’s Congress continues to throw a spanner into the wheels of the peace process between the State and the demobilized and disarmed FARC-EP which has reconstituted itself as legal political party using the acronym FARC. The execution of key provisions of the peace accord has become increasingly uncertain. President Juan Manuel Santos rushed to confirm the ratification of reserved congressional seats for conflict areas just before the end of a transitional period in which Congress cold fast-track legislation.

Lack of congressional debate, opposition against provisions under the peace accord, unwillingness to be railroaded into fast-tracking legislation, posturing before next year’s elections, disagreement about congressional rules, the coming Christmas recess and other “issues” have virtually put further progress with the implementation of many of the provisions of the peace accord on hold until the second half of 2018.

President Santos argued that a 50-vote approval was an electoral majority because thee senators are in prison. Their seats, so Santos, are “formally vacant”, leaving 99 of 102 Senators. Congressional rules stipulate that parties are not allowed to replace imprisoned or suspended senators. The rule was put in place after dozens of senators were imprisoned for ties to illegal armed groups. The rule seeks to punish parties for failing to vet congressional candidates for corruption, such as implied by links to illegal paramilitaries and other illegal armed groups.

FARC now a political party

FARC now a political party

Controversially,  Senate President Efrain Cepeda had earlier sunk the bill for failing to obtain the normal 52 votes, leaving its legal status to the Constitutional Court. Conservative and extreme right-wing parties opposed the bill, claiming it could open door to Congress to crime groups or the FARC, that is the FARC’s new political party. The opposition stresses among others that the 16 regions that would receive extra representation have long been neglected by the State and continue to struggle with drug-fueled violence.

Unless approved now, this key element of the peace process could not take effect until the 2022 elections. Senate President Cepeda wrote he would “investigate the government’s interpretation of legislative law”. Cepada has, in other words, grabbed the ball and could keep it in his corner in an attempt to block the administration.

With half of the peace accord still stuck in Congress and elections in the pipeline, a stalemate between the outgoing administration and Congress – with its reputation of being Colombia’s most corrupt institution – could pose a serious threat to the implementation, and maybe the viability of the peace accord.

Congress has flat-out rejected the political reform as stipulated in the peace agreement. On Wednesday, November 29, 2017, Congress approved the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), but with a highly controversial article that would disqualify elected judges. The court had already ruled only armed, not political actors could be called before the transitional court.

Several items are under revision by the Constitutional Court, including the FARC’s political participation, which is a key element and vital for the peace process, the opposition statute, the amnesty law, the FARC’s transitional representation in Congress, the ban of paramilitary groups, royalty reform to finance the peace process. As already mentioned above, there is also uncertainty about the disputed congressional seats for neglected regions.

To make matters worse, many other key provisions of the peace accord haven’t even yet been debated. These include rural reform, land reform, State-owned land for displaced victims, a strategy to dismantle paramilitary groups, the decriminalization of small coca growers, the national development plan, and not to forget, electoral reform. Other key provisions of the peace accord haven’t even yet been presented to Congress; These include, rural justice, the right to protest, a reform of the victims law. There’s a total of ten bills that yet have to appear on the congressional agenda and about three months before elections, fears are congressmen will prioritize political campaigns rather than pending legislation.

Colombia’s very volatile “peace” could, despite all praise from the UN Security Council, be stuck in Congress well into August of 2018, after a new president and members of Congress take office. Fears are also, that the pending bills are not merely stuck but about to be sunk. The FARC has secured its transition to a legally formed political party; However, the question if Colombia can sustain the volatile peace that has ended more than 52 years of armed conflict between the FARC-EP and the State if key provisions of the peace accord are being shot down in Congress remains to be seen. The potential for a return to all-out war exists and considering experience with the previous and failed peace process that resulted in mass murders of leftists and the FARC-EP’s return to armed struggle is likely to persist well into the future.

A/N & CH/L – nsnbc 02.12.2017

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