Q&A: Challenges ahead in Colombia peace process
The Colombian government and the leftist rebel group FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, signed a modified peace agreement that, if ratified by Congress, would put an end to more than 50 years of violence in the South American country.
Arthur Lupia, University of Michigan professor of political science and research professor at the Center for Political Studies, can discuss the agreement and its implications. As a technical adviser through the Inter-American Development Bank, he has traveled many times to Colombia and worked with its leaders on improving their fact-based communications.
Q: What are the main challenges the peace process will face once the agreement is approved by Congress?
Lupia: One challenge is managing expectations. A peace agreement doesn’t mean a complete end to violence. In Colombia, there are small factions of the FARC that are not in favor of the agreement and may continue to use violence in attempts to gain influence in outlying areas. The ELN, another armed group, has a similar decision to make. It is likely that some groups will attempt to take advantage of temporary power vacuums created by a new peace of agreement. So expectations will be important because acts of violence are likely to occur. People will then ask “What does peace mean, if we still have violence?” To manage expectations in ways that facilitate a more meaningful and lasting peace, the government may have to step up military activity against any such groups.
Q: What should the government of Colombia be mindful of?
Lupia: Colombia has some fiscal issues to manage. President (Juan Manuel) Santos did a lot of infrastructure building during the first five years of his term. This pursuit has improved quality of life for tens of thousands of people and has also helped his leverage in peace negotiations. Prior to Santos’ presidency, many people would join the FARC because they were desperate. Now, many long-suffering people have improved access to schools and roads and hospitals—so there is less reason for some of them to support an organization like the FARC. Colombia expanded these services at a time of higher oil prices. Now that oil prices have gone down, there are some revenue pressures. Many Colombians are very proud of their history of fiscal responsibility and in favor of the expanded public services, so they are likely to have to make a move on the revenue side.
Q: Former President Alvaro Uribe opposed the peace agreement. Will he support it if it goes through Congress?
Lupia: It is hard for me to say. I see several factors in his position on the new peace agreement. He has strong principles and argued against the initial agreement because it was inconsistent with some of his stated principles. There are also political calculations. My belief is that Alvaro Uribe would like to run for president again in 2018. If continuing to fight against the peace agreement helps with his national visibility and helps to motivate his supporters, then he will have an elevated incentive to oppose the agreement. Alternatively, he could argue that he is the reason for successful concessions in the second agreement and attempt to build a post-peace campaign.