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Q&A: What’s next for Colombia peace deal?

October 5, 2016
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Colombians just rejected a peace agreement with FARC. (Photo Credit: istockphoto)

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced an extension of the cease fire with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) after a peace agreement was rejected by a narrow vote. The agreement would have put an end to a conflict that has lasted more than a half century, claiming more than 220,000 lives and displacing millions. Leading the opposition was Santos’ predecessor, Álvaro Uribe, who is expected to run for the presidency again.

Yazier Henry, a lecturer at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, says it’s important to contextualize the vote within the larger parameters of the negotiations; the complexities of the conflict; and that there are large sections of population who are tired of the conflict.

Q: What do you think of the cease fire extension announced by President Santos ?

A: The decision to extend the ceasefire in place since August 29th is an important step in demonstrating commitment to the settlement with FARC and the peace accords. For all intents and purposes any plans which were to follow the vote are now on hold. It is important to take time to think through the broader ramifications of the peace process. This is not a time for acting rashly and calls for calm and mature leadership – not always guaranteed.


Q: Has the political power shifted because of the election?

A: The political environment in which the negotiations and the accords took place is a very different one from today.

Despite each party publicly stating they are interested in peace, what they mean by peace remains to be seen. The political, economic and social stakes are extremely high. A formal renewal -even if not actual- of hostilities right now will only serve those groups and leaders interested in defeating the accords. It is in the interest of broader peace process as well President Santos to gain as much time as possible in the short term to negotiate, mediate and manage this current period. It is important to see the announcement only as stop gap, so a path out of this quagmire may be sought and negotiated.


Q: What’s next for Colombia’s Peace Process?

A: The first and most important step would be to ensure that there is not an immediate resumption of hostilities. The state must ensure that the FARC has alternatives, and at the same time there remains a path towards addressing the broader political concerns raised by this vote.

Also, it’s important to:

  • Not see this vote as complete loss of confidence in the peace process.
  • Find a way to maintain the ceasefire agreements and not allow for a slide back into open conflict.
  • Ensure the talks continue and find a way to include the ‘center right’ leaders and groups in the next stages of the talks.
  • Get a commitment from leaders such as Uribe to commit to the larger goals of the peace process.
  • Do not start the talks, negotiations and peace process from scratch.
  • Renegotiate the amnesty procedures, if need be.
  • Focus any new process on the core areas of disagreement.
  • Maintain the international support for the peace process.


Q: Is it possible to repeat the vote and is it advisable?  

A: No, I don’t think it would be advisable to repeat the vote just yet. I don’t think it is procedurally possible to repeat it even if the presidency wanted to. But it’s important to note that this was not a ‘complete’ popular rejection of the peace accords by the entire electorate. There remains wide popular support for the peace process. This procedural loss, however, will be seen and felt as a huge setback—creating major challenges for the Santos government in the longer term.


Q: What are Santos’ main challenges now?

A: The question of whether or not Santos’ presidency has time to address the core questions and concerns driving the ‘no’ vote movement, before he leaves office, has to be asked. The feelings associated with the campaign will run high and he will have to hold the social and political tensions it may bring to the fore.

In this sense, it is a huge victory for former President Uribe, and those forces opposed to the accords. Still, President Santos has the choice to work toward reopening the talks in the coming months and find ways to engage the opposition.

There often are ‘spoilers’ in such processes, individual leaders and groups who are not interested in doing the hard work and making the hard decisions peace may sometimes require in the contexts of long drawn out conflicts, such as the one in Colombia. The question for those who opposed the accords will be whether it is elements in the accords they oppose, and which they have now procedurally rejected, or whether it is the actual peace process itself that they reject. Central to this question is the idea of reconciling with the FARC so as to bring an end to this conflict.

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