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COLOMBIA
The FARC prepares to leave behind the armed struggle
Sandra López
7/20/2016
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The government promotes a plebiscite to make it possible to formalize, legitimize and incorporate to existing norms what is agreed to in Havana.

On July 5, the top commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Rodrigo Londoño, announced that he had ordered to suspend extortion collection and recruitment of men and women to join the ranks of the guerrilla group. This represents a big step towards the signing of a final peace agreement between the FARC and the government of Colombia.

Two weeks earlier, Londoño — also known as Timoleón Jiménez or Timochenko — and President Juan Manuel Santos had signed the pact to prepare the end of the armed conflict, which includes a bilateral and definitive cease-fire, surrendering of arms by the guerrillas, safety guarantees and an endorsement mechanism for the peace agreements.

The possibility of bringing the war to an immediate end shifted expectation to the preparations for the dismantling of the 52 years of armed conflict, as well as to the implementation of the agreements and to what will post-conflict Colombia be.

The FARC are preparing to abandon violence, the armed struggle and the financing through criminal activities. They are also getting ready for their reintegration into civilian life and a possible involvement in national politics. The situation is not simple for the government of President Santos. Added to the wear caused by sustaining half a century of war are the calamities, especially in rural areas of the country, the neglect by the state and corruption leaves.

The government has since a few months back been taking the first steps for the implementation of agreements regarding political participation, a solution to the problem of illicit drugs, reparation for the victims of the conflict, and agricultural development policies.

“This is a moment of historic opportunity for the government to address and refocus its efforts and policies to tackle the real problems that for years have accumulated and grown in the country, such as poverty, inequality, low levels of education, bad health coverage, corruption, and backwardness in infrastructure,” said Colombian political scientist Daniel Waked to Latinamerica Press.

The plebiscite
And while there are many tasks yet to fulfill, the one which is present foremost in the thoughts of Colombians is the plebiscite, which was promised by President Santos, and is something that has channeled the strong polarization originated by the peace talks, more than any other project.

Although lawyers, the opposition and FARC itself have tried to prevent it from taking place, the plebiscite was endorsed by the Constitutional Court as the mechanism to formalize, legitimize and incorporate to existing norms what is agreed to in Havana.

On July 18, the Court approved unanimously the threshold of 13 percent of the electorate for the plebiscite to be valid, meaning that 4.4 million Colombians would need to vote YES in an election that is not mandatory. Also the participation of public employees in the YES or NO campaigns would be regulated and the result of the vote would be binding for the President, but not for other public authorities.

At the same time, the campaigns for the plebiscite and against it have already gotten underway. The main opposition party to the agreements, the Democratic Center led by former President Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010), declared itself to be in what they call “civil resistance” and have started collecting signatures all over the country to support measures presented to international organizations seeking to prevent that the agreements reached by the government and the FARC gain validity.

Santos has asked ministers, governors, mayors and authorities in general to work actively for the plebiscite. Also, in every public speech the president keeps making the point that with peace, the country will grow economically by more than 3 percent, the gross domestic product will increase between 1 percent and 2 percent and there will be benefits in job creation, increased tourism and foreign investment, productivity in the countryside and public safety.

Talks with the ELN
Another issue that causes uncertainty is what will happen to the National Liberation Army (ELN). Considered the second largest guerrilla group in the country, this group began exploratory talks in April 2014 seeking to work on a peace process similar to that of the FARC. However, its refusal to stop the kidnappings and to release the people they have kept captive, has led to a bog down in these developments.

In addition, the murder in the last few weeks of at least eight members of the Police and the Armed Forces, as well as the upsurge of attacks and armed activities makes it clear that the possibility that the ELN turn over their weapons, is very slim.

Last April, after the government and the FARC agreed to the rules for the ceasefire, the ELN called on President Santos to also agree to a ceasefire with their group. In their Twitter account they wrote that: “The delay of the process with the ELN, the time lag between the two processes, has been a maneuver by the government. Not our doing.” They added that “the intention of the government is to divide the insurgencies, and at the same time to isolate and pressure the ELN with what has been agreed to in Havana.”

“The fact that the ELN continue in arms [after the signing of a peace agreement with the FARC] does not mean to continue a war as the one being waged with the FARC,” said Waked. “They [the ELN] are little more than 1,700 combatants who do not make up an army with any military weight. What could happen is that after the FARC is demobilized, they [the ELN] will become the priority of the authorities and will be neutralized.”

Meanwhile, the expectation remains latent. The Gallup poll in early July revealed that 60 percent of Colombians believe that the peace agreement will be signed this year, compared to 37 percent who think otherwise. The Ipsos survey “Colombia Opina”, also taken on the same dates, determined that 84 percent of respondents agree that peace should be subjected to a popular referendum. It also reveals that 49 percent of the population believes that this is an agreement that benefits the country, but 35 percent believe that the true winners are the FARC.

The preparations for the postconflict are also underway. In an early action to one of the focal points of illicit drugs, some 500 farmers from 10 villages in the municipality of Briceño, in the northwestern department of Antioquia, pledged in early July to eradicate coca crops and start replacing these crops. The clearing of mines began in the same municipality in May, with the participation of members of the FARC.

Journalist María Jimena Duzán highlights in her column in the magazine Semana regarding a visit to a FARC camp that “the guerrilla have been encouraged to settle in their hiding places, they have now plants and household goods as if they knew that the time to rush out at the noise of a plane is now over.” - Latinamerica Press.


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Implementation is ongoing on the joint effort by the government and FARC for the voluntary replacement of illicit crops in Antioquia. / Oficina del Alto Comisionado para la Paz
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