On September 23, the drug trafficking, money laundering, extorting criminal organization known as the FARC achieved something not in their grasp for their last forty plus years of insurgency. By an agreement reached between them and the Colombian government led by President Juan Manuel Santos, they will be given political legitimacy and the ability to run for office.
Negotiations are still ongoing and a final peace accord is not expected to be reached until March 2016, as there seems to be a number of problems to be resolved in the next six months.
The agreement establishes a justice mechanism to try the crimes that have been committed in the last half century that left more than 220,000 people dead and more than 7 million people negatively affected in one way or another.
These trials are supposed to apply not only to members of the FARC but also to Colombian security forces, paramilitary and even politicians and businessmen.
Those trials would focus on the most heinous crimes such as kidnappings, extrajudicial executions, forced displacement, torture, violence, rape and recruitment of minors.
Punishments for those found guilty may vary according to the attitude of the criminal. If the suspect acknowledges his responsibility early on he could spend between 5 to 8 years undergoing rehabilitation and re-socialization. This basically means performing some kind of community service while avoiding any prison time.
Those who acknowledge their responsibility late could spend between 5 and 8 years in jail. Those who refuse to cooperate or acknowledge any crime could spend up to 20 years in jail if they are found guilty.
These measures are supposed to be overseen by Colombian and some international judges.
Key issues such as disarmament of the guerillas and how such disarmament would take place has not been resolved yet. In addition, the Colombian government and the FARC have reaffirmed their commitment to take the following steps:
- To carry out an agrarian reform to solve the problem of land conflicts
- To secure political participation of the FARC in the democratic process
- To eliminate armed conflict, altogether
- To eradicate and substitute illegal crops (coca) and to fight against drug trafficking.
Despite, the jubilant reaction of President Santos to the agreement, as he expressed it in his speech at the United Nations General Assembly, the situation is well more complex.
First a final peace agreement must include the implementation of the disarmament of the FARC and also its cessation of drug trafficking activities. As easy as it sounds, weapons and drug money are two key instruments of FARC power since their legitimacy among the people is minimal. As the FARC enters the political process and people remember the dark period of FARC terror, its chances to win elections will be less than minimal. It is difficult to imagine FARC idealistic fanatics giving up their armed power and the wealth produced by the drugs.
Furthermore in both cases the FARC has support outside the borders of Colombia. The FARC is already involved in drug trafficking with Venezuela. Most of the cocaine that leaves the ports and airports of Venezuela involve the FARC. The FARC produces 70 percent of the total Colombian refined cocaine and controls the shipments of drugs out of Colombia.
Even if coca production is eradicated in Colombia, the FARC drug trafficking know- how remains in place. Venezuela or other elements could still make use of the FARC in trafficking operations and use its skills to help shipments and refinements of coca from Peru and Bolivia. In fact, the FARC has made a lot of money by taxing those who use certain routes for the trafficking of coca.
Furthermore, if FARC members wish to escape punishment based on the transitional justice accord, why would they confess their crimes and face justice? They could well use their criminal skills to help other drug trafficking operations in the region or continue to work with the still existing gangs with whom the FARC has worked with all these years. It is known that in the central and northern parts of the country the FARC has worked in partnership with criminal organizations.
These criminal organizations are not bound by the agreement so the FARC can continue to benefit from these partnerships.
In addition, Venezuela can also smuggle weapons to the FARC. Let us remember that the FARC received Russian weaponry from Venezuela.
In other words, the mechanism of monitoring and verification must be very comprehensive. Colombia may need a lot of international help, particularly from the United States.
Instead of congratulating Santos for this dubious deal, the U.S. should make sure that the loopholes are being properly addressed based on the problems described above.
As per the agreement on transitional justice, it is important to anticipate multiple conflicts and disagreements as the process moves forward. First, trials are likely to generate resistance on the part of the FARC, former Para-military and the military. The FARC is likely to try to establish moral equivalence between its crimes and the crimes of the military. In fact, the transitional justice agreement de-facto acknowledges moral and legal equivalence between the FARC and the military.
Without denying the fact that the military violated human rights, the institution is still seen by Colombians as a key body in fighting anarchy and chaos. Therefore, this moral equivalence does not only reflect surrender to the FARC’s demands but also gives a green light to the narco-terrorist organization to refuse any cooperation with the authorities unless the military is also punished. Thus, there is likely to be a conflict based on “you go first” and as a result the truth and reconciliation expected may go nowhere.
We are likely to see many FARC criminals resorting to all kinds of methods to prove their innocence. Threats to judges, to witnesses and other acts of intimidation and revenge including assassinations may take place. Should this type of atmosphere prevail, it is likely that no crime at all will be tried.
Colombia may want to give peace a chance but it is important to warn the people of Colombia and the U.S. government that these negotiations could become a big fiasco. Here we are not talking just about the collapse of an agreement. This will be the collapse of the rule of law and democracy as the old ghosts of the anarchical and dark 1980’s and 1990’s may resurface with a new civil war.
It is no wonder that Santos is seriously considering eliminating a promised referendum on the matter. He has been opposing a referendum since earlier this year and early in September he even called such referendum a “suicide”. It is likely, that Santos’ opposition to a referendum may be a condition imposed by the FARC because of fear that a public debate may negatively affect the results of the “deal”.
Santos is well aware of how the recent public debate in the U.S. on the Iran deal exposed its’ flaws. In addition, Santos requested the Colombian Congress to confer him powers to quickly implement these agreements. Why the rush? Because of the same reason: the more the issue is debated, the more these agreements will lose legitimacy and credibility. Thus, the agreements will be imposed on the Colombian people instead of allowing them their rightful participation.
This agreement gives a new boost to the FARC at a time when their commanders and fighters are in decline. It is important to remember that former President Alvaro Uribe reduced their ranks by half while also ultimately disarming the Para-militaries. He remains adamantly opposed to this deal.
While working towards a solution to a long running conflict is an admirable goal, a leader must consider the nature of whom they are dealing with. The FARC is a well- organized criminal organization that runs a successful drug trafficking operation that generates billions of dollars. What they have not been able to achieve in their almost half century of operation is participation in the political process. It is likely that after this agreement becomes law that the FARC will divide itself into a political wing financed by an ongoing drug trafficking wing.
Santos, whose “pacifist” attitude is also the result of the pressure from the left-wing regional governments, is now on the good side of Maduro, Castro and Rousseff but far, far away from the Colombian people.