Colombian presidential candidate Ivan Duque greets supporters at the Berrio Park in Medellin, Colombia, June 6, 2018. REUTERS/Fredy Builes

Risky Business: The Duque Government’s Approach to Peace in Colombia

Colombia’s president-elect campaigned on a pledge to “modify” the 2016 peace with the FARC guerrillas, despite its goal of reducing the rural inequality underlying that insurgency. The new government should steer clear of hardline policies that alienate the countryside and hinder the ex-guerrilla's path to civilian life.

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What’s new? Iván Duque, from the Democratic Centre party, won Colombia’s presidential election and assumes office on 7 August 2018. His party and his political mentor, former President Álvaro Uribe, campaigned against the 2016 peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla. Duque promises to “modify” it once in power.

Why does it matter? Colombia’s transition from war to peace is threatened by the spread of armed groups, illicit economies, troubled borders and flaws in the FARC deal’s implementation. Duque’s presumptive policies on former guerrilla reintegration, transitional justice, rural reform, illegal crop substitution and security challenges foster further uncertainty.

What should be done? Once in office, President Duque should resist calls by allies to undercut the peace deal, especially provisions aimed at reversing rural inequality and underdevelopment. Civil society, the opposition, the deal’s foreign backers and the FARC itself should impress upon Duque the benefits of the accord for Colombia’s security and economy.

Executive Summary

Colombian President-elect Iván Duque hails from a political party, the Democratic Centre, that spearheaded a fierce campaign against the hard-won 2016 peace agreement with the guerrilla Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Duque and his party promise to “modify” the accord. Precisely how they will do so remains unclear, given that aspects of the deal are enshrined in law or enjoy considerable support, particularly in rural areas hard hit by half a century of conflict. The FARC agreement may not be perfect, but it has ended Colombia’s decades-long battle against its largest guerrilla movement and offers the best path to peace in rural areas. If the government obstructs rollout of the deal or starves the responsible bodies of funds, it could spark renewed violence, hinder the extension of state authority and legal economic activity to long-neglected peripheries, fuel the growth of illicit armed groups and, over time, impede the sustainable reduction of drug production.

After a polarising election season, Iván Duque won a presidential run-off by 54 per cent to 42 per cent for a left-wing candidate, Gustavo Petro (the remaining 4 per cent were blank votes). After his victory, Duque stressed the need to bridge the country’s conspicuous social and ideological divides, but the result has stirred considerable anxiety over the future of the FARC peace agreement. Duque’s right-wing party is led by former President Álvaro Uribe, who led a vociferous No campaign against the agreement in an October 2016 referendum, in which the Colombian public rejected the deal by a wafer-thin margin. Though the accord was later adjusted and approved by Congress, Duque and his party have promised to amend it once in office.

Duque’s supporters and party insist that they will correct flaws in the deal.

Interpretations of what this pledge means for the agreement diverge starkly. Duque’s supporters and party insist that they will correct flaws in the deal, notably the “impunity” it allegedly offers FARC members and the subsequent proliferation of armed groups and boom in coca cultivation. Duque’s comfortable majority in Congress, where some of the legislation needed to carry out the peace accord is still pending, puts him in a strong position to steer the deal’s fate in a direction he and his supporters prefer.

On the other hand, Duque’s critics, many of them from the Colombian left, fear the demolition of the agreement, arguing that the new president – under his political godfather Uribe’s aegis – has no interest in preserving it and would rather lead the country back to war. But this prognosis underestimates the many incentives for the government to persevere with the agreement’s main tenets, notably the rising public support and strong international backing it enjoys. It also exaggerates Duque’s ability to scrap the accord, given that parts of it have been enshrined into Colombian law.

The incoming administration appears more likely to offer conditional backing to a few, specific aspects of the accord, while withholding political and financial support from newly created agencies charged with rolling out key reforms. Though the transitional justice system for crimes committed during the war has been approved by Congress and begun to operate, the Duque government could invigorate probes into crimes allegedly committed by former combatants after the 2016 accord and try to give ordinary courts, rather than the special mechanism in the peace deal, a greater role. It could try to reorient the plans FARC leaders agreed to regarding the reintegration of their fighters, moving away from former guerrillas’ preferred model for their transition to civilian life. It might take steps to curtail the political representation of FARC leaders, though such steps would likely run into protracted legal challenges.

Perhaps most perilously, the new government might be tempted to repeal the rural reforms outlined in the peace deal, which appear to contradict its predilections about the Colombian countryside. The accord promises support for small farmers and landless labourers who were long the main victims of conflict; Duque may instead pursue policies friendlier to agri-business. Rural Colombians would likely regard such a reorientation as confirmation that the state is callous. Together with the military campaign, Duque has pledged to tackle burgeoning coca cultivation and expansion of armed groups, but the reversal of rural reforms could further alienate small farmers and labourers and nudge them into the armed groups’ embrace.

That said, Duque could be constrained by both Colombia’s domestic politics and its international relations. The strong performance of Petro, a staunch supporter of the peace deal who qualified for the run-off, together with an aggregated vote total of over 51 per cent in the first round for candidates who firmly backed the deal, suggests that public backing for the agreement has strengthened. Duque’s expected closeness to the U.S. might harden his stance on aspects of the peace deal related to the voluntary substitution of coca crops. His party’s abhorrence of the Venezuelan government will count against it continuing talks with another guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), which has entered negotiations with the current Colombian government but uses Venezuela as a safe haven with the acquiescence of authorities in Caracas. Still, strong backing for the peace agreement from the UN Security Council, the European Union and other Latin American states, the presence of a UN mission in the country, and a civil society dedicated to saving the accord could all act as a brake on any effort to ditch it.

Despite his party’s tough stand, President Duque should resist calls from his allies to take a hardline approach toward the deal. His government should:

  • Continue to work alongside the FARC’s leadership in the National Reincorporation Council, the body responsible for developing plans to reintegrate former guerrillas and, ideally, permit ex-FARC cadres their preferred reintegration model of collective, cooperative businesses rather than individual schemes;
  • Leave intact and properly fund agencies responsible for carrying out the peace deal’s provisions on rural development, notably the National Agency for Land and the Agency for Territorial Renewal;
  • Honour without exception the agreements signed by rural communities to substitute coca for other crops;
  • Continue to promote laws and efforts to demobilise illegal armed groups, including transitional justice mechanisms that respect victims’ rights; and
  • Tone down the preconditions it currently threatens to impose for the continuation of negotiations aimed at ending the conflict with the National Liberation Army (ELN).

Supporters of the peace deal, notably the FARC itself, Colombian civil society and the political opposition, should keep open lines of communication to Duque and do everything within their power to persuade him and his party of the agreement’s merits. They should stress the clear business and security benefits the deal can bring to Colombia’s countryside, while pointing to the real danger of a regional, cross-border escalation of violence and the further growth of drug trafficking and other armed groups should it – and the ELN talks – collapse. For their part, FARC leaders, especially those who will take seats in Congress, can help protect the transitional justice system by actively participating, telling the truth and apologising for their crimes.

The FARC peace deal may not answer all of Colombia’s security challenges. But the deal still provides a clear opportunity to address the inequality and underdevelopment in rural areas that underpin much of Colombia’s violence. Attempting to derail the deal or adopting policies that impede its aspirations, on the other hand, would likely herald greater instability, hinder the return of state authority to Colombia’s peripheries and, over time, fuel violence and drug trafficking. President Duque should avoid taking the country down that path.

Bogotá/Brussels, 21 June 2018

I. Introduction

With 54 per cent of the vote, President-elect Iván Duque comes to office after a polarising election. The 2016 peace deal that the government of his predecessor, Juan Manuel Santos, signed with the guerrilla Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), emerged as the main bone of contention between the two camps that made it to the second round of polling. Duque’s party, the Democratic Centre, has led opposition to that deal over recent years. Party leader Álvaro Uribe, who sees Duque as a protégé, is its most prominent critic.[fn]Fernando Londoño, then Democratic Centre “honorary director”, said in 2017 that the party should tear up the agreement. Though Londoño’s is not the official party position, many on the left believe it more likely than the modifications proposed by Duque. “‘Hacer trizas’ el acuerdo con las FARC: ¿es posible?”, Semana, 8 May 2017. The former chief government negotiator in the FARC peace process and presidential candidate for the Liberal Party, Humberto de la Calle, called on Duque to explain to victims how he would “tear up” the peace agreement. Humberto de la Calle, “Se están tirando la paz”, 29 April 2018. In early June, Petro’s vice presidential running mate stated that, in the second round, Colombia had to choose between “war and peace”. “Colombia debe elegir entre paz o guerra, afirma Ángela María Robledo”, El Mundo, 4 May 2018.Hide Footnote Moreover, though the peace agreement ended over 50 years of conflict with the FARC and enjoys considerable support from Colombian civil society and many Western and Latin American governments, a large number of Colombians regard the deal, above all its provisions on the guerrilla leaders’ political participation and transitional justice, with scepticism.[fn]For a discussion of the plebiscite, which saw peace deal opponents win by less than 0.5 per cent, and how its aftermath affected the agreement’s political legitimacy, see Crisis Group Latin America Report Nº60, In the Shadow of “No”: Peace after Colombia’s Plebiscite, 31 January 2017.Hide Footnote Understandably, supporters of the deal fear for its survival.

While Duque has declared that quashing the entire peace agreement is off the table, he and his party have pledged to “modify” it.[fn]Duque uses the word “modifications” to refer to his position on the peace agreement. See “‘No acabaré con los acuerdos, pero sí haré modificaciones’: Duque”, El Tiempo, 3 June 2018.Hide Footnote But even obstructing aspects of it or adopting policies that flout its spirit could entail high political costs and in some cases lengthy legal battles.[fn]Crisis Group interview, former government negotiator in FARC peace process, Bogotá, 13 June 2018. The Constitutional Court ruling that obliges the next three governments to implement the peace agreement uses the phrase, “preserving the content, commitments, spirit and principles of the final agreement”. See “Comunicado No. 51”, Corte Constitucional, 11 October 2017, p. 1.Hide Footnote Some provisions have been incorporated into law and ratified by the courts; reversing them could thus require major political effort and sacrifice, even for an incoming president with strong public backing. The more ambitious parts of the agreement, including plans to bring economic development and public services to the neglected countryside, would be easier to roll back, having so far been implemented only partially or not at all. But Petro’s strong overall electoral showing and his victories in the capital Bogotá, as well as along the Pacific coast and in the southern state of Putumayo (see the map in Appendix A), point to possible resistance to counter-reforms in major regions. Different parts of the 310-page peace accord, as well as efforts to negotiate peace with other armed groups, are likely to face different degrees of pressure from the Duque government, with some better protected than others.

Overall, the fate of the accord and the broader peace process under the new government will hinge on Duque’s policies in four areas: first, the reintegration of former FARC guerrillas; secondly, rural reform, and in particular illicit crop substitution; thirdly, transitional justice, notably the mandate of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP); and, fourthly, handling security threats in the wake of the FARC’s withdrawal, as well as the related question of how civil authorities can reach deeper into rural Colombia. This report, based on interviews and research in Bogotá and conflict-affected regions of Colombia, including Tumaco, Arauca, Chocó, Cauca and Norte de Santander, examines how Duque’s government might approach each of these areas and suggests ways for the peace deal’s Colombian and foreign supporters to dissuade the incoming president from taking measures that undercut its provisions or its broader aspirations.

II. The FARC’s Transition to Civilian Life

Both Duque and former President Uribe have stated they are in favour of guaranteeing the reintegration of FARC foot soldiers who handed over their weapons as part of the peace agreement.[fn]As of March 2018, from a list of 14,000 FARC members handed in by the guerrillas, around 13,000 have been accredited as such. “Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia”, United Nations Security Council, 2 April 2018, p. 4.Hide Footnote In a recent interview, Duque stated that, to unite Colombians around peace, “we need great generosity with the guerrilla base”.[fn]‘No acabaré con los acuerdos, pero sí haré modificaciones’: Duque”, El Tiempo, 3 June 2018.Hide Footnote In another interview, he added, “disarmament, demobilisation and reinsertion should be fulfilled completely …. [W]e must guarantee [low-level FARC members’] security … and that they make the transition to a productive life”.[fn]‘No aceptaré algo distinto a una negociación bilateral con Nicaragua'”, El Tiempo, 12 May 2018.Hide Footnote

The peace agreement laid out provisions for the short-term “reinsertion” of former guerrilla fighters, involving payment of monthly stipends and financial support for new business projects, as well as their long-term “reincorporation”.[fn]“Acuerdo final para la terminación del conflicto y la construcción de una paz estable y duradera”, 24 November 2016, pp. 75-76.Hide Footnote Thus far, the latter process has progressed more slowly than expected, mainly because of irreconcilable differences between government and FARC representatives on the National Reincorporation Council (NRC), the body created by the accord to decide on and oversee long-term reintegration activities. Most of these differences relate to whether former combatants should reintegrate through cooperative business projects, which the FARC prefers as an expression of their ideology and group solidarity, or through the individual training and vocational programs provided by the Colombian state for more than a decade. Until now, government representatives have pushed for the latter, arguing that experience shows that collective projects are difficult to implement, unsustainable and wasteful of public money.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, senior diplomat, Bogotá, 25 April 2018; government official, Bogotá, 27 July 2017.Hide Footnote

The FARCs lack of know-how as to the design of reintegration projects has also contributed to delays. FARC leaders have struggled to propose a general reintegration plan that is viable on a technical level. According to the most recent reports, the NRC has approved and funded only one (out of a total of four) cooperative business project the guerrillas have presented.[fn]Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia”, United Nations Security Council, 2 April 2018.Hide Footnote Low-level FARC members have responded by creating their own initiatives, self-financed and independent of the NRC; over 100 such initiatives are already functioning but their ad hoc nature means many are likely to fail.[fn]Ibid.Hide Footnote The government has provided short-term reinsertion benefits, with 87 per cent of guerrillas receiving a monthly stipend. But overall efforts to connect these payments, scheduled to end in August 2019, to long-term reintegration activities have made only halting progress. Here Duque will find a major challenge to overcome in his first months in power.[fn]Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia”, op. cit., p. 5.Hide Footnote

Thousands of ex-combatants have abandoned the camps where the reintegration was to have occurred. Some have started their own collective farms, informally funded via their monthly benefits, or moved to new settlements; many have simply gone home. Should this dispersion continue and the FARC unravel as a result, the state may find itself unable to track how – and whether – former combatants have made the transition into civilian life.

For now, it remains unclear how Duque will treat FARC participation in the NRC and address the deadlock in that body, or how far his government will seek to compel former combatants to reintegrate through the pre-existing individual program instead of in cooperative ventures. The former guerrilla force is likely to meet with outrage any attempt to thwart the support promised in the peace deal for collective business activities; they would argue the government is trying to undermine their efforts to rejoin civilian life, and even pushing former fighters toward FARC dissident or other illegal armed groups.[fn]Crisis Group interview, government official, Bogotá, 10 May 2018. The peace agreement promised both collective and individual reintegration, to be determined based on FARC members’ preferences and coordinated by the National Reincorporation Council. “Acuerdo final para la terminación del conflicto y la construcción de una paz estable y duradera”, 24 November 2016, p. 75.Hide Footnote

Crisis Group interview, government official, Bogotá, 10 May 2018. The peace agreement promised both collective and individual reintegration, to be determined based on FARC members’ preferences and coordinated by the National Reincorporation Council. “Acuerdo final para la terminación del conflicto y la construcción de una paz estable y duradera”, 24 November 2016, p. 75.

Hide Footnote

More objectionable than the fate of foot soldiers in the eyes of Duque’s party is the political participation of FARC members, above all those who will assume the seats the peace agreement allocated to the movement in the Senate and Lower House (five seats in each chamber for a period of eight years).[fn]The peace agreement gives the FARC political party five seats in the Senate (out of 107) and another five in the House of Representatives (out of 171) for a period of eight years, starting in 2018. The peace accord stipulates that transitional justice rulings not impede political participation by former FARC members. “Acuerdo final para la terminación del conflicto y la construcción de una paz estable y duradera”, 24 November 2016, p. 150.Hide Footnote Most of the FARC’s top commanders are set to fill those seats, though they have yet to pass through the transitional justice process laid out in the peace deal, according to which they are required to confess their role in the conflict, pay reparations to the victims and comply with the sentences handed down by the transitional justice mechanism – the Special Jurisdiction for Peace. So long as the FARC members meet that body’s conditions, their punishments almost certainly will not include jail.

As yet, however, the Special Jurisdiction is not fully up and running. Until it is, FARC leaders can participate in political life only having signed a commitment to eventually participate in transitional justice mechanisms and respect obligations regarding truth, reparations and justice.[fn]Comunicado No. 55”, Corte Constitucional, 14 November 2017, p. 12. To be able to participate in politics before the JEP is fully functional, FARC members had to sign an act in which they commit to presenting themselves before the body once it is up and running. “Los ocho puntos que aclaró la Corte sobre la JEP”, El Colombiano, 15 November 2017.Hide Footnote

Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia”, op. cit., p. 5.Hide Footnote

The FARC’s political participation has rarely generated much public support, usually ranking as one of the peace deal’s most unpopular aspects.

The FARC’s political participation has rarely generated much public support, usually ranking as one of the peace deal’s most unpopular aspects.[fn]During the negotiations, the FARC’s political participation rarely received more than 25 per cent support in polls. See “Termómetro a la paz: participación política de las FARC”, Fundación Ideas para la Paz, 2016.Hide Footnote During the campaign, Duque took an outspoken position against guerrilla leaders entering politics, saying he preferred that FARC commanders be jailed and serve their sentences before taking up congressional seats. In March 2018, he stated: “We cannot allow [FARC leaders] to participate in politics. That is a catastrophe, until they have provided reparations to their victims, told all the truth and completed their sentences”.[fn]Uribismo impulsará reforma para que el narcotráfico no sea delito político”, RCN Radio, 28 March 2018.Hide Footnote

But attempts to reverse the provision on political participation and the peace accord’s stipulation that transitional justice sentences not affect political participation of FARC leaders would have to clear legal hurdles. Colombia’s Constitutional Court has already approved the FARC’s future role in Congress, ruling that former guerrillas should maintain their seats as long as they fulfil the terms of transitional justice. Failing to do so would lead specific commanders to lose those seats. In this case, the FARC party would in all likelihood still control the seats but other former fighters would have to take them up instead.[fn]Comunicado No. 55”, Corte Constitucional, 14 Noviembre 2017.Hide Footnote

Drafting harsher laws against the FARC would essentially be a lost cause for the Duque government. Colombia’s legal system contains a “principle of favourability”. This states that if someone is convicted of a crime, but laws have changed or new laws been introduced since that person committed it, courts must apply whichever sentence is most lenient in the new or the old legislation. Because the Special Jurisdiction’s punishment system is already written into Colombian law, the principle of favourability means that FARC leaders would not spend time in jail were they to fulfil their obligations to that body, and would qualify for the lighter sentences imposed by the transitional justice system even if new laws creating harsher penalties are introduced.[fn]The JEP covers crimes committed before 1 December 2016. Since that date, the JEP and its sentencing structure have been incorporated into Colombian law. Any new law creating harsher penalties for those same crimes than the JEP will therefore not be applied to FARC commanders. In this scenario, the principle of favourability would mean that, given the existence of two laws after 1 December 2016, the lesser sentence, that of the JEP, would be applied. Juanita León, “¿Podría Duque modificar el acuerdo de paz?”, La Silla Vacía, 25 May 2018.Hide Footnote

Once its hearings begin, the Special Jurisdiction’s sentences could nevertheless affect FARC leaders’ ability to enter politics. It could sentence ex-guerrillas in a way that makes it physically impossible for them to participate in political life, for example by restricting former combatants’ mobility to remote rural areas – such a sentence would be within its mandate – and thus preventing them from fulfilling their roles in Congress. In this case, the FARC would not lose its allocation of deputies and senators, but other members would have to replace those sentenced by the special court.[fn]If the ordinary justice system rules that a FARC member who took his/her seat in Congress committed certain crimes after 1 December 2016, then the guerrilla party could lose that member’s seat. Renata Segura and Sabina Stein, “The Colombian Peace Process with the FARC: A Mapping of Vulnerabilities”, Social Science Research Council, 18 May 2018, pp. 19-20. Given that the Constitutional Court has not ruled on the second regulatory law related to the Special Jurisdiction, this could change or be defined soon.Hide Footnote

The Democratic Centre party in theory could aim to strengthen these existing restrictive powers by introducing a blanket ban on political participation by FARC leaders serving transitional justice sentences, and thus in essence derailing the group’s political participation. But given the principle of favourability, this move would lead to a drawn-out legal battle, during which time the former guerrilla group would be entitled to take its seats in Congress. Such a prospect appears unlikely to entice Duque, however much his party, playing to its voter base, brandishes its determination to stop the FARC from seeking political representation.[fn]Duque is aware of the limitations created by the principle of favourability in the case of FARC leaders’ political participation. León, “¿Podría Duque modificar el acuerdo de paz?”, op. cit.Hide Footnote The Democratic Centre may instead seek to apply what it calls “social sanctions” by consistently and vocally protesting the FARC’s presence in Congress and whipping up public sentiment against the former guerrillas’ representation.[fn]“‘Farc no pueden confundir sanción social con falta de garantías’, Iván Duque”, Periódico Debate, 10 February 2018.Hide Footnote

While Duque’s preferred reforms to FARC political participation face substantial obstacles, the more immediate risk is that the new government ends up blocking the path of low-level former fighters to civilian life, despite its commitment not to do so. A confrontation with FARC leaders over their political participation, a continuing deadlock between FARC and the government over reintegration plans – or even the government pushing ahead with individual rather than collective reintegration – would likely undermine ex-guerrilla leaders’ authority. It could send damaging signals to the former guerrilla base at a moment in which illicit alternative livelihoods are thriving in parts of Colombia, driving many toward those activities.

III. Rural Reform and Illicit Crop Substitution

Provisions in the peace accord for equitable rural development and for a program to persuade coca farmers to substitute their crops are particularly vulnerable to revision under a Duque government. Implementation of the reforms laid out in the peace deal has started through three main initiatives: local development plans, known as Territory-Focused Development Plans (or PDETs in Spanish); a scheme to improve 50km of tertiary roads in each of 51 conflict-affected municipalities (the “50 by 51 program”); and a flagship program by the National Land Agency (ANT) for giving legal property deeds to small farmers.[fn]The ANT claims to have given land titles to 42,000 rural families in two years, as of June 2018. “42 000 familias campesinas celebran su día siendo propietarias de su tierra con todas las de la ley”, Agencia Nacional de Tierras, 3 June 2018.Hide Footnote

Preparations for the development plans are already underway. Local communities in conflict-affected areas have participated in hundreds of workshops led by the newly created Agency for Territorial Renewal (ART), even in areas where the state is intensely distrusted, and often with great enthusiasm.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, humanitarian aid worker, Cúcuta, 16 April 2018; community leaders, Sinaí, Argelia, Cauca, 3 May 2018.Hide Footnote The workshops’ conclusions will inform the local development plans, which tend to involve projects to improve arable farmland, market access, energy generation and community facilities. Local and national authorities will then put those plans into practice over the next ten to fifteen years.[fn]For example, the ART has carried out over 800 participatory workshops in 143 of the 170 prioritised post-conflict municipalities as part of the PDETs. “La paz avanza en los territorios con obras PIC, 50/51 y rutas PDET”, Agencia de Renovación del Territorio, 1 March 2018.Hide Footnote

The 50 by 51 program, and road improvement in general, is also crucial for the economic development of geographically isolated areas, where access to markets is difficult and costly. The ART is also carrying out other small projects to develop local infrastructure throughout the country.[fn]The ART has announced that it has finished 135 small infrastructure projects, is implementing 193 and plans to carry out 916 more during 2018. It claims to have improved almost 2,000km of roads as well. Ibid.Hide Footnote These initiatives are integral to the peace accord’s aim of encouraging farmers to replace illicit crops with legal alternatives, the economic feasibility of which depends on cheaper access to regional, national and international markets.

Duque has praised local infrastructure projects in general. But he has also argued that he would scrap the new agencies, such as the ART and ANT, created to foster rural development, and instead bolster the existing Ministry of Agriculture. It is within his power to do so: reforms to Colombia’s institutions can be carried out by presidential decree.[fn]Juanita León, “¿Podría Duque modificar el acuerdo de paz?”, La Silla Vacía, 25 May 2018.Hide Footnote Moreover, he appears determined to strengthen agri-business as the primary means of creating jobs for the rural poor. Such an approach would represent a sharp reversal of the provisions of the peace agreement, which embraces bottom-up improvements to Colombia’s rural sector and the empowerment of small farmers. Duque’s preference for agri-business, even if framed in terms of job creation, reflects the historical inequality of power, wealth and land ownership in rural areas. Measures to address such inequality were a centrepiece of the accord between the FARC and the government, and were the first parts of the agreement to be reached.[fn]One leading expert on the issue of land in Colombia described the historic accumulation of land by elites as “a patrimonial regime whose secret consisted of monopolising formal land titles for accessible land … to subordinate the peasantry as a source of manual labour for [large-scale, elite-owned farms]”. Alejandro Reyes Posada, Guerreros y campesinos: el despojo de la tierra en Colombia (Bogotá, 2009), p. 25. In the original Spanish version, the word in brackets is “hacendados”.Hide Footnote

Duque’s preference for agri-business [...] reflects the historical inequality of power, wealth and land ownership in rural areas.

Duque’s proposed steps in this direction could face stiff opposition. Foreign governments’ investment, donations and loans to the rural reform measures outlined in the peace agreement constitute a major international commitment to these efforts.[fn]The European Union and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, for example, have provided aid to implement point 1 of the peace agreement, which extends into 2019. Natalia Herrera and Nicolás Sánchez Arévalo, “La deforestación ha impactado áreas de altísima biodiversidad: Neven Mimica, comisario europeo”, El Espectador, 21 July 2017.Hide Footnote Those governments, as well as intergovernmental bodies like the UN, are all too cognisant of the role rural inequality has played in fuelling violence and the drug trade.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, high-level diplomats, Bogotá, 21 April 2017.Hide Footnote Local communities, too, will seek to guarantee that projects underway continue. The curtailing of those projects would likely reinforce rural Colombians’ lingering mistrust of the state. It would also boost the local legitimacy of illegal armed groups, which have argued consistently that the peace agreement will do little to improve the lot of poor farmers, that the government will not meet its promises, and even that the state wants to displace farmers from their land.[fn]FARC dissidents throughout the country have argued that the government will not fulfil its commitments in the peace agreement; in fact, Gentil Duarte argued this line internally in FARC meetings before leaving to lead the dissident 7th Front. Crisis Group interviews, FARC leaders, Buenos Aires, Cauca, 7 February 2017; community leaders, Retorno, Guaviare, 16 May 2018; international organisation representative, Tumaco, 5 March 2018.Hide Footnote

Rural reform does, however, require significant and consistent resourcing and political backing over time. In this light, the Duque government may undercut such reform by stealth, by “starving” relevant agencies, giving them insufficient funding, personnel and political support, and thus in effect impeding them from continuing their work, rather than abolishing them or ending projects directly.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, community leaders, Argelia, Cauca, 4 May 2018; Retorno, Guaviare, 15 May 2018. “Resistencia”, Frente Primero Armando Ríos FARC-EP, December 2016.Hide Footnote If confronted on this issue, the new government could aim to fend off international repudiation by arguing that it has not revoked the authority of, or abolished, any agency, but is merely adjusting its commitments to the state’s financial straits. Feeble, erratic support for rural development agencies has been a constant feature of the Colombian state’s behaviour.[fn]Inés Paola Trujillo Cueto, “Reformas agrarias en Colombia: experiencias desalentadoras y una nueva iniciativa en el marco de los acuerdos de paz en la Habana”, Ensayos de Economía, vol. 45 (2014), pp. 35-60.Hide Footnote

The peace deal’s provisions related to illicit crop substitution are also at risk. Duque has proposed a shift in drug policy toward more coercion of coca growers, involving above all forcible manual eradication but also a return to aerial fumigation, which has been banned in Colombia since 2015.[fn]The illicit crop substitution program lasts for two years, and includes a series of monthly stipends, as well as technical assistance, so that farmers can remove their coca and begin to grow other crops. After receiving their first payment, coca growers have 60 days to get rid of their coca in order to get the second payment.Hide Footnote He will not necessarily scrap crop substitution, but he has argued that coca growers must accept either substitution or eradication. In principle, this stance reflects the peace agreement’s provisions, which determined that the state would forcibly eradicate coca crops in areas where no substitution agreements are voluntarily reached.[fn]“Acuerdo final para la terminación del conflicto y la construcción de una paz estable y duradera”, Oficina del Alto Comisionado para la Paz, 24 November 2016, p. 107. Duque appears to believe this provision on coca eradication does not exist in the accord. Crisis Group interview, journalist, Bogotá, 14 June 2018.Hide Footnote In practice, however, a government predisposed to tougher measures could adopt intensified eradication efforts aimed even at farmers who have signed collective agreements to join the crop substitution program. After all, Duque seems more interested in quickly reducing coca cultivation than in displaying trust in coca farmers’ good faith.

Whether Duque will stick with crop substitution efforts likely hinges on two factors. The first is the total number of hectares of coca grown in Colombia in 2017, which should be made public at a date close to Duque’s inauguration. If those figures show a significant increase over 2016, the new president will face strong domestic and U.S. pressure to scrap the program. Under the administration of President Donald Trump, the U.S. in particular has pushed for more eradication and a renewal of fumigation.[fn]In 2017, the Trump administration issued a threat to decertify Colombia’s anti-drug efforts, which would in principle lead to a cut in aid. Mimi Yagoub and Cecilia Orozco Tascón, “Colombia no sabe a cuál Trump tendrá que enfrentar’: Adam Isacson”, El Espectador, 28 October 2017.Hide Footnote Press reports suggest the amount of coca grown in Colombia in 2017 will be greater than in 2016, possibly rising to 180,000 hectares from 146,000 in 2016, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime estimates.[fn]This number is not the final official statistic given by the UN, which has yet to be made public. Adam Isacson, presentation at the 2018 Latin American Studies Association Congress, Barcelona, 23 May 2018.Hide Footnote

The second factor is the extent to which the substitution program thus far has been able to reduce coca cultivation. As of 31 March 2018, the program included just over 62,000 families, of whom 51 per cent have received their first payment and, if they have not done so already, will soon eradicate their coca. Those 62,000 families farm around 22,000 hectares of coca, of which close to 30 per cent – 6,300 hectares – have been confirmed as eradicated. According to 2016 figures, the total land used for coca by all 62,000 families represents roughly 15 per cent of all land dedicated to coca production in Colombia, while the area that is reportedly eradicated thus far falls well short of the program’s goal of voluntarily removing 50,000 hectares.[fn]Juan Carlos Garzón and Juan David Gélvez, “¿En qué va la sustitución de cultivos ilícitos?”, Fundación Ideas para la Paz, May 2018, covering the period up until 31 March 2018.Hide Footnote Duque is likely to argue that the program will need to make far more rapid inroads into the removal of coca crops for it to be maintained.

Shrinking or axing the illicit crop substitution program would alienate farmers and likely undercut efforts by the Colombian state to establish its authority in areas long controlled by armed groups. Thus far, persuading coca growers to sign up for the program has taken the Colombian state, in partnership with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, eighteen months, and involved arduous local diplomacy. A decision to reverse the program would reinforce, possibly for decades, those communities’ mistrust of the state and the stereotype, in their eyes, of a distant, abusive government.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, local leaders, Guaviare, 1 April 2017, 3 September 2017 and 17 May 2018; regional government crop substitution director, San José de Guaviare, 31 August 2017.Hide Footnote In the southern region of Putumayo, for example, coca growers and civil society are still demanding that the government fulfil its side of agreements signed in 1996; a repeat scenario could do even longer-lasting damage to trust in the state.[fn]María Clemencia Ramírez, Entre el Estado y la guerrilla: identidad y ciudadanía en el movimiento de los campesinos cocaleros del Putumayo (Bogotá, 2001). Crisis Group interview, peasant leader, Puerto Asís, 27 February 2017.Hide Footnote As a result, while more forceful eradication might lead to a short-term dip in coca production, over time, as more areas remain beyond the state’s remit and under the sway of armed groups, it would likely push more farmers to plant coca.[fn]Coca growers have stated that if substitution fails, they will immediately go back to growing coca. Crisis Group interviews, journalists, Guaviare, 15 May 2018.Hide Footnote

IV. Transitional Justice

The Special Jurisdiction for Peace, which in March 2018 began to scrutinise the cases of over 6,000 FARC members, almost 1,800 members of the armed forces, 44 civil servants and six civilians, is the target of unrelenting criticism by opponents of the peace deal.[fn]Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia”, United Nations Security Council, op. cit., p. 2. Civilians who could be considered third-party actors in the armed conflict are no longer obligated to appear before the JEP due to a Constitutional Court ruling, undermining its ability to investigate civilians who supported paramilitary groups during the conflict. Renata Segura and Sabina Stein, “The Colombian Peace Process with the FARC: A Mapping of Vulnerabilities”, op. cit., p. 14.Hide Footnote One of its main flaws, according to the critics, is that it converts into law a concession to FARC demands by accepting that ex-guerrilla commanders and combatants will not necessarily spend time in jail; this, they argue, is tantamount to impunity. The Special Jurisdiction has also weathered a bout of internal bureaucratic mudslinging and accusations that rival judges and officials were misusing its resources.[fn]Un grupo de magistrados vieron en la JEP un botín burocrático: Correa”, Caracol, 26 April 2018. Colombia’s Congress and Constitutional Court also came under fire for adopting a definition of “command and control” that fails to meet international transitional justice standards. See “Escrito de amicus curiae de la fiscal de la Corte Penal Internacional sobre la Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz”, International Criminal Court, 18 October 2017.Hide Footnote Nonetheless, the new government will find that efforts to do away with, or debilitate, transitional justice measures face fierce resistance. International and civil society pressure will be particularly sensitive to this issue given the eight million victims in Colombia’s conflict, the legal necessity of transitional justice and the progress already made – albeit slow – on rolling out these measures.

Duque, his party and Uribe insist that the peace accord underwrites impunity for the FARC and that guerrilla leaders should serve jail time for their crimes. The president-elect and his allies also argue that members of the armed forces should not be placed on an equal footing with the guerrillas in the Special Jurisdiction, but instead be tried by a special tribunal connected to the Supreme Court and by military judges.[fn]The Democratic Centre presented a bill in October 2017 to this effect. “Uribismo propone que militares no sean juzgados por la JEP”, El Espectador, 19 October 2017.Hide Footnote Finally, they make the case that drug trafficking should not be considered “a connected crime” and treated as part of the insurgents’ war effort, as it is in the peace agreement. Instead, former FARC fighters should face standard prosecution and sentencing for drug-related crimes.[fn]For a succinct summary of Duque’s positions on transitional justice, see Juanita León, “¿Podría Duque modificar el acuerdo de paz?”, op. cit. For a text arguing that transitional justice will be improved under Duque, see Camilo Rubiano Becerra, “La JEP y la segunda vuelta”, Los Irreverentes, 4 June 2018.Hide Footnote

Changing the transitional justice sentencing system will not be easy.

Changing the transitional justice sentencing system will not be easy, however. The principle of favourability in Colombian law means that FARC leaders, if convicted, would not have to spend time in jail, even for crimes related to drug trafficking, given that the Special Jurisdiction is now largely enshrined in the Colombian legal system.[fn]The Special Jurisdiction will consider case by case if drug trafficking was carried out to finance the rebellion or for personal gain. It will be extremely difficult to prove the latter, and therefore FARC leaders will most likely receive the sentences provided by the JEP for their drug trafficking crimes as well.Hide Footnote Duque, aware of these constraints, has suggested that his tough line on drug trafficking would apply primarily to cases in which FARC members are found guilty of crimes they committed after the peace agreement’s signing.

The new government thus would likely focus on cases such as that of Jesús Santrich, a former guerrilla commander arrested in April on charges of involvement in drug trafficking between 2017 and 2018, which were filed in the U.S. courts.[fn]Jaque mate a Jesús Santrich”, Semana, 11 April 2018.Hide Footnote If it adopts such an approach – prioritising investigation of crimes committed after the peace deal – it may not need to amend laws. The precise regulations governing the Special Jurisdiction’s workings, which – unlike the provisions on the body’s creation, mandate and basic procedures – have yet to be passed into law, are likely to determine that any case related to crimes during the armed conflict will be adjudicated by the Special Jurisdiction, whereas cases involving crimes committed after the peace accord’s approval will be handled by the normal courts.[fn]The Democratic Centre has already made an effort to suspend congressional discussions and voting on the remaining law needed to make the Special Jurisdiction for Peace fully operational. “El uribismo gana pulso en el Congreso: ¿se aplaza el funcionamiento de la JEP?”, Semana, 18 June 2018. “Ley de procedimiento de la JEP, aprobada en primer debate en Congreso”, El Espectador, 29 May 2018.Hide Footnote

Nor would a wave of U.S. requests for the extradition of FARC members for their alleged links to drug trafficking guarantee that more ex-guerrillas end up in U.S. jails.[fn]Soon after Santrich’s arrest, the chief FARC negotiator in the peace talks, Iván Márquez, left for a FARC camp in a remote region of the country. His nephew, Manuel Marín, is collaborating with U.S. investigations into drug trafficking and corrupt use of funds destined for the peace process. “Ivan Márquez se traslada a Caquetá”, El Espectador, 19 April 2018.Hide Footnote Colombia’s Supreme Court must grant extradition requests. Recent cases suggest that it will not allow the accused to be sent abroad before he or she has made a full confession of crimes committed during the armed conflict to the appropriate transitional justice mechanism – in this case, the Special Jurisdiction.[fn]La extradición y los procesos de Justicia y Paz”, El Espectador, 19 February 2010.Hide Footnote This requirement would at the very least delay extradition.

As for the judicial treatment of members of the armed forces, the political incentives for Duque’s incoming government to change procedures in the ways they have already proposed are not clear-cut.[fn]See the previous page for the Democratic Centre’s proposals for military officers.Hide Footnote For now, the cases of almost 1,800 military officers accused of extrajudicial executions are expected to be handled by the Special Jurisdiction; many of these officers have already been freed from prison as they await trial.[fn]El 97 % de postulados a la JEP por Mindefensa son del Ejército”, El Tiempo, 18 November 2017.Hide Footnote Any change to their status could prompt considerable resistance within the military, including its high command. At the same time, the Special Jurisdiction’s checks on attributing criminal responsibility to senior army commanders, which were negotiated as part of the peace accord but have been criticised by the International Criminal Court for seeking to protect the top brass, may convince officers accused of extrajudicial executions that the Special Jurisdiction offers them prospects of lighter sentences than normal courts.[fn][1] Crisis Group interviews, International Criminal Court representatives, Bogotá, 18 March 2017 and 14 September 2017. Many officers in the Colombian armed forces are under investigation for killing civilians and claiming they were guerrilla fighters. Estimates of civilians killed as part of the practice known as “false positives” range from 4,000 to 10,000. “Más de 4 mil casos de falsos positivos son investigados por la Fiscalía”, El Espectador, 27 September 2014. “Falsos positivos serían más de 10.000, según coronel retirado”, Blu Radio, 9 May 2018.Hide Footnote

The international cost of any effort by the new government to undermine the judicial mechanisms laid out in the peace agreement would also be high, given the magnitude of foreign backing for the transitional justice system and victims’ rights in general.[fn]During 2017, for example, the budget for the JEP was funded completely by the international community. “La JEP gastó 3,7 millones de dólares en un año”, El Colombiano, 7 January 2018.Hide Footnote At the same time, the incentives informing Duque’s policymaking could evolve. Once the Special Jurisdiction court begins hearing cases involving FARC leaders, failure by the former guerrillas to comply with its conditions on truth telling or reparations for victims, or public and political outcry over the sentences it hands down, could prompt his government to intensify its campaign to undermine the special court’s legitimacy or even pressure it to allocate more cases to the normal judicial system. It is hard to say at present whether these gestures would be anything more than symbolic.[fn]Natalia Arbeláez Jaramillo, “‘La gente sobrevalora la importancia de la JEP’”, La Silla Vacía, 16 April 2018. “El difícil despegue de la JEP”, La Silla Llena, 4 February 2018.Hide Footnote

Crisis Group interviews, International Criminal Court representatives, Bogotá, 18 March 2017 and 14 September 2017. Many officers in the Colombian armed forces are under investigation for killing civilians and claiming they were guerrilla fighters. Estimates of civilians killed as part of the practice known as “false positives” range from 4,000 to 10,000. “Más de 4 mil casos de falsos positivos son investigados por la Fiscalía”, El Espectador, 27 September 2014. “Falsos positivos serían más de 10.000, según coronel retirado”, Blu Radio, 9 May 2018.Hide Footnote

V. Security Threats

Duque will be the first president in over half a century to assume power in Colombia facing no threat from the FARC insurgency. Nonetheless, his government will confront an array of non-state armed groups: numerous dissident FARC factions that reject the peace process, the insurgent National Liberation Army (ELN) and drug trafficking groups, especially the largest among them, the Gaitán Self-Defence Forces. It will have to respond, too, to the recent expansion of illicit economies, increasingly unruly border areas and the murders of hundreds of community leaders since the peace agreement was signed.[fn]These issues were discussed in Crisis Group Latin America Report N°63, Colombia’s Armed Groups Battle for the Spoils of Peace, 19 October 2017.Hide Footnote Though these phenomena are only occasionally related directly to the deal with the FARC and have taken shape in the aftermath of the peace process, the way the Duque government deals with them will prove critical to implementation of the peace deal in Colombia’s rural peripheries.

FARC dissident groups, numbering between sixteen and eighteen and with anywhere from 1,200 to 1,500 members, have multiplied and are increasingly belligerent toward civilians.[fn]Eduardo Álvarez Vanegas, Daniel Pardo Calderón and Andrés Cajiao Vélez, “Trayectorias y dinámicas territoriales de las disidencias de las FARC”, Fundación Ideas para la Paz, April 2018.Hide Footnote In Tumaco, on the Pacific coast close to the border with Ecuador, homicide rates have risen as dissident groups vie for control of the city. In the eastern states of Meta and Guaviare, dissidents continue to exert control over towns and the drug trade.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, community leaders and humanitarian aid workers, Tumaco, 7-9 March 2018; community leaders, Retorno, Guaviare, 16 May 2018.Hide Footnote

The ELN guerrilla movement has expanded since the start of peace talks with the FARC, engaging in more armed activity and deepening its engagement in illicit businesses even as it continues negotiations with the government. Its expansion into new areas, where its control over territory and overall presence is weaker, has led to significant civilian suffering. In Chocó, along Colombia’s Pacific coast, communities have been caught in the crossfire between ELN and Gaitán forces, with violence worsening over the past year. Clashes in recent months between the ELN and a smaller guerrilla movement, the Popular Liberation Army (EPL), in Catatumbo, near the Venezuelan border, have led to an unknown death toll and forcibly displaced thousands.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, indigenous leader, Quibdó, 9 May 2018; international organisation representatives, Quibdó, 8 May 2018; humanitarian aid worker, Cúcuta, 16 April 2017; international organisation representative, Cúcuta, 17 April 2018. Negotiations with the ELN are the subject of a forthcoming Crisis Group report.Hide Footnote

Colombian security force offensives have reportedly weakened the Gaitanista drug trafficking group and resulted in the death or capture of high-level leaders. Despite these losses, the group’s hold over territory appears largely unaffected until recently, as the group’s expansion seems to have stalled. The group maintains a militarised, vertical command structure that allows for quick replacement of leaders it has lost, while subcontracting numerous local gangs to help preserve its trafficking routes.[fn]“Crimen organizado y saboteadores armados en tiempos de transición: radiografía necesaria”, Fundación Ideas para la Paz, July 2017, p. 27.Hide Footnote

Beyond drug trafficking, Duque’s government will have to tackle other illicit businesses that fill armed groups’ coffers. Illegal mining, mainly of gold but also of coltan, is prominent in part of the country, above all in Antioquia and Chocó. Armed groups profit from contraband gasoline along the border with Venezuela, which also lowers the price of coca paste production, itself dependent on the fuel. Illegal businesses and armed groups flourishing along the borders with both Venezuela and Ecuador will pose an acute security and diplomatic challenge. Regions along both borders are the heartland of coca cultivation, and state security responses will have a major influence on efforts to substitute coca and bring alternative development to these rural areas as part of the peace deal.[fn]Crisis Group Report, Colombia’s Armed Groups Battle for the Spoils of Peace, op. cit.Hide Footnote

The killing of community leaders, meanwhile, is a source of great concern for civil society, victims’ organisations and diplomats. The increase in such murders owes partly to competition among criminal groups over control of illicit revenues, and partly to the fears of local political and economic elites – who have traditionally used violence to maintain influence – that new political actors will supplant them in Colombia’s post-conflict democracy. State prosecutors have made modest progress in arresting suspected hit men, but as of yet the government has been unable to halt or identify those responsible for ordering the killings.[fn]According to the national human rights ombudsman, 282 community leaders have been killed since 1 January 2016. “‘282 líderes sociales y defensores de DD.HH. asesinados en dos años es una cifra aterradora’: defensor del Pueblo, Carlos Negret”, Defensoría del Pueblo, 1 March 2018. Crisis Group interview, high-level diplomat, 11 August 2017.Hide Footnote

“Crimen organizado y saboteadores armados en tiempos de transición: radiografía necesaria”, Fundación Ideas para la Paz, July 2017, p. 27.Hide Footnote

Duque’s approach to such security challenges is anchored in the strategy of mili-tarised offensives associated with former President Uribe.

Duque’s approach to such security challenges is anchored in the strategy of militarised offensives associated with former President Uribe. Though the Santos government has waged a military campaign against FARC dissidents, Duque promises to enhance it through the use of “all the offensive capacity of the state”.[fn]Duque exige desarme a las guerrillas o se enfrentarán a la fuerza del Estado”, La Vanguardia, 18 January 2018.Hide Footnote He accuses the FARC, in its new form as a political party, of having kept some of its weapons and of being unwilling to share information about the drugs trade, which, he claims, has led to the emergence of dissident groups.[fn]¿Cómo combatir a ‘Guacho’ y a las disidencias de las FARC? Así responden los candidatos”, Caracol, 25 May 2018.Hide Footnote At the same time, Duque has not made clear how he would seek to extract this information on drug trafficking from FARC leaders, nor how obtaining that information would necessarily stop dissidents.

Military campaigns against such groups tend to be blunt instruments. Commanders killed in such operations can be replaced, while local support networks remain largely unaffected or potentially even reinforced if security forces’ tactics harm and alienate communities. Guaranteeing the reintegration of FARC foot soldiers, which Duque has promised to do, would be an important step in preventing them from joining dissident groups, though those factions have already started to tap other sources of recruits.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, local authorities, Miraflores, Guaviare, 5 April 2017; church leaders, Tumaco, 5 December 2017.Hide Footnote

As regards the ELN, Duque rejects political negotiations but says he is prepared to discuss disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration with the movement. Even those discussions he conditions on the assembly, before negotiations start, of ELN forces in set geographic areas; the suspension of all their criminal activity; and a clear and definitive timeline for negotiations, after which he would allow for talks on ending the conflict but no substantive political negotiations. He has pledged reduced sentences for former guerrillas, but has made clear these would still involve jail time.[fn]¿Firmaría Iván Duque un acuerdo de paz con el ELN si llega a la presidencia de Colombia?”, CNN, 9 February 2018.Hide Footnote The ELN has rejected the notion of demobilising without negotiations over its political demands, and previous talks with the group have collapsed as a result of similar preconditions. Duque may be making these demands knowing that the ELN will reject them, thus hastening the end of negotiations while avoiding assuming responsibility for doing so and the political cost it would incur.[fn]These conditions were abruptly put in place by then President Uribe, leading the ELN to reject them. Contrary to what Duque has stated, the ELN has never accepted the previous concentration of all its forces, but did demand a demilitarised zone that was never established. See the forthcoming Crisis Group report on the ELN talks. Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista (top ELN commander), “Para pasar la página del conflicto armado”, ELN, 12 March 2018.Hide Footnote The breakdown of talks would likely presage a return to a protracted and unwinnable war with the guerrilla.[fn]For an in-depth discussion of this issue, see Kyle Johnson, “¿Se puede derrotar militarmente al Eln?”, El Espectador, 20 February 2018.Hide Footnote

A bill presented by Duque’s party in late 2017 suggested that it might be flexible in its treatment of other armed groups. That bill, a version of which is currently being debated in Congress, foresees allowing large criminal organisations, such as the Gaitanista forces, to surrender to Colombian authorities in exchange for judicial benefits. The groups’ leaders and members would receive reduced sentences provided leaders confess to their crimes, pay reparations to victims, hand over ill-gotten assets and do not return to crime.[fn]Radican proyecto de ley de sometimiento a la justicia para criminales”, El Colombiano, 13 September 2017.Hide Footnote Legislation along these lines would represent a step forward in ensuring victims’ rights in such a surrender process. It also might pull the government away from an exclusive focus on police and military action.

That said, despite providing opportunities for surrender, the proposal as it currently stands does little to tackle the reasons that people join such groups, offering no measures to reduce the inequality and lack of legal economic opportunities that underlie much of the illicit business and recruitment by armed groups in Colombia’s hinterlands. To extend the state’s presence to these areas, Duque has promised to use both military force and civilian institutions, mirroring the Uribe government’s “state consolidation”, whereby security forces attempted to clear areas of guerrillas and civilian agencies followed to gain a foothold for state authority. This plan encountered numerous setbacks, however, suffering from erratic backing from state institutions and continuing mistrust from communities.[fn]Crisis Group interview, former government negotiator in the FARC peace process, Bogotá, 13 June 2018. Adam Isacson, “Consolidating ‘Consolidation’: Colombia’s ‘Security and Development’ Zones Await a Civilian Handoff, While Washington Backs Away from the Concept”, Washington Office on Latin America, December 2012.Hide Footnote

Duque’s border strategy has so far stressed intelligence-led operations rather than military surges. His government will likely also resort to the armed forces in the event of a breakdown of public order, as Santos’s government has already done. The number of troops present in the border states of Nariño and Norte de Santander has increased sharply since the beginning of the year, although increased troop levels have not curbed rising violence.[fn]The government has also created a strategy of providing more public services for Tumaco which has worked in some towns, but overall most locals still distrust the government. Crisis Group interviews, community leaders, Tumaco, 4 December 2017 and 7-9 March 2018. “Este año van 3.491 asesinatos: lanzan alerta por aumento del 7 %”, El Tiempo, 19 April 2018.Hide Footnote Duque has said he would redouble the use of satellite monitoring on all borders. He has pledged to cooperate closely with Ecuadorian forces to combat an armed group led by alias Guacho, a violent and powerful FARC dissident.[fn]Jineth Prieto, Ana León and Adelaida Ávila Cabrera, “Las propuestas sobre Venezuela, cara a cara”, La Silla Vacía, 17 May 2018; “¿Cómo combatir a ‘Guacho’ y a las disidencias de las FARC? Así responden los candidatos”, Caracol, op. cit.Hide Footnote

He has also promised to create a humanitarian fund to deal with the crisis related to smuggling and the mass exodus of Venezuelans across Colombia’s 2,200km-long and highly porous border with Venezuela, using money budgeted for the UN to monitor the implementation of the FARC peace agreement for that purpose. Finally, he has pledged to provide incentives to Venezuelans to encourage their onward journey to other countries, and to make it easier for those Venezuelans with university degrees to qualify legally to work in Colombia.[fn]Most of the UN mission’s budget comes from the UN system, but removing local funds would represent a significant, if symbolic, protest against the UN presence in Colombia. “¿Qué van a hacer los candidatos con Venezuela? Lea sus propuestas en política exterior”, El País de Cali, 6 May 2018. “Las propuestas de los candidatos para enfrentar los retos en las zonas de frontera”, El Espectador, 13 April 2018.Hide Footnote The fate of these proposals will depend greatly on the scale of migration flows from Venezuela, as well as the likely intensification of bilateral tensions once Duque takes power. For now, cross-border incursions, such as the one that killed the FARC second-in-command in Ecuador in March 2008, appear not to be part of the incoming government’s plans.[fn]

Duque has stressed that he will strengthen investigations into the killings of social leaders, though without specifying how.[fn]‘Voy a recuperar los ejes de la producción industrial del Tolima’: Duque”, Iván Duque, 12 May 2018.Hide Footnote To do so, and to avoid domestic and international condemnation, he will have to provide sufficient resources to national and local investigators, while also maintaining pressure on relevant judicial and security bodies to ensure the cases remain a priority. He will also have to counteract a tendency among his colleagues to stigmatise community leaders.[fn]Now Democratic Centre Senator María Fernanda Cabal accused local NGOs involved in land restitution in September 2015 of being guerrillas. Numerous activists trying to recover land have been assassinated since 2012, often accused of being guerrilla supporters. “Las afirmaciones de María Fernanda Cabal le valen demandas y rechazos de ONG”, Verdad Abierta, 6 October 2015.Hide Footnote His party’s rhetoric on the subject, and the National Defence Ministry’s tendency to downplay the killings, could hinder the attempt to identify culprits and prevent more murders.[fn]Asesinatos de líderes son por ‘líos de faldas’: ministro de Defensa”, El Espectador, 17 December 2017.Hide Footnote Foreign donors’ concerns could play an important role in encouraging Duque to make good on his promises to reverse the spate of killings. Colombian civil society will also have to find new ways to pressure and work with the government, as current coordination mechanisms between the government and social organisations have been ineffective, in large part due to disagreements over whether paramilitaries are responsible for the murders.[fn]The National Roundtable on Protection, a forum in which the government and civil society meet to discuss the killings and threats, has been impeded by ongoing disputes over whether these cases are the work of paramilitaries or not. Crisis Group interview, government official, Bogotá, 10 May 2018. “Los asesinatos de líderes sociales en Colombia manchan los acuerdos de paz”, El Diario, 25 November 2016.Hide Footnote

While these security threats both predate the FARC peace deal and have evolved in its wake, their causes are inextricably linked to concerns at the heart of that agreement. The need to address rural inequality, illicit economies and the armed groups that both prey on, and in some cases protect neglected local communities, underpins the deal’s attempt to spur rural development and empower small farmers. Duque’s ill-defined pledges of a tough state offensive aimed at weeding out armed groups and eliminating coca crops risk reinforcing these communities’ historic estrangement from the state.

Though a military campaign might weaken some armed groups and reduce, in the short term, Colombia’s coca harvest, it could goad rural communities into an embrace of armed factions who have long argued that the peace deal with the FARC is a sham and that Bogotá cannot be trusted. A more forceful Colombian state offensive against armed groups using neighbouring countries as safe havens also risks a cross-border escalation in violence. Foreign supporters of the agreement should seek to convey to the Duque government that the long-term improvement in the security and economic and socio-political conditions in Colombia’s countryside serves the interests of business investment and regional security.

VI. Conclusion

The incoming Duque government’s wish to modify the peace accord could entail far more than mere tinkering. Starving newly created bodies and initiatives of political support and financial resources would seem the path of least resistance for obstructing the deal’s implementation. Opposing parts of the agreement that are already embedded in law, on the other hand, would likely generate high legal and political costs. An issue-by-issue review of the salient parts of the accord shows that political calculations in the short, medium and long terms are often contradictory, and that rural development initiatives and coca substitution appear likely to run higher risks of revocation than transitional justice and FARC reintegration.

Much now depends on how Duque’s campaign pledges translate into action when he assumes power. Within his party, the president-elect is considered a centrist, but hardline leaders and factions will almost certainly want to nudge him toward a tougher stance on the deal. Uribe’s role will be pivotal. The ex-president accuses his former ally Juan Manuel Santos of treachery in negotiating peace with the FARC and is unlikely to acquiesce should another protégé chart a course he would view as betrayal.

Civil society and Colombia’s foreign partners should encourage the new president to protect the deal’s main commitments.

Faced with the risk that pressure from within his party will pull Duque toward aggressive rejection of the peace agreement, civil society and Colombia’s foreign partners should encourage the new president to protect the deal’s main commitments. Duque should continue the guerrilla’s reintegration, respect transitional justice mechanisms and protect the deal’s core components regarding the future of Colombia’s countryside, as well as adopt security policies broadly consistent with the accord’s aspirations. In particular, it is vital that the new government honour coca substitution agreements and respect FARC participation in the reintegration process; acknowledge the high political and legal costs of reversing agreements on transitional justice and FARC political participation; and appreciate the threats to rural pacification and regional security of eliminating development agencies and adopting a heavy-handed approach to armed groups and illicit business in Colombia’s hinterland. Full and prompt FARC compliance with the terms of transitional justice would also bolster the legitimacy of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace at a delicate moment.

An all-out return to war with the FARC is highly improbable. But upticks in FARC dissident and ELN violence and an expansion of both groups’ influence are quite plausible. If the new government backtracks on its commitments in the peace agreement – directly or by stealth – FARC dissidents and ELN hardliners will feel vindicated. They may win new recruits and support more easily, as rural constituencies lose faith that the reforms promised in the deal will materialise and their lingering suspicions of the state surface. In a worst-case scenario, the ELN may decide that it has nothing to gain from further talks, given the government’s apparent reservations. The Gaitán Self-Defence Forces’ leaders may think twice about surrendering, even if legislation to allow that to happen is passed.

The FARC peace deal may not be perfect – few such deals are – and the Colombian security landscape, which has evolved since the deal was signed, remains enormously challenging, above all along the borders. But attempting to derail the deal, or adopting policies that impede its longer-term aims of addressing inequality and underdevelopment in rural areas, would likely lead to greater instability, hinder the return of state authority to Colombia’s peripheries and, over time, boost violence and drug trafficking.

Bogotá/Brussels, 21 June 2018

Appendix A: Colombian Presidential Run-off Results by Department

Colombian Presidential Run-off Results by Department Colombian National Registry

Appendix B: Map of Colombia

Map of Colombia AB Carto/International Crisis Group, September 2014

Appendix C: Acronyms

ANT                    National Agency for Land

ART                    Agency for Territorial Renewal

ELN                    National Liberation Army

EPL                    Popular Liberation Army

FARC                 Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia

NRC                   National Reincorporation Council

PDETs               Territory-Focused Development Plans

JEP                    Special Jurisdiction for Peace

UNODC             UN Office on Drugs and Crime


A member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) sits in his tent in the “Alfonso Artiaga” Front 29 FARC encampment in a rural area of Policarpa, Narino, in southwestern Colombia on 16 January 2017. AFP/Luis Robayo
Report 60 / Latin America & Caribbean

In the Shadow of “No”: Peace after Colombia’s Plebiscite

Revised and ratified after its shock rejection in October 2016’s referendum, Colombia’s peace agreement still lacks sustainable political support. Reversing public distrust will need swift and effective implementation of the accord – including full apologies for past crimes and the visible handover of weapons by insurgents.

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Executive Summary

Defeat by a wafer-thin margin in the October 2016 plebiscite on the peace agreement between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) insurgency shocked Colombia’s society and political establishment, as well as the accord’s international backers. With the signed document suspended while rebel combatants tentatively gathered in sites across the country, prospects for an end to 52 years of armed conflict initially darkened. A revised accord, with numerous changes demanded by opposition leaders, was unveiled less than two months later, but the illusion of consensus was short-lived. Indignant that it was not able to review the new text and incensed that though many of its proposals were included, a few key ones were not, the opposition decried the agreement and its ratification in Congress. Peace with the guerrillas is again set to polarise parties and candidates in elections in 2018. A swift, effective start to implementation of the accord is needed to reverse public wariness and political resistance.

Victory in those elections for opponents of the peace agreement would be the harbinger of major challenges to the deal’s sustainability. Concentration of FARC combatants is underway, albeit problematically and with delays, and the six-month timetable for the handover of weapons has been set in motion. However, funding gaps, administrative delays and the political balance of power ahead of 2018 threaten to curtail transitional arrangements and structural reforms aimed at remedying the root grievances of the conflict. The opposition could financially starve institutions, programs or policies in the peace agreement if it comes to power. The terms of transitional justice, measures on rural reform and land access, and community-based approaches to removing coca crops and establishing alternative income-generating activities could all be in danger.

Defending the agreement will be an intrinsic part of the political battle ahead. Persuading a distrustful, urbanised public to give its backing depends in the immediate term on what happens in and around FARC cantonments. Over the next year, successful implementation will be the best way to bolster popular and political support and make it politically costly for opponents to reverse the peace process. Transparency in handover of weapons, full apologies for past crimes, continued progress on humanitarian actions such as de-mining, increased results in the search for victims of forced disappearance and eventual cooperation with the Special Jurisdiction for Peace would underline the insurgents’ commitment to peace and the dangers of reneging on the agreement.

Violence on the ground will also affect support for the agreement in the short term. FARC leaders and troops fear betrayal by the state, and some may seek to hedge their bets in face of the visible opposition from significant political forces. Promised peace talks with the country’s second insurgency, the National Liberation Army (ELN), have not begun, and various armed groups appear to be behind dozens of killings of social leaders that constitute a new wave of terror in remote rural communities. Only resolute commitment by the state to prevent battles for control of illicit economies and protect civilians and ex-combatants will give peace real local-level meaning.

The international community should continue its political support, using its delegates and special envoys to maintain dialogue with all sides and exerting discrete pressure when necessary on opposition leaders to preserve crucial parts of the agreement that could be in jeopardy. It should refrain from making calls for renewed aerial fumigation of coca crops and instead give the agreement on illicit drug substitution a real chance to have effect. It must also use its financial assistance to establish mechanisms for moving resources quickly on behalf of effective implementation on the ground, helping resolve and learn from problems as they arise.

Rebuilding Colombia's Trust in the Peace Process

In this video, our Senior Analyst for Colombia, Kyle Johnson, highlights the main findings of Crisis Group’s report “In the Shadow of “No”: Peace after Colombia’s Plebiscite”. Crisis Group


To build political support for sustainable implementation of the new peace agreement

To the government of Colombia:

  1. Strengthen dissemination of the peace agreement in both rural and urban areas, while increasing protection rapidly for social leaders under threat until the agreement on security guarantees can be implemented.
  2. Establish and fund new institutions and commissions tasked with key roles to implement the peace agreement quickly, while strengthening nascent and galvanising existing bodies to generate early peace dividends for victims and conflict-zone communities.

To the government of Colombia and the FARC:

  1. Continue with the established weapons handover schedule despite delays in FARC arrival at cantonment sites, while adopting a proactive communication strategy, including documenting evidence of the FARC laying down weapons and engaging in reinsertion and of progress on other aspects of implementation.
  2. Keep victims at the centre of the process as implementation begins, increasing cooperation in the search for victims of forced disappearance, releasing all children age fifteen and under in FARC ranks and continuing public apologies for notorious crimes committed in the war.
  3. Explore space for dialogue with the opposition on implementation.
  4. Prioritise improving security for local leaders in the short term with preventive measures, training and strengthened security schemes, while also setting up institutions for protection of FARC members.
  5. Include local and regional authorities more directly during the arms abandonment process and planning of other implementation aspects.

To the opposition:

  1. Reinitiate dialogue with the government on implementation and increase the frequency, strength and level of its denunciations of violence against social leaders.

To the international community:

  1. Continue peace process support by maintaining delegates and special envoys during implementation, supporting citizen security and sustaining funding for international actors with important post-conflict roles, such as the UN High Commissioners for Human Rights and Refugees among other key players.
  2. Press the government and FARC to keep their commitments on time and to involve local actors more extensively.
  3. Continue dialogue with the opposition so as to press for support especially of at-risk parts of the peace agreement, such as rural development, political participation, transitional justice and humanitarian measures.
  4. Make more frequent public statements showing concern for the killing of social leaders and demanding progress in protection and justice.
  5. Support new agreements for major alternative development investments to tackle illicit drug production before pressing for more direct eradication.

To the UN mission:

  1. Finish deployment as quickly as possible, including of the civilian component, to prepare for and receive FARC fighters as they gather in cantonments for weapons handover.
  2. Adopt a proactive communications strategy, publishing frequent updates on FARC concentration and weapons handover, using media beyond regular official reports.
  3. Press the government and FARC to follow the schedule for weapons handover in the peace agreement, despite early and likely future delays.

Bogotá/Brussels, 31 January 2017

I. Introduction

When Colombians voted in October 2016 on the peace agreement between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the “no” vote edged the “yes” by less than half of one per cent, with a 37 per cent turnout.[fn]For previous Crisis Group work on the peace process, see Latin America Reports N°s 58, Colombia’s Final Steps to the End of War, 7 September 2016; 53, The Day after Tomorrow: Colombia’s FARC and the End of the Conflict, 11 December 2014; 51, Left in the Cold? The ELN and Colombia’s Peace Talks, 26 February 2014; 49, Transitional Justice and Colombia’s Peace Talks, 29 August 2013; 45, Colombia: Peace at Last?, 25 September 2012; and Briefing N°32, On Thinner Ice: The Final Phase of Colombia’s Peace Talks, 3 July 2015.Hide Footnote  An intense process of high-level political dialogue ensued, leading to a new agreement that the government, FARC and many in civil society defend. Voicing dismay at the government, which it accuses of undermining democracy, the opposition has also united, but with the aim of rejecting the new agreement.

Congress has ratified the accord, and the start of the calendar for the insurgency’s weapons handover was set for 1 December, initiating the countdown for the 15,000 FARC combatants and militia members to gather in 26 cantonments across the country. The opposition, despite the Constitutional Court having allowed the congressional ratification procedure, has argued that by relying on the previously established pro-government majorities in both houses of the legislature, President Juan Manuel Santos cheated the people. Attempts to persuade it to support the new agreement have failed.

The context in which peace is to be implemented is far from hospitable. The government will struggle, even with international aid, to fund all the activities envisaged. New institutions the accord requires – some already created – are skeletal, sorely understaffed and unable to undertake the programs they are designed for, such as the Agency for Territorial Renovation; other official bodies, including the attorney general’s office, have proposed policies contrary to those in the agreement.[fn]Crisis Group telephone interview, high-level diplomat, Bogotá, 28 November 2016; interview, government official, 9 December 2016.Hide Footnote Violence against local social leaders has increased, raising doubts about peace benefits and leading to further polarisation between supporters and opponents. The peace process with the National Liberation Army (ELN), Colombia’s second largest insurgency, is yet to begin.

Political support for the peace agreement is weak and will most likely flag as the presidential election campaign begins later this year that will bring a new leader to office in 2018. Full implementation is thus far from guaranteed. Even so, the government and FARC have a window of opportunity to build support via implementation over the next eighteen months that would raise the political cost of not continuing the process from mid-2018 onwards.

The research for this approach included extensive interviews with members of the opposition, FARC and government negotiating teams, members of the Tripartite Mechanism to monitor and verify the ceasefire, pro-peace agreement leaders and politicians, political and legal experts and members of the international community close to the peace talks.

II. Getting to a New Agreement

The journey from plebiscite to new peace agreement hinged on various decisive moments. The starting point was the document’s narrow defeat on 2 October, leading to a complex shift in the balance of political power. Neither government nor opposition could claim a clear mandate. Tensions worsened as renegotiation began on a new text, ending with the crafting of an accord that lacked the stable, sustainable political base that opposition support would have added to that of pro-peace political parties, many victims’ organisations and civil society.

A. What Explains the Plebiscite Result?

The surprise result stemmed from the diversity and levels of commitment of voter bases in the opposition and pro-accord movements. A combination of ex-President Álvaro Uribe’s devoted support, anti-“gender ideology” churchgoers and the most right-wing elements of the divided Conservative party made up the majority of those who rejected the agreement.[fn]“Gender ideology” is the phrase used by groups who claim the accord looks to convert children into homosexuals, attacks the traditional family and seeks to take away parents’ right to educate their children in traditional ways. They say the ideology is in those parts of the agreement that promote special treatment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) victims of the conflict. Crisis Group interview, pastor opposed to peace accord, Bogotá, 3 November 2016.Hide Footnote Though he remains extremely divisive, Uribe’s support is stable and high. His followers tend to be more active in promoting their views and encouraging others to vote than those who favour the accords. Uribe backers are in general also more inclined to vote than other groups. The plebiscite was ideal for mobilising his committed base, as it loathes the FARC, rejects its participation in politics and fears Colombia turning into chavista Venezuela. The “religious vote”, primarily concerned about an alleged “gender ideology” smuggled into the agreement, is assumed to have been higher than in previous elections and fundamental to the result. Finally, an unknown part of the “no” vote derived from disinformation targeted at voters according to their region and income level.[fn]‘La estrategia del Sí tuvo muchos desaciertos’: Francisco Gutiérrez”, Semana, 8 October 2016. Jennifer Cyr and Carlos Meléndez, “Colombia’s right-wing populist movement defeated the peace deal. Here’s how we know”, The Washington Post, 4 October 2016. The director of the “no” campaign said different messages were used for distinct population sectors to encourage anger-based voting. These included claims the FARC would receive impunity; images of Santos and FARC leader Timochenko together; that subsidies and pensions for the poor and elderly would be cut; and Colombia would turn into Venezuela. Juliana Ramírez, “El No ha sido la campaña más barata y más efectiva de la historia”, La República, 5 October 2016.Hide Footnote

The high-level battle also favoured the opposition. Ex-President César Gaviria, leading the “yes” campaign, was unable to counter opposition arguments effectively, and no strong, unifying figure similar to Uribe emerged. Vice President Germán Vargas Lleras, a candidate for the role given his power and direct experience of guerrilla violence, was almost completely silent and, if anything, gave indirect support to the opposition.[fn]Vargas Lleras said he supported the agreement, with misgivings on certain issues. The Uribe argument of supporting peace but with changes was conceptually similar, and Vargas Lleras’s lack of campaigning, plus some ideological similarities with Uribe, may have led part of his base to vote “no”. He is due to step down in March 2017 to begin campaigning for the presidency.Hide Footnote “Yes” campaign strategies were also questionable. President Santos’s and other establishment-based parties focused on regional and local politicians, depending mainly on political machines, powerful families and coalition-building, which proved less effective in a single-issue plebiscite than in regular elections and were not even fully activated. Civil society, while vocal, again showed its historical weakness at mobilising votes. Finally, some pro-accord voters may have been complacent due to polls pointing to a big victory.

Areas of higher poverty tended to vote for the accord, except in Bogotá where lower-income groups were strongly “no”. The periphery – defined by measures of typical rural attributes or state capacity – also tended to back the agreement. It has been argued that areas with higher victimisation levels in the armed conflict tended to vote “yes”, but that argument hinges on how victimisation is measured.[fn]Leopoldo Fergusson and Carlos Molina, “Un vistazo a los resultados del plebiscito”, La Silla Vacía, 4 October 2016. If victimisation is measured solely by displacement, there is a clear correlation with “yes” votes, but not when it is measured more generally.Hide Footnote

The opposition’s victory meant its proposals for a new agreement had to be taken into account if the process was to be saved. Early on, some opposition leaders argued that any new accord required their approval. But the close result also allowed the politically-weakened government to divide the opposition (or isolate Uribe) by absorbing some concerns, while maintaining the risky option of a new plebiscite, a tactic that deprived foes of an absolute veto. Moreover, at various stages, the opposition showed itself to be divided. It was not until a new agreement was reached and ratified in Congress, despite the omission of certain of its key concerns, that the opposition could unite in indignation.

B. Positions for a New Agreement

Shortly after the plebiscite, the political and social actors who actively opposed the original agreement handed in their proposed changes. The first document with the entirety of their proposals presented in Havana to the FARC contained more than 260 items from at least ten sources.[fn]Santos no recibe más propuestas sobre el acuerdo de paz”, El Espectador, 20 October 2016. “Propuestas de Gobierno”, Government of Colombia (GOC), 23 October 2016.Hide Footnote Part, especially those touching on rural reform, reflected political interests rather than the concerns of many “no” voters. Despite the diverse, in some cases contradictory universe of proposals, there was a handful the opposition considered indispensable.

The most politically important were unmistakeable. There was a consensus that punishments in the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SPJ) – the system devised to mete out transitional justice for serious crimes committed during the conflict – must be harsher, especially (in some cases exclusively) for the FARC. The SPJ, the opposition argued, should become part of the normal judicial system. There was near agreement that the Armed Forces must receive preferential treatment, though what that entailed differed between factions. The opposition shifted from demanding permanent prohibition from political office for those convicted of crimes against humanity and war crimes to a ban until sentences were completed.

All opposition groups agreed that there should be no amnesty for drug trafficking, the FARC should hand over its assets to be used as reparations to victims, and FARC use of such resources for political activity should be explicitly prohibited. The opposition was also united in demanding the agreement not have constitutional rank.[fn]The constitutional rank, or bloc, is the series of norms not in the constitution but used as parameters for constitutional control of law, such as treaties. “Sentencia C-067/03”, Constitutional Court, 2003.Hide Footnote Private property, it insisted, must be explicitly respected. Finally, concerns were expressed over “gender ideology” and its alleged effects on what was argued to be traditionally defined family and society.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, opposition representative and negotiators, Bogotá, 19, 20 October, 8, 11 November; Christian pastor, Bogotá, 3 November; senior diplomat, 11 November, all 2016. “Propuestas de Gobierno”, op. cit.Hide Footnote

The government responded by identifying those it considered easy to resolve, those that were difficult but not impossible and those that were held to be completely unviable. The opposition then argued that ruling out anything meant Santos was opening the door to “cheating” “no” voters by discarding key proposals that were inconvenient. Nonetheless, Santos sent his negotiators to Cuba with orders to take tougher stances on certain points, leading to friction with the FARC on the political participation issue, for example.[fn]Santos dice que algunas propuestas para acuerdo de paz son inviables”, El Tiempo, 20 October 2016. “Santos quiere hacer conejo con el acuerdo: Alejandro Ordóñez”, El Espectador, 3 November 2016. Crisis Group interview, senior diplomat, Bogotá, 4 November 2016; opposition negotiator, Bogotá, 8 November 2016; FARC negotiator, Havana, 28 October 2016.Hide Footnote

Once renegotiations began in Cuba, attention turned to the FARC’s reaction. Soon after the plebiscite, the group announced it was committed to peace and, in a 7 October communiqué, to adjusting the agreement so that it could earn broad-based political backing.[fn]Comunicado conjunto: Acuerdo Final, plebiscito y cese al fuego”, GOC and FARC-EP, 7 October 2016.Hide Footnote But it also said it could not yield on eligibility for office, which it considered the essence of the negotiations: converting an armed insurgency into a peaceful political force. It also continued to reject prison sentences, insisting that any harsher punishment must be applied to all actors in the conflict, and opposed including the SPJ within the ordinary justice system. The FARC (and government) disagreed with the proposal to give landowners a permanent assumption of good faith in all land purchases, thus allowing them to avoid prosecution if the land had been stolen without their direct participation. Lastly, it pushed hard for the accord to have constitutional force, but eventually gave way.[fn]Crisis Group interview, FARC negotiator, Havana, 28 October 2016.Hide Footnote

C. Three Renegotiations

A new agreement depended on three negotiation processes. The first was between the opposition and government. In public, both spoke of productive talks; in reality, there was a mutual lack of confidence. The government believed the opposition wanted to drag talks on into the 2018 presidential election, while the opposition was unsure the government would genuinely represent its positions in Havana. After an early back-and-forth, the opposition handed in a document with all its original proposals, some of which were watered down to show flexibility.[fn]Crisis Group interview, opposition negotiator, Bogotá, 8 November 2016.Hide Footnote

The second track involved civil society supporters of the peace agreement and the government, as well as on occasion the FARC. Not so much a negotiation as a defensive move by the pro-agreement camp, organisations, movements and leaders met with Santos to urge him to find a new accord quickly and to retain the original principles. A series of marches across the country and creation of a Peace Camp in Bogotá’s central Bolívar Plaza kept pressure on all sides.[fn]Crisis Group interview, organiser of the Peace Camp in Bolívar Plaza, Bogotá, 12 October 2016.Hide Footnote Some movements travelled to Havana to urge the FARC to persevere in its search for peace.

The third and final negotiation was between the government and the FARC. The government negotiators returned to Havana on 21 October and began a first round of talks, each one lasting roughly twelve hours. After these, the team returned to Bogotá to update the opposition. On 29 October, a new round began with the FARC, eventually leading to the announcement of a revised accord on 12 November. The latter talks had their difficult moments, particularly over FARC’s future political participation.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, high-level diplomat, Bogotá, 4 November 2016; FARC negotiator, Havana, 28 October 2016.Hide Footnote

During the negotiations with the FARC, a stable line of communication was established to keep opposition leaders up to date. However, concern that the government was not properly representing opposition positions was never fully dissipated. The “no” leaders expected further discussion on the new agreement before it was signed, but this never happened. With a few key concerns not addressed and amid politically motivated allegations that the revisions were little more than cosmetic, the opposition finally united against the document.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, opposition negotiators, Bogotá, 8, 11 and 30 November 2016.Hide Footnote

Throughout the renegotiation, the government and FARC felt under great time pressure due to concern the bilateral ceasefire could fall apart, despite an early consensus between them and the opposition that it was necessary. A new, detailed protocol included the pre-grouping of FARC fighters. With the government paying for FARC sustenance after 30 days, maintenance of the cessation of hostilities was possible, but the ceasefire was designed to last only three months.[fn]Crisis Group interview, member, UN mission, Bogotá, 9 November 2016. “protocolo para el cese al fuego y de hostilidades bilateral y definitivo (CFHBD) entre el gobierno nacional y las FARC-EP”, GOC, FARC-EP and UN mission, 13 October 2016.Hide Footnote On 13 November, the army killed two FARC fighters carrying out extortion activities on pretext of being ELN in Santa Rosa del Sur, a southern Bolívar province municipality.[fn]“GOC and FARC-EP violated ceasefire in south Bolivar incident”, Tripartite Mechanism communiqué, 30 November 2016.Hide Footnote While this event highlighted the ceasefire’s fragility, it also showed the robustness of the Tripartite Mechanism.[fn]The Tripartite Mechanism, which includes the government, FARC and UN mission, is to monitor and verify the ceasefire and weapons handover process. The UN mission is charged with investigating possible violations, helping agree protocols when necessary, assuring the parties fulfil their roles and providing recommendations after violations, among other tasks.Hide Footnote Both parties immediately turned to it to investigate, and it found violations by both sides. Government and FARC language then softened, and no further violent actions took place between them.

D. The New Agreement

The new agreement announced on 12 November included numerous changes based on opposition proposals. Some 58 per cent of the opposition’s original public proposals were included completely or partially. Some 58 proposals posited complete changes in form and underlying justification, of which 21 were included completely and six partially.[fn]See “Radiografía del plebiscito y el posplebiscito”, and “Radiografía del nuevo acuerdo: ¿Qué tanto se renegoció?”, both Fundación Ideas para la Paz, n.d.Hide Footnote Contrary to opposition charges, the revisions were beyond cosmetic.

Most of the opposition’s proposals and wording on Comprehensive Rural Reform were included and/or addressed, such as the rural tax system and legal protection for those who bought land in good faith. The same can be said for proposals and wording on political participation, for example on the role of political parties in designing a new statute for the political opposition.[fn]Many of victims’ leader Herbin Hoyos’s original proposals on victims’ participation in politics did not make it into the agreement, as they were either already implicitly there or proposed automatic seats in Congress for victims and a party with the same rights as the FARC, among others. The statute for political opposition is a legal measure to outline the special “guarantees for political parties and movements that declare themselves to be in opposition”. “Acuerdo final para la terminación del conflicto y la construcción de una paz estable y duradera”, GOC and FARC-EP, 24 November 2016, p. 37.Hide Footnote Some proposals on procedures for ending the conflict and on guarantees for ex-combatants’ security were accepted, though the conditions under which ex-combatants could hold office, including automatic allocation of congressional seats, were not altered. Several proposals on illegal drug cultivation were also incorporated, including a FARC legal commitment to hand over all relevant information about the drug trade, and the state’s right to aerially fumigate coca crops, despite suspension of this method in 2015.

Regarding victims and justice, the FARC is to hand over its whole war economy to provide victims reparations. The SPJ system is to be connected to the penal code and judicial system and not have foreign judges nor give NGO reports the same weight in evidence as information from the state authorities. SPJ courts may rule that FARC drug-trafficking can be interpreted as having been for personal gain, not merely to fund armed political activity. Perhaps most importantly in light of “no” campaign rhetoric, the new accord defines the restriction of liberty of convicted guerrilla combatants as obliging them to reside throughout their sentences within a village, under UN surveillance, while doing reparations-oriented work.[fn]Ibid.Hide Footnote

Numerous implementation proposals were added, including clauses on the accord’s financial stability; definition of “gender focus” as the “recognition of the equal rights between men and women, the special circumstances of each …”; and explicit respect for religious liberty.[fn]Ibid, p. 193.Hide Footnote Nor will the agreement have constitutional rank.[fn]Sources for this information include a comparison of the new accord, GOC and FARC-EP, op. cit., and the first document used in Havana to discuss opposition proposals, “Propuestas de Gobierno”, op. cit.; and “Sistematización opciones y propuestas voceros del no y lo acordado en el nuevo acuerdo”, Oficina del Alto Comisionado para la Paz, 22 November 2016. For just changes, see “Documento de trabajo: cambios, precisiones y ajustes”, Office of the High Commissioner for Peace, 12 November 2016. Pablo Abitbol, “Comparación anterior y nuevo Acuerdo Final Gobierno de Colombia – FARC-EP”, n.d.Hide Footnote The government and FARC argued they made changes to 56 of 57 topics discussed with the opposition; FARC political participation was the exception.[fn]“‘Logramos precisiones y cambios en 56 de los 57 temas abordados en nuevo acuerdo’: Santos”, El Espectador, 12 November 2016.Hide Footnote

III. Peace Toward 2018

All opposition leaders and the government negotiating team met the evening of 21 November in Bogotá.[fn]On the morning of 21 November, the presidential candidates of the Democratic Centre Party met with government negotiators to cordially discuss agreement on implementation. But poor communication from the opposition and differences of opinion on the government side, as well as procedural disagreements, set the tone for the evening meeting. Crisis Group interviews, opposition negotiator, Bogotá, 29 November 2016; political expert, Bogotá, 2 December 2016.Hide Footnote It started poorly, and ended worse. Perceptions differed on whether changes had been made to key parts of the accord; whether the new agreement was to be discussed with “no” leaders before signing; and over the way forward. They settled for complete disagreement: the opposition publicly rejected the accord, backtracking on some of its offers of greater flexibility. The polarisation created by the plebiscite, after being briefly camouflaged during the renegotiation process, resurfaced intact during the new ratification process.[fn]No es No”, La Silla Vacía, 22 November 2016; “Comunicado de representantes del No y de las víctimas”, 21 November 2016; Crisis Group interview, opposition negotiator, Bogotá, 30 November 2016.Hide Footnote

A. The Politics of Congressional Ratification

On 29 November, the Senate approved the peace agreement, 75-0; 25 from the opposition took part in debate but abstained, arguing Congress had no legal mandate to approve the accord. The same occurred in the House of Representatives the next day, where the vote was 130-0 (out of 166 taking part). The votes were controversial for reasons that will continue to impair support for the agreement.

Using Congress gave the government and FARC a clear route to ratification, while putting the opposition at a patent disadvantage. The pro-government coalition has a clear majority in both houses, especially on issues relating to the peace process. With Congressional elections not due until 2018, there is no immediate way for the “no” movement to translate its support base into legislative power.

This has led the opposition to argue that the government is undemocratically “imposing” the same peace deal, but the assertion that the congressional ratification is “undemocratic” depends on two claims. The first is that the new accord has only cosmetic changes, which fails to recognise the opposition’s success in getting key proposals into the text. The second contests the government view as to what can be defined legally as a “popular referendum”. The opposition argues that a special congressional vote is not a valid “popular referendum”; the pro-agreement side, including Santos, insists it is. Forced to adjudicate, the Constitutional Court ruled in December that Congress could itself decide on the ratification process.[fn]The Legislative Act for Peace’s fifth article required any peace agreement to go through a “popular referendum”, which at the time included the options of local committees, Congress or a new plebiscite. When the act was passed, the “popular referendum” language referred to the plebiscite. The Constitutional Court’s ruling on the Legislative Act avoided answering if Congress was a valid option, letting that body decide. The response in effect was “yes” as Congress activated the fast-track in December. “Comunicado No. 52”, Constitutional Court, 13 December 2016, p. 2.Hide Footnote The result of these differences is that the opposition has begun to use more extreme language, ratcheting up political polarisation by questioning not just the terms of peace but also the government’s respect for basic democratic tenets.[fn]See the speeches made by the Democratic Centre Party (DCP) Senators Iván Duque, Carlos Holmes Trujillo and Óscar Iván Zuluaga during the referendum debate in the Senate on 29 November 2016.Hide Footnote

The Constitutional Court also allowed Congress to activate the fast-track system laid out in the Legislative Act for Peace for approving the more than 50 laws needed to implement the peace agreement while avoiding the standard four or eight congressional readings of each bill. Considered essential – the FARC even said it would otherwise return to war – fast-track enabled Congress to approve key legislation, including the amnesty law passed at the end of December.[fn]“‘Sin ‘fast track’ volveríamos al monte’”, Semana Video, n.d.Hide Footnote

Avoiding a second plebiscite and securing fast-track procedures for peace agreement legislation have been essential to rapid recovery of the peace process. However, the way in which the government has acted makes rejection of the peace accord and its implementation – partially or wholly – a profitable political platform for 2018, as the opposition will continue to argue there has been no new peace agreement, and that the 2 October plebiscite was thwarted. Implementation in the medium- and long-term thus is at serious risk.

B. To 2018 and Beyond

As in the 2014 elections, peace will be at the heart of the national vote in 2018. The peace agreement will be central in the opposition’s congressional and presidential platforms.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, opposition negotiators, Bogotá, 11 and 30 November 2016.Hide Footnote With Uribe and other leading opposition figures set against the peace agreement and portraying themselves as the saviours of democracy, and with Vice President Vargas Lleras another contender, the likelihood of an anti-agreement candidate winning the presidency is high.[fn]Colombian presidential politics is a mix of traditional patronage networks and political identities, powerful families and opinion-based voting. Uribe will be able to mobilise perhaps around four million supporters for his preferred candidate. Vargas Lleras has the highest favourability of any politician (61 per cent), followed by Uribe (57 per cent), though recent scandals in his Radical Change party, may weaken him. Nonetheless, his patronage networks are unmatched. Marta Lucía Ramírez, Conservative party, had a good first round in 2014, and has a favourable rating of 41 per cent, but her party is regionally weak. On the pro-agreement side, the likely Liberal party candidate, Humberto de la Calle, has a 54 per cent rating. His party, though, can no longer count on votes from its 2014 alliance with Cambio Radical and is still weakened by old divisions. The Greens and Democratic Pole are relatively weak. “Gallup Colombia Poll #116”, December 2016. “Elecciones Presidenciales: Resultados”, Registraduría Nacional del Estado Civil, s.f.Hide Footnote Full implementation of the accord would then be in jeopardy.

Coalition-building will be crucial for the next president and Congress.[fn]Alliances are a constant in presidential elections, as parties make agreements after the first round to support one of two remaining candidates. In 2018, many coalitions will likely already exist due to shared positions on the peace agreement. After the plebiscite, the power of various actors within those coalitions is hard to judge and not static.Hide Footnote The numerous possible presidential candidates within the “no” movement, including Marta Lucía Ramírez, Óscar Iván Zuluaga, Iván Duque, Carlos Holmes Trujillo, and Alejandro Ordóñez, as well as Vargas Lleras, will make competition within and between parties fiercer than normal. In general, the Democratic Centre Party (DCP) starts with an edge, as its vote threshold is high, and Uribe, though barred from a new term, enjoys a certain cult of personality.[fn]“‘La estrategia del Sí tuvo muchos desaciertos’: Francisco Gutiérrez”, Semana, 8 October 2016; Crisis Group interview, political expert, 10 November 2016.Hide Footnote It is difficult to imagine a realistic scenario in which the DCP candidate does not make it to the second round of voting. As other opposition contenders look to increase their vote share, they have tended to portray themselves more radically as saviours of democracy and security.[fn]Alejandro Ordóñez has charged that because of how the peace accord was handled, Santos is consolidating a “dictatorship”. “En Colombia estamos ‘desde hace rato en una dictadura’: Alejandro Ordóñez”, Oiga Noticias, 26 October 2016. Marta Lucía Ramírez has called for a Constitutional Assembly to “redefine the functioning of established state organs, such as the presidency, Congress and the Courts”. “Colombia se está adentrando en una crisis de legitimidad institucional”, Ramírez, 22 December 2016.Hide Footnote

Vargas Lleras will be something of a wildcard. Though he keeps a low profile on the peace issue, the influence of his Radical Change party and the extent of his political patronage networks mean he commands many votes. He regards as his main opponent Humberto de la Calle, the most likely Liberal Party candidate, who, as the government’s chief negotiator with the FARC, is a staunch defender of the peace agreement. However, Vargas Lleras and Uribe have a poor relationship, despite certain gestures from the latter that could be interpreted as an invitation to an alliance.[fn]Tatiana Duque, “La estrategia disidente de Vargas”, La Silla Vacía, 28 November 2016; Crisis Group interview, high-level diplomat, Bogotá, 4 November 2016.Hide Footnote A possible outcome is a second round in the presidential election pitting the DCP against Vargas Lleras, with neither candidate strongly for implementing the whole peace agreement.[fn]Crisis Group interview, pro-accord senator, Bogotá, 30 November 2016. Vargas Lleras never had a strong position on the accord; recent information suggests he may oppose. Tatiana Duque, “Así se prepara Vargas Lleras para cuando le llegue su hora”, La Silla Vacía, 15 January 2017.Hide Footnote If he does not reach the second round, Vargas Lleras’s support would likely be decisive for the winner. He currently appears inclined more toward the DCP than pro-peace agreement parties.

Evangelical Christian churches will also be another major player in the run-up to the election. They are believed to have provided between one and two million votes to the “no” camp, and various religious leaders expect to play a central part in 2018.[fn]Natalio Cosoy, “El rol de las iglesias cristianas evangélicas en la victoria del “No” en el plebiscito de Colombia”, BBC Mundo, 5 October 2016; “El voto evangélico, clave en la victoria del ‘no’ en el plebiscito de Colombia”, El País de España, 13 October 2016. There is no way of knowing how many votes the churches provided, though they are widely credited with contributing two million to the “no” campaign. Some church actors did favour “yes”, but they are perceived as a minority.Hide Footnote The Christian “no” vote, however, is not homogeneous. While references to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) issues in the peace agreement were ripped out of context and used to anger most Evangelical voters, there is less consensus among these Christian communities on other issues, such as justice, the truth commission and land ownership. Some pastors and followers but not all seem interested in political influence.[fn]Cristianos: ¿el poder decisorio en la política?”, Semana, 29 October 2016; Crisis Group interview, Christian pastor involved in post-plebiscite negotiations, 3 November 2016.Hide Footnote

Crafting coalitions will also be a priority for parties looking to defend the peace agreement. Numerous parties favour peace but by themselves do not provide enough votes to secure a second-round candidacy, as their support is scattered. Creating a pro-agreement alliance would be a step toward assuring that a candidate willing to implement the accord reaches the second round. But such a coalition would feature a wide array of groups that disagree strongly on other issues.[fn]Crisis Group interview, pro-agreement senator, Bogotá, 30 November 2016. For example, Jorge Robledo, Democratic Pole party senator and its possible presidential candidate, favours the accord but strongly opposes the government’s new tax bill, which parties that also support the deal back. “La peor reforma tributaria imaginable: Robledo”, Jorge Robledo, official website, 20 October 2016.Hide Footnote

The pro-agreement coalition would feature the Green Party, a force whose ability to mobilise votes is likely larger than its current representation in Congress; the Liberal and U parties, in which Santos has his roots and currently belongs respectively, and which are unlikely to make it to the second round, having done so in 2014 only because of their alliance with the Radical Change party in the first round; and what remains of the divided, left-leaning Democratic Pole party. Pro-agreement candidates will also have to find the right balance between supporting the accord and distancing themselves from Santos. The tax reform passed toward the end of 2016, which hiked value-added tax by three percentage points, the troubled economic conditions due to declining oil revenues and the president’s unpopularity make it essential that candidates who favour the peace process differentiate themselves from him and his government on other issues.[fn]President Santos’s 60 per cent disapproval rating, “Gallup Colombia Poll #116”, December 2016, is likely to worsen after a very unpopular tax reform in December. In 30 November Bolívar Plaza protests, when the House of Representatives voted on the new peace agreement, some accord protesters also held signs and chanted against the tax reform, believing it was connected to paying for peace and FARC reincorporation.Hide Footnote

Coalitions will also be decisive for forming a majority in Congress.[fn]Eighteen parties are in Congress; five parties competed in the first round of the last presidential election. Regionally-based small parties can amass just enough votes to enter Congress but not enough to be on the presidential ballot. See “Partidos y Bancadas”, Congreso Visible, s.f. “Elección de presidente y vicepresidente – primera vuelta”, Registraduría Nacional de Colombia, s.f.Hide Footnote The plebiscite result suggests the DCP could well increase its Senate representation. In the House of Representatives, however, it may find the going harder. Others tend to have greater regional success, including the Conservative, Liberal and U parties.[fn]Crisis Group interview, political expert, Bogotá, 10 November 2016. In the House of Representatives, the DCP has nineteen seats, six from Antioquia, five from Bogotá and eight from different departments. It has only one governor (Casanare). All but one of 27 Conservative party deputies are from outside Bogotá, as are 36 of 39 Liberals and 35 of 37 U party deputies. See “Elegidos Congreso de la República 2014-2018”, Registraduría Nacional, s.f.Hide Footnote To form congressional majorities, the DCP must count on other parties, making preservation of opposition unity vital for it. Pro-agreement parties will also seek to stay united on the issue to keep their congressional numbers.[fn]Crisis Group interview, opposition negotiator and senator, Bogotá, 30 November 2016.Hide Footnote

If the opposition does take power with a mandate against at least part of the peace agreement, implementation of the most contested areas could end. One option would be to modify laws that were impossible to change when they were originally passed due to the fast-track. Another would be to starve politically and financially key institutions, programs or policies. By underfunding them or undercutting their political importance, it could quickly make the accord an irrelevance.

The government has tried to prevent this by tabling a bill that would oblige future governments to implement the peace agreement, but this could be repealed or ignored after a shift in the balance of power.[fn]Proyecto de acto legislativo 01 de 2016 senado“, law proposed by Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo, 19 December 2016.Hide Footnote Pressure from abroad and vocal parts of Colombian society, however, might make it prohibitively costly to jettison the agreement. In that case, a commitment to continue implementing key parts of the agreement, such as transitional justice and humanitarian mechanisms, and not undo progress on other points, could be a viable goal for renewed dialogue between the government and opposition throughout 2017.

IV. Implementation and its Effect on Political Support

During 2017, congressional and presidential support for the agreement will be strong and stable. But popular support for its implementation is fragile and uncertain beyond the short term, putting full application of the accord at risk. A small window exists during which implementation could decisively shift backing in either direction, depending on success in carrying out fundamental parts of the pact and altering conditions in conflict-affected territories.

A. FARC Concerns

The effect on the FARC of political opposition to the peace agreement is likely to become more pronounced in coming months. Throughout the ceasefire, and particularly since the plebiscite, it has faced the risk of increased internal strains. The ceasefire violation in southern Bolívar is telling: the front operating there was unable to control its fighters or had simply continued extortion. A later expulsion of five mid-level commanders in the eastern plains, including Gentil Duarte, who had been put in charge of the faction of the First Front that supported the peace agreement, shows the strains at that level, whether due to political uncertainty, connections to lucrative illegal economies or both.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Tripartite Mechanism member, Bogotá, 9 November 2016. “FARC-EP separa a 5 mandos de sus filas”, FARC-EP, 16 December 2016. In June 2016, a First Front faction in Guaviare announced it would not be part of the agreement. FARC leadership then selected Duarte, a Central High Command member, to lead the part that still supported the peace accord.Hide Footnote

The political climate fosters one concern above all within the FARC: that the government will not fulfil its part of the accord. While the group, in its tenth conference in September 2016, ratified the whole peace agreement by consensus, the possibility of returning to the battlefield resurfaced in December, when Timochenko reminded fighters they might have to prepare for “plan B”: resumption of war. Such threats could increase if implementation is jeopardised.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, FARC members, Yarí plains, 15-25 September 2016. “Timochenko alerta a la tropa de las Farc: preparemos el plan B”, Las 2 Orillas, 8 December 2016.Hide Footnote

FARC dissidents could cause violence, which would produce a chain reaction on implementation and national political support for the agreement. There have already been reports of First Front violence in Guaviare and Vaupés.[fn]Defensoría alerta sobre reclutamiento forzado y extorsiones de bloque disidente de las Farc en Vaupés”, El Espectador, 11 November 2016.Hide Footnote Dissidence in the ranks of the Daniel Aldana Front has been confirmed in Tumaco, though it is not clear whether this is related to the peace process or a schism caused by the character of the front (formerly a mobile column). The death of Don Y, a leader of the dissident faction, at the hands of the FARC in November showed how infighting can lead to violence.[fn]‘Don Y’, el disidente de las Farc que azota a Tumaco”, La Silla Pacífica, 31 October 2016; “Las Farc mataron a ‘Don Y’”, La Silla Pacífica, 16 November 2016. Eduardo Álvarez, “Disidencias de las FARC: ¿Por qué lo hacen? ¿Qué tan peligrosas son?”, Razón Pública, 14 November 2016.Hide Footnote With other armed groups looking to take over Tumaco, home to a dense concentration of coca crops, increased violence there is probable. The removal of five commanders, plus a skirmish between eight dissident members of the 14th front and pro-agreement members of the Teófilo Forero mobile column, provide further examples.

After the weapons handover finishes, the possibility of FARC members returning to violence could grow, through dissidence or individual desertion from the reincorporation program. That program for ex-fighters is notably weak when it comes to a specific approach for mid-level commanders, who are used to handling large sums of money and enjoying political and military power. Many key details of the reincorporation process will only be decided after the census of FARC combatants is finished and Ecomun – the cooperative business the FARC is to run for their reintegration – is created. The political and humanitarian costs of fighters leaving the process to return to violence would be extremely high.[fn]“Lo que tiene que pasar este año para aterrizar los acuerdos”, La Silla Vacía, 10 January 2017. For more on FARC reincorporation, see Crisis Group Report, Colombia’s Final Steps, op. cit.Hide Footnote The already-established National Reincorporation Council and Ecomun will have key roles in keeping fighters involved.

In the immediate future, the first, most critical part of the timetable for both guerrillas and government is the weapons handover to the UN mission.[fn]On D-Day +90, FARC combatants will have to hand over 30 per cent of their weapons; on D-Day +120, another 30 per cent; and on D-Day +150, the remaining 40 per cent. By D-Day +60, the FARC will have had to hand over all light weapons, grenades, munitions and militia arms.Hide Footnote The end of FARC existence as an armed organisation is the crux of the peace agreement and was the government’s principal argument to muster support for quick renegotiation after the plebiscite. Typically, many challenges arise in such processes, including delays, logistical issues and incomplete handover of weapons, and these have already affected FARC concentration. Arms abandonment by the FARC will likely face other problems that the opposition could easily highlight to argue the process is faltering. Discovery of hidden arms, for example, would fuel a wary public’s mistrust. At the same time, lack of medium- and long-term political support for the agreement increases the possibility parts of the FARC will hedge their bets on peace and so risk further undermining public backing.[fn]Crisis Group interview, opposition negotiator, Bogotá, 30 November 2016; Pro-agreement senator, Bogotá, 30 November 2016. For more on the arms handover process, see Crisis Group Report, Colombia’s Final Steps, op. cit.Hide Footnote

A pressing reason for the FARC to prevaricate in this way is the killing of and threats against local social leaders. At least 90 killings and more than 230 threats were recorded in 2016.[fn]Armando Neira, “Asesinatos de líderes sociales, el lunar que deja el 2016”, El Tiempo, 28 December 2016. Eduardo Álvarez, “Quién sigue matando a los líderes sociales en Colombia?”, Razón Pública, 28 November 2016.Hide Footnote It is imperative that the government protect civilians in targeted communities, irrespective of who is doing the killings or whether paramilitaries are behind the wave of violence. If the hypothesis that armed groups moving into new territory and seizing control over illicit economies explains part of the killings, the government must make substantial progress on filling the power vacuum left by the FARC.[fn]Crisis Group interview, high-level diplomat, Bogotá, 28 November 2016.Hide Footnote Until then, the continued killing heightens the risk of fragmentation within the FARC and undermines the perceived benefits of peace locally.

The agreement on security guarantees, for the FARC and other activists and political actors locally, needs to be enforced quickly and effectively. The government should start by strengthening existing individual and collective protection schemes and work with local leaders on steps they can take to mitigate risks. This can be done while the FARC security system is set up during the weapons handover process. Opposition leaders should also increase the frequency and volume of their condemnations of such violence and clearly distinguish their arguments against the peace deal from the actions of violent saboteurs at the local level.[fn]This is not to say there is a connection between the opposition and this violence, but rather that perpetrators might be using opposition arguments to justify their actions.Hide Footnote The international community, already highly concerned by the violence, could raise the international visibility of these attacks by more frequent public condemnations and calls for justice.

B. Planning Successful Implementation

Weapons handover began poorly. Shockingly little had been done to install adequate infrastructure in the cantonment sites, causing delays in the first steps of the process.[fn]“Comunicado Conjunto Nº 10”, GOC and FARC-EP, 28 December 2016.Hide Footnote FARC fighters will gradually move from the pre-grouping sites as the 26 cantonments are finalised. By mid-January, land to house combatants had been rented in only seventeen. Only in two, Putumayo and Policarpa, Nariño, were FARC fighters able to stay and build the facilities they need to live. According to the government, preparation of cantonment infrastructure is moving fast.[fn]Gobierno acelera el paso para dejar listas las zonas veredales de Farc”, El Tiempo, 10 January 2017; “El 90% de los miembros de las Farc está a 10 km de zonas de desarme”, El Tiempo, 10 January 2017.Hide Footnote A renegotiated protocol has established that delivery of the materials needed to finish construction and the complete concentration of the FARC are to be accomplished by 31 January.[fn]“Acta de acuerdos de trabajo entre el gobierno nacional y las FARC-EP”, GOC and FARC-EP, 17 January 2017.Hide Footnote

While the first three deadlines – FARC concentration, destruction of unstable weapons and transfer of personal and militia-members’ small weapons to the cantonments – were not met, the government has insisted the rest of the handover process will go as scheduled. These targets could easily encounter problems, but it is essential they are met according to the accord’s terms to prevent feeding public mistrust of the group. To avoid this, fighters who arrive first in cantonments could be part of the 30 per cent to hand over their weapons at D-Day +90.

The UN mission and the Tripartite Mechanism to verify and monitor the ceasefire and weapons handover have key roles.[fn]UN: First 2 Deadlines in Colombia Cease-Fire Can’t Be Met”, The New York Times, 11 January 2017. “Ya tenemos 17 zonas arrendadas y 8 en trámite’: Carlos Córdoba”, Semana, 10 January 2017. “Para evitar más muertes, Sergio Jaramillo propone acelerar implementación de acuerdos”, El Espectador, 16 November 2016; “Intervención del Presidente Juan Manuel Santos en el acto de la Firma del Nuevo Acuerdo de Paz con las Farc”, Presidencia, 24 November 2016.Hide Footnote The former has already been engaged in verifying ceasefire violations but has also become entangled to some degree in a few incidents of improper behaviour. Though they were not directly involved, the governor of Antioquia’s accusations that under-age prostitution and heavy drinking by many FARC members in town centres suggested lack of clear information on the ceasefire process. The Tripartite Mechanism later confirmed there was no prostitution but verified a case in which a FARC member violated protocol, leaving the cantonment without permission and drinking and arguing with a civilian in a small hamlet. The governor toured the cantonments after the DCP openly supported him and subsequently backtracked on his original accusations. Still, the Tripartite Mechanism, including the UN mission, in effect became the arbiter between political rivals.[fn]La pelea entre las FARC y el gobernador de Antioquia”, Semana, 28 December 2016. “Mecanismo de monitoreo y verificación communicado de prensa”, Misión de la ONU en Colombia, 30 December 2016. “Uribe dice estar dispuesto a acompañar al gobernador de Antioquia a sitios de preconcentración”, RCN, 29 December 2016. “Así avanza la polémica revisión de las zonas de concentración en Antioquia“, Semana, 7 January 2016.Hide Footnote

More publicly, images of UN mission staff dancing with FARC members on New Years’ Eve led to an opposition outcry and claims that the mission’s credibility and impartiality had been impaired. The members involved were removed, though some questioned whether the incident had not been overblown.[fn]Misión de la onu en colombia separa a observadores de su servicio”, Misión de la ONU en Colombia, 5 January 2016. Marta Ruiz, “El episodio de los verificadores: un escándalo desproporcionado”, Semana, 6 January 2017.Hide Footnote

In its first report, which gained limited media and public attention due to the focus on the alleged scandals, the UN mission stated that 280 observers were in the country, with the number to increase to 450 in January, though the civilian component has lagged behind deployment of the military. A balance between the civilian and military parts of the mission is essential, especially in maintaining strong relationships between the mission, local authorities and communities. By 7 December, the mission had also successfully monitored 183 movements of FARC fighters and dealt with 27 requests for verification, only nine of which could be investigated as eighteen were not within its mandate.[fn]Primer informe de actividades del MM&V”, Mecanismo y Monitoreo y Verificación, 30 December 2016.Hide Footnote

The troubled start to concentration of FARC forces should not obscure the importance of the mission’s role in the future handover of weapons. Complete deployment of personnel across all cantonment sites and regular release of updates to the media beyond its regular reports, with consent of the government and FARC, would help enhance the mission’s effectiveness and public standing, as well as the public’s perception of progress. The mission should also work closely with the government and FARC to push them to follow the weapons handover schedule laid out in the peace agreement, despite early delays.

A robust communications strategy for when the FARC hands over weapons is crucial to gain support for the process. The opposition has not made the early delays the focal point of its complaints, concentrating instead on the relationship between the UN, the government and FARC. Its grievances have been based on mistrust of the guerrillas, which would only be fuelled by an insufficiently transparent weapons handover. To overcome scepticism, the FARC would be well advised to drop its long-held misgivings and allow publication of photos of fighters handing over weapons to the UN mission. Its new media savviness, which has bolstered its poor public image, and its interest in generating political capital suggest it may do so.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, FARC negotiator, Havana, 9 June 2016; high-level diplomat, Bogotá, 28 November 2016. “Nueva estética de las Farc, ¿Estrategia mediática o cambio verdadero?”, Semana, 12 November 2016.Hide Footnote The cost of not doing so could be proliferation of claims that the FARC have held back some weapons.

The handover is due to end six months after D-Day, but the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SPJ) will not be operating by then. Given that justice was one of most controversial items in the peace accord, opposition scrutiny of the transitional justice system and misgivings about the SPJ will be prominent in the year’s debate. That benefits for FARC fighters, such as amnesties, security measures and reincorporation money will be provided early on, while SPJ sentences will be handed down much later, could create an impression that the FARC is being rewarded without having fulfilled any judicial or truth obligations.[fn]Crisis Group interview, member, international community, Bogotá, 14 December 2016.Hide Footnote As Congressional and presidential campaigns enter their final stretch, the SPJ will likely be hearing its first cases. How it handles them and how the accused behave toward the courts, will surely be closely scrutinised by the opposition and voters.

The FARC should cooperate as much as possible with transitional justice mechanisms, including the SPJ, the truth commission and efforts to find remains of victims of forced disappearance. By proving commitment to fulfilling their obligations even at personal cost, FARC leaders could sway opinions on peace and undercut opposition arguments. Not doing so or using the new judicial mechanisms to defend its war effort, point fingers and/or deny responsibility in high-profile cases would strengthen opinion against the guerrillas and the peace agreement. Members of the Armed Forces must also appear before the SPJ so as not to fuel a perception it is a mechanism aimed only against the FARC and protects state officials.

Public apologies for major war crimes should also remain part of FARC and government approaches to building support for the deal. FARC has apologised for killing eleven deputies in 2007; it should do the same for bombing the Nogal club in Bogotá in 2003. But these should not be public shows of remorse for political purposes.[fn]The public apology in La Chinita for a 1994 massacre had much show and little substance according to an attendee. Crisis Group interview, diplomat, Bogotá, 21 October 2016.Hide Footnote More generally, the focus on and participation of victims in early implementation and other peace activities should remain central, including efforts to find victims of forced disappearance and cooperation with the truth commission. Not doing so would undermine the argument that victims were central to the negotiation and the agreement’s legitimacy. Matters have been made more complicated since the plebiscite by disputes between different opposition and pro-agreement actors over the right to represent victims, a contest that will inevitably continue into the election season.[fn]Opposition actors claimed to speak for FARC victims, including Sofía Gaviria and Herbin Hoyos, as did government and pro-peace agreement leaders.Hide Footnote

The government also needs to continue educational work to create ownership of the accord by local and regional communities, as well as urbanites. Generating that sense would increase the political cost of non-implementation or diluting content. The opposition showed in the plebiscite that connecting the accord to people’s everyday lives, accurately or not, was an effective strategy.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, political activist and university professor, Bogotá, 16 November 2016; opposition negotiator, Bogotá, 30 November 2016. “El No ha sido la campaña más barata y más efectiva de la historia”, La República, 5 October 2016.Hide Footnote Proactive communication to show progress in implementation would be equally important.

A number of other important efforts related to the agreement, especially de-mining, will also be measures of tangible progress. It was recently announced that after 46 devices were destroyed over more than a year, Orejón, in Briceño, Antioquia, no longer has any landmines.[fn]Deicy Johana Pareja M., “El Orejón, la vereda que es ejemplo del desminado humanitario”, El Tiempo, 22 December 2016; “Vereda Orejón, municipio de Briceño (Antioquia)”, Dirección Contra Minas, n.d.Hide Footnote Such efforts, as well as coca crop substitution pilots and other quick-impact projects by different institutions, can help communities feel that peace has brought a major material change in their daily lives and create an expectation of economic and institutional development to come. The 700 projects that the post-conflict ministry recently announced it will begin or carry out in the first 100 days of peace, in addition to its Rapid Response Plan, will be crucial, but there is still a lack of financial and political backing within the government. Adequately managing local communities’ expectations will thus be essential.

Lastly, creation of a space to reinitiate and maintain political dialogue with the opposition on implementation should also be explored. This might begin by inviting “no” leaders to meetings on verification and/or implementation issues and help channel political debate toward serving the stability of the peace process rather than undermining it.[fn]Crisis Group interview, opposition negotiators, Bogotá, 8 and 30 November 2016.Hide Footnote

C. Peace and Other Armed Groups

Implementation of the renegotiated peace agreement faces major challenges at the regional and local levels due to the presence of other armed groups, which will in turn influence national support for the process. Foremost among these groups is the ELN, whose own putative peace process was not aligned with the FARC’s. Negotiations have not begun, though they are scheduled to start on 7 February.[fn]Fase pública de diálogos con el ELN se inicia el 8 de febrero”, El Espectador, 18 January 2017.Hide Footnote Trying to implement the FARC accord where the ELN is active poses acute dilemmas.

ELN violence will affect the government’s ability to implement the peace, especially as the group is expanding its presence and still operates in many priority conflict-affected areas, such as Catatumbo and Arauca (both on the Venezuelan border), as well as Cauca, Nariño and Chocó. Even aspects of the deal that have broad support are affected by the ELN presence, as shown in the Santa Rosa del Sur incident.[fn]“Tripartite Mechanism Communiqué: Government of Colombia and FARC-EP violated ceasefire in south Bolívar incident”, Tripartite Mechanism, 30 November 2016. The FARC fighters involved in the incident had presented themselves as ELN combatants, leading the army to attack them in the belief it would not be violating the ceasefire.Hide Footnote Establishing an effective state presence where control is still contested by armed groups will be costly in lives and resources. The integrity of peace with the FARC will also be at stake in areas where little is likely to change in terms of violence, such as Arauca, Cauca and Catatumbo.[fn]Some recent murders in Cauca, where killings have increased, have been attributed to the ELN. “Tres hombres asesinados en zona rural de Silvia, en el norte del Cauca”, El Tiempo, 20 September 2016. The ELN has also been accused of “killing communists” in Arauca. Carlos A. Lozano Guillén, “Mirador: Carta a Gabino (I)”, Periódico Voz, 2 September 2016.Hide Footnote The situation is aggravated where the FARC and ELN have made agreed or coordinated a transfer of territorial control, such as Cauca and Nariño.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, high-level diplomat, Bogotá, 2 August 2016; government official, Bogotà, 9 December 2016.Hide Footnote

Effective implementation of the FARC accord is also important to convince the ELN it can trust the government to fulfil agreements it signs with insurgents. After the plebiscite, the group internally questioned the merits of trusting the government to deliver on its promises, exacerbating mutual wariness that in any case has tended to be worse than what existed between government and FARC at the start of their negotiation.[fn]During secret government-FARC talks, the latter concluded that Santos was serious about peace. The ELN, years later and during talks to define a negotiation agenda, argued that Santos represented the same old political elite. This, for some in the ELN, has led to a view that negotiations with the government are the correct path, but not now. See Víctor de Currea-Lugo, “Eln dice estar listo para la paz, entrevista con Antonio García”, El Espectador, 9 December 2016. Crisis Group interview, ELN experts, Bogotá, 3 October 2016; Yarí plains, 23 September 2016.Hide Footnote Any further deterioration in ELN confidence in the state would imperil the possibility of a peace accord with it in the near future. It would also be calamitous with regard to public support if ELN presence became a reason for failure to implement the FARC agreement, which in turn would lead the ELN to continue to mistrust the government’s ability to deliver on peace.

Other armed groups, such as neo-paramilitaries and the remnants of the Popular Liberation Army (EPL) will also create difficulties for implementation on a local level.[fn]This report uses the term “neo-paramilitary” instead of criminal bands or Bacrim, per Soledad Granada, Jorge A. Restrepo and Alonso Tobón García, “Neoparamilitarismo en Colombia: una herramienta conceptual para la interpretación de dinámicas recientes del conflicto armado colombiano”, in Restrepo and David Aponte (eds.), Guerra y violencias en Colombia Herramientas e interpretaciones (Bogotá, 2009), pp. 467-499. The Libardo Mora Toro front, the remains of the EPL, operates in the Catatumbo region. It is the only dissident front from the 1991 EPL peace process that still exists.Hide Footnote Both have been moving into areas of former FARC control for some time and will continue to do so unless stronger judicial, political and law-enforcement action is taken against them. Colombia is witnessing a resurgence in coca cultivation, and crop substitution programs designed by the peace accord will take time to have an effect.[fn]According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), coca cultivation in 2015 increased by almost 40 per cent, to 96,000 hectares. “Colombia: Monitoreo de territorios afectados por cultivos ilícitos 2015”, UNODC, July 2016.Hide Footnote If other armed groups take control of areas with illicit crops before the state can, they could directly stimulate new dynamics of violence and influence the success or failure of crop substitution.

Many social movements believe the neo-paramilitaries – mainly the Gaitán Self-defence Forces (AGC) – are behind the recent increase in killings of local activists, whether for political or economic reasons.[fn]The AGC, also known as the Gulf Cartel, Úsuga Clan or Urabeños, was created and became heavily involved in drug trafficking after the paramilitary demobilisations that ended in 2006.Hide Footnote Evidence for this is patchy, however, and there does not appear to be one specific phenomenon or organisation responsible.[fn]Some interpret the killings as done by paramilitaries under the direct influence of high-level political opposition, though there has been no evidence connecting the two. See Oto Higuita, “¿Por qué están asesinando a los voceros e integrantes del Marcha Patriótica?”, Prensa Rural, 2 December 2016. “¿Quién está ordenando matar a los líderes sociales en Colombia?”, El Colombiano, 27 November 2016. Eduardo González, “¿Quién sigue matando a los líderes sociales en Colombia?”, Razón Pública, 28 November 2016. Crisis Group telephone interview, high-level diplomat, 28 November 2016.Hide Footnote The ELN is behind some killings, as in Arauca; local armed groups connected to local political elites play roles in others, such as in Urabá; and in yet other areas, such as Caguán, the possible arrival of new armed groups might be the main factor.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, government official, Bogotá, 2 December 2016; political analyst, Bogotá, 9 Jul 2016; high-level diplomat, Bogotá, 28 November 2016. Eduardo González, “¿Quién sigue matando a los líderes sociales en Colombia?”, Razón Pública, 28 November 2016.Hide Footnote Even so, the sense that political violence is on the rise makes implementation more difficult, not only because of its effect on FARC’s transition to civilian life, but also because community leaders may come to see participation in peace mechanisms as personally risky.[fn]This is already a risk, as the renegotiated accord weakens community participation. Juanita León, “La gran diferencia entre el Acuerdo I y el Acuerdo II”, La Silla Vacía, 15 November 2016.Hide Footnote

While the agreement includes various initiatives aimed against these groups, including the new investigative unit in the attorney general’s office, and calls for international support to the initiatives, these will be necessary but likely insufficient to constrain new patterns of coercion on the ground. A clear risk exists that implementation of the peace agreement could lead to greater violence in certain areas if the state does not move quickly enough to protect local populations and also to combat neo-paramilitary groups.

There are various explanations for the prospect of a spike in criminal and political violence once the peace accord gets underway. First, armed groups could clash over control of areas the FARC leave, as has occurred between the ELN and AGC. These will be areas with strong illegal economies, trafficking routes and militarily strategic points, such as Tumaco, Chocó and the Nudo de Paramillo, for example. Other reasons are more political. While some concerns of local land-holding elites regarding rural reform aspects were addressed in the new accord, others remain and have led some of those landholders to reject the renegotiated deal.[fn]Crisis Group interview, government official, Bogotá, 9 December 2016.Hide Footnote If the relationship between some of these elites and illegal armed groups and/or actors stays in place but is targeted toward the accord’s land distribution terms, violence could well increase, including in areas traditionally vulnerable to land conflict such as Urabá.[fn]James Bargent, “BACRIM Vuelve a sus Raíces Paramilitares en la Lucha por la Tierra en Colombia”, Insight Crime, 19 July 2013.Hide Footnote

Another possible source of violence prompted by the peace accord’s implementation is continuation of attacks against social leaders due to the perceived imminent opening of the political system regionally and locally, including the sixteen special circumscriptions in Congress for conflict-affected areas.[fn]The peace agreement creates sixteen special constituencies in Congress so that conflict-affected regions can have a stronger voice in legislation and policymaking. The idea is that those who run for these seats not be part of established political parties (including that to be established by the FARC), represent isolated regions and give a voice to victims. See “Acuerdo final para la terminación del conflicto y la construcción de una paz estable y duradera”, GOC and FARC-EP, 24 November 2016, p. 54.Hide Footnote Such local, conservatively-minded political violence has history in Colombia and explains how the paramilitaries gained so much power in the 1980s and 1990s.[fn]Mauricio Romero, Paramilitares y Autodefensas (1982-2003), IEPRI (Bogotá, 2003).Hide Footnote A spike of violence in this spirit would be qualitatively similar to that against the Patriotic Union (UP) in those decades, though it is very unlikely to reach the same level. Too many international actors are already concerned and attentive, thus raising its cost.

D. Institution Building

Violence and security on the ground are not the only issues that could dent political support for the agreement in 2017. Much of the problem for smooth implementation stems from the institutions meant to manage the war-peace transition. Some national-level ones barely exist beyond paper, with little staff or capacity to execute budgets or projects: these include the National Land Agency, the Territorial Renovation Agency and the Agency for Rural Development.[fn]Crisis Group telephone interview, high-level diplomat, Bogotá, 28 November 2016.Hide Footnote If unable to execute on the ground, the state will risk losing the chance to gain local legitimacy. Since they are coming into existence at a time of tight caps on public spending, their financial and political support is also very fragile, especially given the current and historical resistance to rural reform. Facing the threat of being starved of resources or steered toward invisibility over time, as has happened with previous rural-focused institutions, they badly need an injection of high-level support, money and staff.[fn]For a quick review of land reform and institutional issue literature, see La política de reforma agraria y tierras en Colombia Esbozo de una memoria institucional, Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica (Bogotá, 2013).Hide Footnote

Institutional fragmentation at different levels poses additional dilemmas. Political pressure to combat increasing coca cultivation has led various state actors to adopt rival strategies, some of which could be contrary to the accord’s spirit. This risk will grow if the opposition comes to power in 2018. Local political actors also have insufficient institutional and technical capacity to implement many parts of the agreement, and in some cases, their willingness will be fragile, unless they feel they can obtain financial resources for their regions.[fn]Crisis Group interview, political analyst, Bogotá, 3 December 2016.Hide Footnote

The Rapid Response Plan (RRP), designed by the post-conflict ministry (MPC) but to be implemented with and by various other institutions, needs both political and financial support. The friction between implementing institutions, the MPC and the High Commissioner for Peace’s Office remains a problem, as some institutions feel the latter two overstep their bounds and are too influential. Lack of a clear transition from the RRP to implementation of longer-term aspects of the peace agreement also raises broader concerns.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, government official, Bogotá, 9 December 2016; political analyst, Bogotá, 2 December 2016.Hide Footnote Stronger leadership from above, complemented by international community pressure, is needed.

V. A Role for the International Community

The international community has focused on supporting the peace process and ensuring it concludes with a feasible, robust agreement. It has done so by providing economic resources for state institutions and civil society actors working on peace issues; political backing for the process; delegates from the guarantor and accompanying nations and special envoys from the U.S., European Union and Germany; and technical support on implementation issues, such as support for local justice mechanisms and formalisation of land titles. Such backing remains essential.

A. Implementation and Political Support

In the current political context, a quick start to implementation, with early victories, is ever more required. Though the plebiscite suggested that high-level international support was less effective than anticipated, the delegates and envoys who aided the negotiations should continue to press for the agreement to be carried out. Not only could they be helpful in resolving disputes and influencing the government and FARC, but they will also be able to highlight the broad foreign commitment to peace in Colombia.[fn]The U.S. special envoy to the peace talks, Bernie Aronson, no longer plays this role, and no replacement is in sight. The U.S. Secretary of State nominee, Rex Tillerson, stated in a written response to questions as part of his confirmation process, that the U.S. would have to “review” the new peace agreement to determine which parts it would support. “Trump’s state nominee raises doubts on Colombia peace pact”, The Washington Post, 22 January 2017.Hide Footnote The rural reform pact in particular will face political resistance on different levels, and the international community can play a vital role in raising the cost of obstructing or ignoring it. Financial aid and pushing the government to get key institutions functioning would be major contributions.

International support can also influence FARC decisions, especially if an opposition government proposes changes to, rejects or is unwilling to implement parts of the accord. Given the group’s concerns with full implementation, a change in government could undermine its commitment to peace, leading to fragmentation as some of the organisation return to organised violence. Pressing the FARC to maintain its commitment to peace will be vital. Here the second UN mission, requested in the peace accord to monitor FARC political participation, reincorporation and security guarantees, will have a vital role in maintaining trust between the guerrillas and government. It will also be politically contentious, as its mandate covers the most controversial issue in the new agreement, namely the FARC’s participation in politics. It will need to be functioning quite soon in order to respond to its mandate; early preparation to take advantage of the period before its mandate begins is essential.

Financial aid will also be vital, especially beyond 2017. Colombia is currently unable to fully afford its post-conflict pledges, something that the international community has committed to make good. In the longer term, financial support might help persuade a new government to honour disputed aspects of the accord. Partners could also work directly with local governments, providing financial and technical assistance and ensuring that political differences between local, regional and national levels do not impede implementation.[fn]Crisis Group interview, political analyst, Bogotá, 3 December 2016.Hide Footnote Finally, international non-state actors will also need funding, such as the UN High Commissioners for Refugees and Human Rights, among others, who have important post-conflict roles on displacement, border issues and violence, all risks to a successful transition from war to peace.

B. The Special Issue of Drugs

It is unlikely that a decrease in coca cultivation resulting from application of the peace agreement will occur before 2018. New programs need time and will be largely emasculated if support wavers. Recent coca production increases have made the drug issue important again to preventing violence, but also politically critical. The opposition points to rising hectarage to argue that drug policy is not working due to concessions made to the FARC, including prohibition of aerial fumigation. Drug policy also is a source of tension within the government and between Bogotá and local communities.[fn]“Procurador colombiano acusa a Santos de proteger cultivos de las FARC”, El Nuevo Heraldo, 18 April 2016; “Uribe considera que fin de aspersiones con glifosato es exigencia de las Farc”, El Nuevo Heraldo, 10 May 2015. Between July and September 2016, protests by coca growers, mainly in Putumayo, lasted 39 days, as peasants rejected the use of fumigation chemicals applied on the ground during manual eradication. Peasants in Putumayo also have voiced concerns over drug policy and implementation of the peace agreements on crop substitution. See “Razones del paro cocalero en Putumayo”, El Espectador, 19 August 2016; “Levantan protesta cocalera en Putumayo”, El País de Cali, 7 September 2016; Crisis Group interviews, local leaders and coca growers, 20-24 March 2016. Within the government, new Attorney General Néstor Martínez has called for fumigation to be reinstated but with new chemicals. “Fiscal pide volver a la fumigación aérea contra los cultivos ilícitos”, El Tiempo, 4 September 2016.Hide Footnote When published this year, cultivation data will show another increase in 2016, before crop substitution programs derived from the peace deal begin. This may increase calls for traditional policy, including forced eradication. The government plan to substitute and forcefully eradicate 50,000 hectares each in 2017 is probably unreachable and will also create serious tensions on the ground. The forced eradication will also produce unnecessary tension with the FARC and close the state’s window to gain legitimacy in areas highly affected by coca cultivation.

The international community, especially the U.S., should give the agreement on illicit drugs a chance to prove itself and not expect immediate decreases in illicit crop cultivation. The focus should instead be on strengthening interdiction within and outside Colombia and supporting the rapid and effective implementation of the relevant points of the peace agreement. Prioritising such implementation over national and international political interests related to traditional counter-narcotics policy will be critical, not least because returning to costly forced manual eradication, the results of which are easily reversible, is no guarantee of success.

VI. Conclusion

Colombia has signed and ratified the peace agreement, and the whole of the FARC will soon be in cantonment sites, where they will hand over their weapons and begin transition to civilian life. While this is cause for celebration, how peace was signed and approved was highly controversial, and the agreement appears to lack broad, stable, sustainable political support. Implementation is threatened on several fronts, and with a united and strengthened opposition, the future looks somewhat bleak for pro-agreement leaders. The peace deal is likely to be a target for multiple grievances in the 2018 presidential election, which may produce a result not unlike that of the 2 October 2016 plebiscite.

Substantial and rapid progress on implementing crucial aspects of the agreement is needed in 2017 to shift the balance in favour of the accord. The difficult national and local contexts – a financial shortfall, a stuttering peace process with the ELN, weak institutions and internal government rivalries and high levels of targeted killings in rural areas – mean implementation faces concrete threats that have been partly aggravated by political disputes over the peace agreement. If efforts to apply the accord do not overcome these initial hurdles, parts of it may be condemned to failure before they have a chance to succeed. If that happens, FARC commitment to peace, the possibility of a similar negotiation with the ELN and prospects for addressing the root issues in the long armed conflict will all be in doubt. The immediate political battle to finalise the agreement has been won, but it is premature to declare victory for peace.

Bogotá/Brussels, 31 January 2017

Appendix A: Map of Colombia

Map of Colombia AB Carto/International Crisis Group

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