FARC peace accords signed by 22 February

Peace with the FARC guerrillas must be signed by 22 February to be put to a referendum on 25 October; the day of Colombia’s local and regional elections.

Colombia’s Constitutional Court has ruled that President Santos must present any peace agreement with the Marxist rebels to Congress no later than 24 February, and that the public must be told in advance of this date.

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Keep FARC leader Timochenko alive for peace?

Colombia has a loose-tongued president.

Yesterday, Juan Manuel Santos told us he knew where FARC commander alias Timochenko is hiding, but claimed he’d “think twice” before ordering a shoot-to-kill.

Mr Santos believes Timochenko is essential to the peace talks in Havana and that removing him would spell an end to the dialogues.

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Vote for peace, vote for Santos?


If Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos has his way May’s election will be a referendum on one issue; peace negotiations with the FARC guerrillas.

One of Santos’ campaign slogans is “together for peace”, while his logo reminds me of a dove draped in the LGBT rainbow flag. The “president-candidate” as he is now called, even claimed this week that “changing the captain” at half-time would lead to an untimely and unsuccessful end to the Havana talks. Read more…

Colombia`s elections, what to look out for


Colombians go to the polls on Sunday to elect the most important congress in a generation.

What should you look out for, and what will happen?

First, some stats.

33 million Colombians are eligible to vote, 17 million women and just under 16 million men. There are 97,000 tables and 11,000 polling booths. Half a million Colombians living abroad will vote across 63 countries.

Over 2,400 candidates are fighting three elections, the senate, the house of representatives and the Andean Parliament.

In addition, Colombia`s Green Alliance has an open primary to choose its presidential candidate.

Now, here are my 10 predictions:

1. A new party, ex-president Alvaro Uribe’s Centro Democratico could win the highest number of senate seats. They have over 20% of the vote, with only the Liberal Party close. Expect the CD to win up to 25 seats.

2. Corruption will reach historic levels. Top Green Alliance hopeful Antonio Navarro says vote buying is “ferocious”, while reports claim candidates are pumping up to 5 billion pesos into their campaigns. Votes are changing hands for as little as $24 USD in some areas but rise to $150 USD in others. These will be the most expensive elections on record.

3. Left-winger Jorge Enrique Robledo could emerge as the senator with the highest number of votes. Robledo has been the most visible opposition parliamentarian of the last four years and is charismatic, forensic and indefatigable. A politician of some real conviction. You may not agree with his politics but it’s hard not to admire the man.

4. Apathy and protest will rule. The voto en blanco – literally blank vote – could emerge with the highest share of the vote. Polls suggests that north of 20% of Colombians will register their antipathy towards to the political class by refusing to vote for any of the candidates available. Sadly, abstention will also be high; over 50%.

5. The Conservatives and the U Party will see their vote collapse. The U won 28 senate seats in 2010 as the party of Alvaro Uribe, but Uribe has ditched them. The U are currently the largest party in the senate, but will lose around 50% of their seats tomorrow. The Conservatives have been particularly hit by corruption charges and are divided between those who support Santos and those who side with Uribe. Once the largest political force in the land, the blues will be reduced to fewer than 15 senators.

6. Left Wing Polo Democrats will continue to struggle to make an electoral impact, perhaps falling behind the newly formed left grouping, the Green Alliance. Robledo will of course be there, but he will be joined by fewer than a handful of senators.

7. Over 100 candidates are alleged to have links with paramilitaries. In some cases politicians already convicted of working or being financed by these brutal far right militias have simply passed their candidacy and their “votes” to family members. Verdad Abierta have also revealed that 35 candidates are themselves under investigation for parapolitics. The parapolitics scandal will come back into focus as later this year hundreds of demobilized paramilitaries will be released from jail.

8. Enrique Peñalosa by a mile will win the Green Alliance presidential primary. Over night Peñalosa will be transformed into the main challenger to President Santos in the May presidential elections.

9. 20% of those elected will be entering congress for the first time. Hardly the “renovation” politicians have been calling for, but a start. About the same percentage of winners will be women.

10. Although FARC guerrillas have threatened to terrorize the vote across 181 municipal areas, they will be largely thwarted by Defence Minister Pinzon’s action to put 266,000 members of the armed forces on the streets to monitor 99.9% of the voting booths. Pinzon claims these elections will be the safest in recent history. They must be.

These elections will change the way politics is conducted over the next four years. President Santos has enjoyed a coalition of over 90% of congress, meaning the legislature has been, well, a bit of a patsy in recent years.

If Santos is re-elected he will face major opposition from within the new parliament. He may even struggle to establish a majority. It will depend on how many seats Uribe`s CD wins and how many of the Conservatives will sit and vote with Uribe`s group.

With the return to the arena of Colombia`s political big beasts like Antonio Navarro (Green), Horacio Serpa (Liberal), and Alvaro Uribe (Centro Democratico), the next parliament is set to be a lively place. On paper this should be good for democracy. Whether the polarized nature of debate will help the governing of country is quite another thing, however.

This is the congress that will implement the peace accords with the FARC and prepare Colombia for post-conflict; it is the most important in a generation.

What should – but probably won`t – worry politicians is the level of distrust and contempt the electorate have for their elected representatives.

As abstention and protest votes emerge as the real winners on Sunday, the mandates of those elected to the 2014-18 parliament will be weaker than ever.

Politicians’ failure to represent the will of the people will undermine their ability to deliver the urgent reforms the nation needs. Or perhaps someone will get the message and change the way politics are done in Colombia. Perhaps…

Photo, Vanguardia

Colombia`s year of peace

At Christmas next year there will be extra cause for goodwill in Colombia. In 2014 the FARC guerrillas will sign an end to their self-proclaimed war against the state, silencing the guns that have taken over 220,000 lives in 50 years of bloodshed.

Two generations of Colombians, the majority of the nation, have only known conflict. Officially there are 6 million victims; but the truth is, the entire nation has been scarred by decades of brutal and degrading violence. Read more…

Mayor Petro deposed in “coup”


Democratically elected Bogota Mayor, Gustavo Petro has been removed from office by Colombia`s right wing Inspector General Alejandro Ordoñez in what is being called a coup against democracy.

Just two years into his mandate, Petro has been kicked out for illegalities in his controversial decision last year to move the capital`s garbage collection from private to public ownership.

Questions are now being asked about the reach of Ordoñez`s power and whether a legal functionary should have the facility to depose elected politicians.

Meanwhile Petro has called on supporters to lead a peaceful revolution against what he labels “fascist” forces at the heart of Colombia`s political class.

There is concern too about the possible impact this decision will have on the peace talks in Havana with the FARC. Petro, a demobilized M-19 guerrilla, is Colombia`s most high profile former combatant in a position of power. His is Colombia`s best example of how to reintegrate into civilian life. Petro has suggested Ordoñez, a vocal opponent of the FARC negotiations, is in open “war against peace”, and has called on President Santos to step in.

Over-night Petro has moved from divisive mayor to martyr.

Colombia Politics view

Gustavo Petro has been a disastrous mayor; he has misgoverned Colombia`s most important city. He has improvised and failed to deliver the drastic changes and huge investment the capital is in dire need of.  Worse, instead of bringing the city together and governing for all of her 8 million inhabitants, he has polarized and pitted rich against poor and private against public.

This publication has been highly critical of Petro throughout his short time in office. But we recognize that Petro represented change, and had a series of bold proposals which, unfortunately for him, he has been unable or has not had the time to deliver.

As an elected politician Petro was given a mandate to run the city. Yesterday that mandate was taken from him. This is anti-democratic and wrong.

Sovereignty is conferred on politicians by the ballot box, and in all but criminal cases, the judiciary should play second fiddle to the executive.

But those who suggest Ordoñez is simply motivated by ideology would do well to remember he has removed many politicians from office from across the political spectrum.

And Petro`s speech yesterday calling on a revolution and liking Ordoñez`s decision to the bullets that were fired against yesterday`s leaders of the left was also wrong. Now is not the time for public unrest, and Petro`s populist rhetoric is ill-advised and dangerous.

Colombia claims to enjoy the longest running democracy in Latin America. Today that democracy looks to be on rocky ground. Colombians must not take their system for granted.

Picture, El Tiempo

No pause in FARC peace talks for elections


Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos yesterday dismissed opposition calls to pause peace talks with FARC guerrillas promising to “press down the accelerator” to build on the “real progress” to end the nation`s 50 year conflict.

Former President Alvaro Uribe demands an end to discussions he sees as a farce, while others have argued for a pause during the election campaign that begins later this month.

But Santos is now increasingly confidence of a successful outcome to the negotiations he began last October.

Following yesterday`s agreement on a framework for the guerrilla group`s incorporation into the democratic system, Santos has gone on the offensive:

“There has been talk of breaking or pausing the talks, we are not going to do this…As we move forward and you see results, it is not time to stop, but just the opposite; to accelerate and continue with more courage and more excitement to end this conflict indefinitely.”

Santos will hope further agreements propel his re-election campaign.

Although the full details of yesterday`s agreement are unlikely to be made public until all points in the general accord for the termination of the armed conflict are agreed upon, Colombia Politics can confirm they include rights and guarantees for the exercise of the political opposition, democratic mechanisms of citizen participation, and effective measures to promote greater participation in national, regional and local policy.

Humberto De La Calle, the government’s chief negotiator, hailed the agreement a “new opening for democracy”.

“The agreement today represents a new opening for democracy, an open road for peace to take root after the end of the conflict, to free our government from violence and intimidation.”

“The agreement will create an important mechanism for turning armed groups into political parties and movements.”

FARC negotiator Ivan Marquez, labelled the agreement “perhaps one of the most important achievements so far [in the peace talks].”

As expected, Alvaro Uribe, slammed the announcement, tweeting “Colombia is the only democracy that accepts negotiating its democracy with terrorism.”

While most commentators have welcomed the agreement, concern has been expressed about the lack of clarity on what has been agreed upon. According to this publication`s editor, the fundamental issues such as whether Timochenko and co will seek election, and or directly given seats in congress have been parked.

For Ginny Bouvier, Senior Program officer for Latin America at the United States Institute of Peace, any accord on political participation should look to provide more access to politics for marginalised sectors of society.

“Given that political, economic and social exclusion form parts of the root of the conflict, it will be important to undertake political reforms that allow the expression of these as well as other dissident voices.”

Bouvier also spoke of the challenge of integrating the rebels into political life:

“The stigmatisation of the guerrillas and the highly polarised electoral environment in Colombia add to the challenge of integrating FARC rebels into the political arena.”

Without details of the agreement it is impossible to know how these issues have been tackled.

The next item to be discussed at the peace table is the illicit drug trade; problematic in its own right.

According to organised crime website Insight Crime, the FARC control approximately 70% of the country’s coca crops, while many FARC fronts “earn millions of dollars from the drug trade”.

We have argued before that it is unclear whether Ivan Marquez and co represent the guerrillas` rank and file members. If not, it is highly likely FARC splinter groups will emerge to continue this lucrative business.

“It is perhaps inevitable that a new generation of criminal groups, the FARCRIM, may be born should a peace deal be signed,” argue Insight Crime.

Only time will tell how the delegations tackle this issue.

Photo, Fernando Vergara / AP