Political uncertainty, the objections towards the peace process and the ghosts of war haunt Colombia.
The country faces the challenge of complying with the peace accords and moving forward if it is to consolidate the post-conflict stage that is yet to occur despite 2 years having passed since the historic agreement was signed by ex-president Juan Manuel Santos, who later won a Nobel Peace Prize.
In the midst of a serious institutional crisis, the current president, Iván Duque, continues to be pulled in both directions by those who disagree with the peace accords, and the pressure of Colombian citizens and the international community.
Citizens demand that key structures of the peace agreements such as the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) is applied. It’s a matter of urgency that justice advances in Colombia, as should the reparation of the millions of victims of the civil war.
In order to go beyond the political game playing, economic interests and the barriers that the political elite wish to put in place, to comprehend this critical moment in the peace process, it is necessary to understand the following
The political tornado that is the JEP
A fundamental component of the peace accords is the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), a transitional justice mechanism that will take on the task of putting to trial actors accused of committing crimes during the war for the next 15 years.
In March of this year, president Duque presented 6 objections to the JEP, among which were objections to the principle of ‘no extradition’, guaranteed in the peace accords as a right of the victims so they may achieve justice, discover the truth, and receive reparation.
After intense discussions in the Senate regarding whether these objections should be passed, the president suffered a strong political backlash when they were defeated.
Subsequently, the resignation of the Attorney General occurred when the JEP refused to extradite Jesús Santrich, an ex-commander of the FARC. The JEP appealed to the guarantee of no extradition that is provided to ex-guerrilla fighters and that allows for adequate trials and investigations to take place.
“False positives” and the ghost of a not so distant past
A few days ago, a New York Times article revealed disturbing truths that put the government and Colombia’s military on a tightrope. Its author revealed that an army commander ordered his troops to double the quantity of criminals and rebels killed, captured or surrendered.
The commander also proclaimed that troops could not demand perfection whilst executing lethal operations and that a large margin of error was acceptable if it meant reaching targets. This revelations provoked a storm of death threats directed towards the journalist who had to abandon the country as a result.
This disturbing order creates a scenario where civilians can easily become victims of the army once more, one that is far too familiar after the false positives scandal of the early 2000s, when the armed forces murdered more than 2000 civilians passing them off as guerrilla fighters.
This was an attempt to increase numbers of ‘enemy casualties’ as part of the army’s strategy, something that sounds disturbingly familiar to Colombians reading the recent revelations.
The report caused such an uproar that Colombian army announced that it was retracting any order related to increasing operational results of its troops. With actions like this, the ghost of war is but a short distance away.
Failure to comply with the accords
The strongest critique in the midst of this institutional crisis in Colombia is the failure to comply with the promises laid out in the peace accords.
The uncertainty of the government in advancing with the JEP is one of the many factors that has caused around 3000 ex-guerrilla and paramilitary fighters to take up arms again. What’s more, the murders of social leaders and human rights defenders since the peace agreement has been signed has increased to at least 500.
An investigation by the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies revealed that in spite of previous efforts to ensure the peace accords progress, only one third of compromises will be achieved in the time period agreed. The rest of the agreements will remain in the phase of either non or minimum implementation.
This panorama creates a scenario of red alert in a country that is trapped between fear of war and fear of defeat, where hegemonic interests continue threatening the peace accords as to not disturb the status quo and the current distribution of power.
Structural problems such as the huge concentration of land ownership, enormous inequality, and unprecedented violence are being perpetuated due to this resistance to change.
The patience of everyday Colombians is far from infinite, and people won’t wait forever for peace to arrive and positive change to occur.