On March 17, the Perry Center held the Hemispheric Forum, “Understanding the Colombian Peace Process,” in which experts engaged a diverse audience of policymakers, military officials, and academics. Featured speakers were Adam Isacson from the human rights advocacy organization Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), and the Perry Center’s own David Spencer and Pat Paterson. Mr. Michael Miklaucic, Editor of PRISM and Director of Research, Information, and Publications at the Center for Complex Operations (CCO) at the National Defense University, moderated the discussion. The panelists began by laying out the history and context of the four different peace negotiations with the FARC since 1982, carefully explaining the framework of each and why previous attempts had failed. They then discussed the status and the details of the current accords. Finally, the panelists outlined some of the human rights and transitional justice issues pertinent to any final agreement.
While there was generally consensus that an accord would not be signed on March 23, panelists also agreed that a deal would nonetheless probably be signed in 2016. There was significant concern over the complexity of the accords, the cost of implementing the accords as written, and the fact that, just as Colombia is on the verge of implementation, the country is facing an economic slump that may result in funding shortfalls that could derail enactment. To complicate matters, economic and political challenges being faced by the donor countries have depressed contributions from the international community.
In addition, the security forces will face significant challenges because they must both provide security for the demobilization of the FARC and also defend against other threats, such as the National Liberation Army (ELN) and criminal gangs, which remain active and threaten to fill the void left by the absence of armed FARC guerrillas. Finally, the transitional justice agreement, while satisfying legal requirements, may leave many unsatisfied that justice has been served. Therefore, special care must be taken to ensure that individuals and groups seeking personal revenge are not allowed to succeed and derail the peace agreements.
This means that implementation of the peace accords will be full of challenges and uncertainties, and perhaps represent an even more complex challenge to the government and its international allies than prosecuting the war. However, all panelists agreed that continuing the war would have been prolonged and costly and that, despite the perils, peace was the more rational strategy for both the government and the FARC. It is now up to all parties concerned to make the choices necessary to bring this process to a successful conclusion.