Photo: ©U.S. Department of State from United States [Public domain]
Photo Description: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos writes his name as he joins FARC leader Timoleón Jiménez in signing a peace accord as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sits in a plaza outside the Cartagena Indias Convention Center in Cartagena, Colombia, on September 26, 2016, while attending a peace ceremony between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) that ended a five-decade conflict.
By Amadeus Narbutt
In 2016, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) signed a peace agreement with the Colombian Government in a historic deal that ended over half a century of civil war and earned then Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos the Nobel Peace Prize. The FARC is a left-wing insurgency group whose traditional territory and base of support was rural Colombian peasantry, and whose main political ambitions were inspired by Marxism-Leninism and radical agrarianism.
The peace agreement included various provisions that guaranteed the FARC representation in the legislature as a political party, promised investments in rural infrastructure and social services, and most impressively, laid out a radical plan to discourage the remobilization of combatants. This plan created 20 ‘reincorporation spaces’, where financing was made available for cooperative economic projects through a FARC-run fund called ECOMUN (Social Economies of the Commons). While the plan has had some success, there have been criticisms of the plan’s stumbles in early implementation, which have cast doubts on its long-term sustainability. Moreover, in the face of Colombian President Iván Duque claiming the peace agreement must be renegotiated, the fragile peace that has been secured is in doubt. Further, reports have shown that roughly a third of FARC combatants have defected from the reintegration process and remobilized. The National Liberation Army (ELN), another leftist guerilla force that was not part of the 2016 peace agreement, has seen an increase in their strength as a result.
The FARC has also seen defections from its leadership. Two representatives of the FARC’s new political party disappeared last March shortly after their election. Jesus Santrich and Iván Márquez went missing and never took their seats in the legislature in response to drug trafficking and related charges. The permeability of the Colombia-Venezuela border, which has allowed for millions to flee the crumbling Venezeulan economy and President Maduro’s human rights abuses, has also allowed for the ELN a0nd FARC dissidents to use Venezuela as a safe haven from Colombian authorities. While Maduro has denied protecting ELN fighters in Venezuela, he has welcomed Santrich and Márquez, calling them “leaders of peace”.
Nearly a decade ago, Colombia and Venezuela cut off diplomatic relations in an incident that nearly resulted in war over a nearly identical accusation. Then President of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, had been accused of harbouring FARC rebels in Venezuelan territory. Interestingly, the spat can be attributed to poor personal relations between Chávez and then Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, who according to a WikiLeaks report nearly had a fistfight at a Latin American unity summit. Current Colombian President Iván Duque has credited Uribe as his political mentor and garnered his endorsement during the last presidential election. Maduro, on the other hand, was Chávez’s hand-picked successor. The protégés of those who nearly started a war a decade ago are now in the exact same predicament, but with increased American involvement through sanctions and diplomatic pressure. As Mark Twain put it, “history doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes”.
The 2010 crisis was resolved when Juan Manuel Santos, the Colombian President who negotiated the FARC peace deal, took office in Bogotá and sat down with Chávez for some good old-fashioned diplomacy. One hopes the same will occur now and lead to a peaceful resolution. Military action and further strife caused by diplomatic isolation and sanctions will not solve what is a complex and multi-faceted conflict. The permeability of the Colombian-Venezuelan border, and the ideological alliances of insurgency groups within the region shows that any peace agreement in this part of the Latin American continent which focuses solely on one country will never be a sustainable solution for peace. Fair regional cooperation without US foreign policy putting its finger on the scales will be required for any comprehensive peace settlement that seeks long-term stability in the region and a revitalization of productive diplomatic relations between Colombia and Venezuela.