Colombia’s Revised Peace Accord
Six weeks after Colombian voters narrowly rejected a peace agreement between the government and the country’s largest guerrilla group in a plebiscite vote, President Juan Manuel Santos over the weekend unveiled a revised accord that is a testament to what can be achieved through dialogue and compromise, even in a deeply polarized society.
If the deal holds it will set a strong road map for Colombians to start healing the wounds of a brutal conflict that raged for more than five decades and build a more egalitarian, tolerant society.
The deal, incorporating several suggestions from Mr. Santos’s critics, was reached after marathon negotiating sessions in Havana. It is unclear whether the government intends to hold a new plebiscite or simply have Congress approve the agreement.
In an important new concession, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, explicitly agreed to declare and surrender all assets, which will be used to compensate victims of the conflict. The new draft also makes clear that land reform initiatives in the original text will protect the rights of landowners, who will not face arbitrary expropriation of property.
One major structural change is that the only parts of the new deal that would be incorporated into the country’s Constitution involve international law. Previously, the government had considered integrating the whole deal into the Constitution, which some critics saw as an end run to making sweeping amendments.
Two tenets of the original agreement — a transitional justice system and a mechanism to allow FARC leaders to participate in politics — were altered slightly in response to concerns raised by political factions that campaigned against the deal.
The government agreed to forgo the participation of foreign jurists in a special tribunal, which would be the centerpiece of the transitional justice system, and have only Colombian judges hear cases. It also established that the tribunal would consider new cases during its first two years and seek to conclude its work within a decade. The new agreement would explicitly give Colombia’s highest court the authority to review the tribunal’s decisions.
While some critics of the initial deal argued that FARC leaders who had committed grave crimes should not be allowed to run for office, neither the government nor the FARC was willing to cede much ground on this issue. (One minor concession was that the FARC’s new political party would get less funding than originally envisioned.) The parties are right to defend this part of the deal. While many Colombians can’t stand the idea of seeing war criminals in the halls of Congress, they should realize that it is better to allow them to fight in the political arena than on the battlefield.
Mr. Santos, who days before the plebiscite had displayed confidence that bordered on cockiness, responded to the electoral setback in early October with humility.
“Looking back, the result of the plebiscite gave us a chance to come together, and I want to express gratitude once again for the positive disposition and the good will of all stakeholders,” particularly those who voted No, the president said in a speech Saturday night.
The most ardent critic of the original agreement, former President Álvaro Uribe, did not immediately criticize the new version after Mr. Santos briefed him at length about its terms over the weekend. The new agreement would allow Mr. Uribe, long a skeptic — and at times a spoiler — of the peace process with the FARC, to claim credit for having forged a stronger accord. Its successful implementation would depend largely on the willingness of all Colombian leaders to work toward a common good.