Lo Spiegante (English): Oscar Palma and the situation in Colombia

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On October 2nd there has been a referendum in Colombia about the agreement between the government and the FARC in which the “No” has won with the 51,3 %. Since then the government has reached another agreement. We’ve talked with Palma Morales Oscar Juliàn, professor in the Colegio Mayor de Nuestra Señora del Rosario, in Colombia, about the actual situation in Colombia and what we should expect about the future.

1.Which is the situation in Colombia now?

The actual situation in Colombia is complex, the president has managed to reach the agreement but there is huge opposition and his the popularity ratings are going down considerably. He is probably, at this point, the least popular president that we’ve had in recent years and this is not only related to peace agreement but more connected to corruption scandals and the way he has managed all the things in Colombia.
There has been a massive corruption scandal involved money and, even though he is managing to achieve the peace agreement, he is still considered as a very unpopular president. This is obviously exploited by the opposition that has managed to create a considerable movement against president Santos. Last first of April there has been also a massive demonstration in different cities of our Country opposing the administration of Santos’ government.
Actually they were arguing different causes like corruption and his management of peace conflicts. The Country is politically divided and those supporting peace agreement, some of them are approving President Santo’s administration and others not. On the other side there is the opposition, which is headed by former president Alvaro Ribe and several other political figures. So the Country is divided, the elections that are coming his year and this is causing also a lot of political movements around. The opposition is also exploiting the current situation in order to gain more points politically.
Regarding the economy, looking at the macro economic dimension the country is not going badly. Growth was not as high as expected, it went around 1.5-1.9% of GDP last year.
This year we’ll see what’s going on. But the estimations go around 1.9- 2.3% of the GDP. But if you look at the gap between rich people and poor ones, it is still wide  and the gini coefficent is quite high in the Country. If you look at the economic situation in different regions of Colombia the situation is still not very positive even though macro economically speaking there are some elements saying that we’re doing well. When you go down to several regions you’ll find that the poverty in several areas is still concerning. So when you look at the macro economic is fine, not perfect, but fine, but when you look down at other levels like social development, social incorporation of marginal sectors, the situation is still quite hard.

2. Can you explain us the main points of the agreement between the Government and the FARC? Why the government has included only the FARC in the agreement?

Basically there were other groups there were approaching at the moment in which negotiations have begun but the conversation didn’t go far as to agree on a mechanism to sit down and negotiate in the table. So the ILN preferred to make its own process which is beginning now, actually a couple of months ago. So it was basically just FARC. Regarding other criminal bands, there is not consideration of a political negotiation with them, taking into account that they have a more criminal nature. A negotiation was possible only with FARC, willing to make a discussion on an agreement at that moment.  The ILN is now sitting at the table with the Government but we will have to see how this negotiation actually will advance.
Talking about the agreement, it is composed by six points, each one of that has got many clauses and points. It consists in three hundreds pages of agreement (quite extensive) and inside there are a lot of compromises in behalf of the government and for the FARC as well… so it’s  difficult to explain every single point of that.
We can go through the general and most important proposition for each point:

Point n.1

It regards the policy for agricultural developments in marginal areas that have been isolated through history in the Country. Here economy has actually flourished given the absence of state institutions and the un-availability of economic, legal, goodness services and that has been exploited by population to generate illicit economy . The main idea here is to reduce poverty of 50% in about 10 years and, to obtain this, the main consideration is guarantee the land, bringing back that to the people who have lost it for the conflict. There are several ways in which the government is going to give back the lands to these people. For example there are lands that can’t be touch because are some kind of environmental reservations (we have defined which are these areas). So one of the tasks created by the state here is to define those area so we can know which land can be used or not. There is a considerable amount of land that is been unused and has not owner, not property, so the idea is to make a big found with all kind of lands that haven’t any owners and can be used among the poor population and those that have lost their lands due to the conflict. That is the aim of the point number one. This comes with a lot of institutional compromises among the state to guarantee all the sources and capitals that have to be invested in order to grow the economy in these marginal areas . This requires a lot of infrastructures, the construction of roads, of a real economy actually, of a sanitation system, of an electricity systems, access to water, internet connection…that are all are inexistent in those areas.

Point n. 2 

This is about political participation and the main point here is the creation of a political party by FARC. FARC is going to become a political party ending to be an insurgent movement. This point is for creation of all disposition to guarantee a fair participation for FARC and for all small political movements, parties in order to be able to participate in the elections, both nationals and local. All the guarantees are to ensure transparency and equality with major political parties. This point includes several clauses related to the funding that political parties are going to receive from the state and also for different social movements that want to participate in politics, to have the access to the political system. It implies also the creation of  specific, special circumscriptions through the country. Specifically for peasant areas and people that have never had a real political representation in the political system. Creation of special circumscriptions that are transitory, not permanent, only for them to have a sort of representation.

Point n.3

It’s the point in which you can see all the mechanisms through which FARC is going to give the weapons. It has inside all the technical disposition that you need to have a successful and positive process for Farc to turn the weapons in. It includes ceasefire and all technical requirements with which that the UN is going to be able to receive all these weapons, to storage, to register them and to destroy them and to transform the material into three different monuments. This is the key point in terms that Farc turn the weapon in and in terms of becoming actually a political party.

Point n.4

It regards the substitution of illicit drugs’ economy, including the mechanism though which the coca economy is going to be replaced in many of different areas in Colombia. There is proposition of the State to come together with the community to find common solutions to the coca plantation. The idea is about a discussion of the state with the community for positively replacing the coca crops with other products that each of the region may produce. This obviously requires a considerable construction of a parallel legal economy and also the construction of infrastructures in terms of roads, economy and social infrastructures. This is one of the most difficult point because in general sense it means that the state needs to construct what has been inexistent for many years in those areas.

Point n.5

It’s about the reparation of victims, basically regarding the system for justice. This is the point in which transitional justice system is actually created so it includes all the dispositions regarding the system itself and it’s quite complex. Through this you can see how penalties are going to be given and it includes what possible penalties or sanctions we can have for people that have committed over crimes.

Point n.6

It’s just implementation and verification. It creates the “Commission for implementation verification of final agreement”, it’s basically how the system is going to guarantee that all the points in the agreement are going to be apply, to guarantee that the agreement is actually going to be fulfill.

3. What consequences may result from this agreement? 

The obvious consequence is that FARC will abandon weapons and will become a political party able to fight for its ideology into the political system. That would be expected but then we don’t know yet which consequences it may have. There are some fractions between the insurgents and FARC and they’re not going to join the agreement. It’s not a considerable number of insurgency member, we’re talking about 1% or 2 % of the members of the insurgency. The current negotiation that we’re seeing with ILN is a consequence of the state reaching an agreement with FARC. This has been a motivation for ILN to actually going into negotiation as weel even though we still don’t know how successful that will be. There are also negative consequences from the agreement as well and the gravest one is that FARC demobilizing and becoming a political party has left the power vacuum in several regions where FARC controlled the economy and politics. Now these areas are going to be occupied by different criminal actors. This has lead to an increase in violence and crime in many of the regions where FARC was actually strong. We still need to see but, for now, we’re worried also about possibly violence against FARC in joining civil society. We’ve also already seen the assassination on several socialist leaders in many Columbia regions by right sectors, former military, criminal bands that are causing these violences. We hope, and that is the biggest consequences, that the agreement will lead to the reduction of conflict and violence in many areas and this has been seen already. Military has reported not death since the signature of agreement. So that is also one of the consequences.

4. What about the weapons that they should hand over according to the agreement?

Well the UN is guaranteeing the entire process. It’s the one responsible to register and destroy the weapons and then using the material to create the three monuments. We don’t know if FARC is going to keeps this weapons in many of Colombia different areas. Is difficult to know how many weapons FARC has. It’s easy to do a weapon, to manufacture them and we don’t know if it has manufactured weapons itself. The agreement in the paper is clear, satisfying every technical aspect, any process of receiving destroying them. But once again we don’t know if FARC is going to hide some of them in some areas just in case to come back. There is also a real fear that weapons can enter in the illicit market and illegal trade of weapons. We’ll see at the end of the first period if they’ll give a considerable amount of weapons.

5. Do you think that it’s possible the creation of a party of the FARC?

It is indeed possible, in fact it’s not only possible but it is one of the main objectives of the agreement. They will create a political party without any problems and opposition. But the real question is how successful the political party is going to be and then that’s what the real discussion is about. I don’t believe that their party will be strong in short term on national level. I think they might have some relative success in some local elections, in some regions, town halls, about local councilmen, member of assembly but at the national level I don’t believe that they’re gonna be successful in short term. They might become solid, interesting political party in the medium-long term depending on how well they’ll do politics. If Colombia will still perceive FARC connected to violence, then the success is going not to be. We’ve to see how they’ll manage to do during the first year in order for them to consolidate a real political option on the left of political spectrum.

6.It’s been five months since the referendum in which the population was against the agreement, how has the situation changed in recent months?

It’s not that the population in general being against the agreement, it was 50 vs 50 with the no winning. The justification of the government to not submit that to referendum again was that has already entered in negotiation with representation of “no” and has already included many points that the no proponents were fighting for. Instead to going through a new referendum that should be costly for Colombia democracy they submitted it to congress, that is the representation of Colombia people, and then it was voted positively. But once again this is one of main argument of opposer today. For them the agreement is illegitimate so when we talk about political division of the country we’re not talking only about the division between politicians but in the country itself. Some people says that agreement shouldn’t be applied because it was actually defeated and that there shouldn’t be a renegotiation of agreement. People feel that their vote was ignored and this is one of the reason why we have had mass mobilization on the 1st of April. It’s very hard to solve the remaining divisions in the future so when we think about reconciliation in Colombia this is gonna be one of the key issue, and higher obstacle.

7. Can you speak to us about the situation regarding the impunity of former members of the FARC?

I’d rather no to comment because I’m not a lawyer. Expert say that the agreement doesn’t include impunity itself. So it’s subjective. The agreement  creates the opportunity to have different sanctions not related to prison. There will be some sanctions but related to different kind from prison as to contribute to reconstruction. This is giving priority more to other types of justice more based on giving back to population instead punishing who has committed the crime.

8. Do you think that this process would have been put forward in a different way? There will be some improvement in the next months and years?

I don’t see any other ways in which this process could have been handled. The opposition is obviously saying that during the negotiation too much was gave away. I’m not sure if the State wouldn’t have given what FARC was asking for he wouldn’t have come to a basically successful solution and agreement. Teams were well composed, well advised, there were academics and military involved. I really think it was well handled. Obviously there are many ways in which we can think about a negotiation. Criticism has been about hearing more the victims, but it has be done. I can’t think about a better scenario. I think there is normal that there will be always someone not satified with the agreement. Regarding the improvements it will depends on the next months. People has to see how determine FARC is in constructing peace and ending conflict itself. So I think we are all expecting improvements but it depends on FARC and how much state can fulfill what it has promised in the agreement . If they’ll fail in the implementation it will difficult to see something solid. It’s a difficult task, we’ll hope that it will not fail. Let’s see in the next months.

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