The recent peace accord between the Colombian government and the FARC rebels was not approved via referendum, a fact that complicates the nation’s path to peace.
Colombia’s former President Andres Pastrana talks to journalists after meeting with President Juan Manuel Santos at the presidential palace in Bogota, Colombia, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2016. Photo: AP
In Colombia, all hopes of securing a lasting peace within the country have fallen short of expectations. In a nationwide referendum, Colombians voted against the peace accord signed by the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a guerrilla movement involved in the continuing Colombian armed conflict. Now Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has to look for a new format of settling the problem.
On Sept. 26, Colombian authorities signed an accord with FARC leader Rodrigo Londono. The presidents of 15 Latin American states, including Cuba, Venezuela and Chile, along with U.S. State Secretary John Kerry and UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon, attended the signing ceremony. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov congratulated Colombia with the peace agreement and expressed Moscow's readiness to help with the implementation process.
“The Russian minister also pointed to Russia’s readiness to support the Colombian peace accord on the international stage and also to further advance bilateral relations, including in light of new opportunities during the post-conflict reforms in Colombia,” according to the statement of the Russian Foreign Ministry.
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Obstacles to a lasting peace in Colombia
However, the path towards peace is not an easy one. The majority of Colombians apparently are not ready to forgive the guerillas that became notorious for their cruel murders, kidnappings, and involvement in the drug business. They did not agree with the decision to give them de facto amnesty. Two famous and reputable politicians, former Colombian presidents Alvaro Uribe and Andres Pastrana, head the powerful movement against any agreement with the FARC. During their time in power, they strove to crush the resistance militarily.
In contrast to more hopeful Western analysts, Russian expert Vladimir Sudarev, deputy director of the Institute of Latin America of the Russian Academy of Sciences, predicted such an outcome of the referendum. He expressed his doubts that the Colombian people would approve the deal with FARC right after the agreement was signed in the city of Cartagena. He suggested that many of the former guerrillas would have a hard time transitioning to a new peaceful, civilian life.
Despite the fact that the Latin American continent has plenty of experience of including former guerillas into peaceful life (including El Salvador, where after a 13-year civil war, guerilla groups created one of the biggest political formations in the national parliament), Colombia has quite different circumstances.
“The key problem is how to convince an ordinary Colombian that his or her neighbor who has been fighting for the last 50 years is innocent,” explains Sudarev. “Those people controlled entire businesses, and the foremost among them was drug trafficking. They had a lot of money, controlled a significant part of the country and imposed a tax upon the landowners, while they themselves were trading cocaine. So how they can refuse such an easy and profitable source of money now?”
Famous Latin American journalist and political scientist Alvaro Vargas Llosa is concerned that after former guerillas enter Colombian political life and take some key positions in the government and the congress, Colombia might change its regional foreign policy.
“Just a few years ago, Colombia was a U.S. pillar in the region, a country where the United States had military bases, where its experts on fighting drug trafficking worked," argues Llosa. "It was widely thought that Colombia was opposed to the Venezuelan populists. However, now the leadership in Caracas is eagerly waiting when former guerillas will take key positions in the government and the congress and turn Colombia into their friend and ally.”
At one of the conferences held in Miami and organized by the foundation of Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, the majority of the famous Latin American politicians, scientists and businessmen who attended the event were starkly against the signed deal with the FARC and viewed it negatively.
They explained it as follows: Having hundreds of millions of dollars from the drug trade, the guerillas will become the key political power in the country and won’t abandon their criminal business, so there will be a sort of narco state established, similar to neighboring Venezuela, where senior state officials – including the current president’s family and the military – are involved in the cocaine trade.
The role of Cuba in negotiations between Colombia and the FARC has led to skepticism among the Latin American political scientists. Famous Cuban opposition activist Carlos Alberto Montaner views Cuban facilitation of the talks as a mockery of history.
“The FARC is an offspring of the Castro brothers,” Montaner told Russia Direct. “All details about how the group appeared and how its ties with Cuba developed are described in the book of the former Cuban Ambassador to Bogota Juan Benemelis called Secret Wars of Fidel Castro. There is plenty of evidence that Cuba helped FARC to transport cocaine from Colombia and then it used the same planes to deliver weapons to them.”
Currently, Cuba does not need a Che Guevara-style guerilla war in Latin America [Ernesto “Che” Guevara was an Argentine Marxist revolutionary, physician, author, guerrilla leader, diplomat, and military theorist who played a role in the Cuban revolution – Editor’s note]. Nor does it need murders, kidnappings of politicians, bank robberies and cocaine trafficking.
Being previously a quite successful business, cocaine trafficking became very risky in the late 1980s, when the U.S. obtained evidence that high-ranking generals and secret service employees of Cuba were connected with the Colombian drug traffickers.
What’s next for Colombia now?
Given the active participation of the leaders from many Latin American states, U.S. diplomacy and the UN in the peace process, the international community can rightly expect Colombia not to slip into chaos and a new civil war again. Russia, according to its declarations, is ready to continue its efforts on the diplomatic track in order to contribute to the search of a new format for inter-Colombian negotiations.
However, Sudarev is quite cautious in assessing the prospects for the settlement of the conflict in Colombia.
“On the one hand, all neighboring states will provide political support to the peace process in Colombia, although how effective is this support going to be? I very much doubt that the desired results will be achieved right away,” he said.
The settlement of a conflict such as the Colombia-FARC one is extremely difficult as it is the product of the confrontation between two systems and the Cold War. Furthermore, the behind-the-scenes moves of the Cuban leaders only complicate matters.
Rising tensions between the U.S. and Russia do not help at all in searching for new diplomatic options. After all, the echo of the U.S.-Russia disagreements on Ukraine and the Middle East resonate in these regional conflicts. Thus, the Colombians have to start their way towards peace all over again with the support of the international community.