By Juan Diego Duque, Class XVI

Colombia was in the headlines for almost all international newspapers at the end of 2016. After four years of peace negotiations, FARC – the oldest guerrilla in the western hemisphere- and the government reached a peace agreement to end an armed conflict of 50 years. The consequences of the conflict are devastating. According to the Victims and Reparations Unit, 6.605.448 people have been identified as victims of forced displacement, homicide, forced disappearance, among others victimizations since 1985.

The implementation of the peace agreement has advanced at a good pace. According to the first report published by Kroc Institute, the implementation of the peace agreement has advanced about of 45% of the provisions stipulated in the settlement. Almost all the cease-fire, disarmament and demobilization provisions have been completely implemented and ex-FARC members are now facing the most difficult stage of their decision to settle down, which is the reintegration process. In fact, the government has been accused of delaying the reintegration programs causing ex-combatants to move from their reintegration camps to their former homes, cities or even joining splinter groups. The Ideas for Peace Foundation (FIP) reckon that there are roughly 1.200 ex-FARC members of these splinter groups, which represents 15% of the FARC disbanded members.

The implementation process has faced other challenges such as multiple homicides to social leaders in conflict-affected areas increasing the security concerns among ex-combatants, the uncoordinated government actions to carry out rural development projects and the opposition from some congressmen delaying the bills to guarantee the grounds for the transitional justice instruments. All these challenges will be scrutinized by the next presidential election on May 27th, 2018.

Colombians have to elect their new President who will be in charge of deciding whether to continue or not the implementation of the agreement. However, the candidates do not strongly stand out with regard their commitment to the implementation of the peace agreement. In fact, it is a discourse shift compared with former presidential campaigns. Since 1986, presidential elections always put forth as the main topic to negotiate or not with the guerrillas. Now, candidates seem less interested in peace discourse due to the government already reached an agreement, showing a low interest to implement fully the peace deal. Currently, there are five candidates running for the presidency office:

Candidate Political Party Does the candidate support the peace deal? Last poll results*
Ivan Duque Democratic Centre Party No 45.9%
Gustavo Petro Coalition Petro President Yes 26.7%
Sergio Fajardo Colombia Coalition Yes 10.7%
German Vargas Coalition Better Vargas Lleras Yes/No 6.3%
Humberto de La Calle Liberal Party Yes 5%

*The last poll was carried during on March 2018 (here)

The Table shows how the polls are divided between Petro and Duque which represent completely opposite ideological views. Petro is the candidate of the left-wing groups, he was a former M-19 guerrilla member that demobilized in 1989. He was elected congressmen for two terms (2002-2006) and elected mayor of Bogota in 2011, the capital of Colombia and the second most important office after the presidential one. On the other hand, Duque is the youngest candidate, elected senator during 2014 and former adviser for the Inter-American Development Bank (2001-2013). He represents the opposition supported by Alvaro Uribe Velez, former president of Colombia (2002-2010) and the main opponent of the peace agreement. Indeed, Uribe led the Campaign of “No” for the referendum of the peace agreement in October of 2016, which finally won and cause the re-negotiation of the settlement.

Sergio Fajardo, is more of a political outsider supported by centre-wing and left-wing parties, Green Alliance and Pole Democratic Party respectively. He has used his image as a mathematician and former governor of Antioquia (2011) and major of Medellin (2001) to foster an alternative option to the traditional political parties and politicians such as Ivan Duque and German Vargas. He has been compared to Emmanuel Macron regarding how he has run his campaign to be a centre-wing party. He used to be on the top of the polls at the beginning of the year but after the Congress elections in March 2018, he lost the favouritism from the population.

Humberto De La Calle, is an experienced politician having been former minister, vice-president and recently appointed by current President Juan Manuel Santos as the chief negotiator of the peace negotiations with FARC. He is the candidate who has mostly used the peace agreement as one of his main discourses. However, he has been criticized for being supported by one of the most traditional parties in Colombia. The Liberal Party is commonly related with corruption scandals and strong patronage networks around Colombia. This has affected De La Calle’s image as a peace agreement defender. Likewise, the Liberal party is internally divided among politicians who desire to support either German Vargas or Ivan Duque.

Finally, German Vargas is as well an experienced politician representing the classical national elites. He has served as congressmen during three continuous terms (1994-1998-2002) later serving as minister and Vice-president in Juan Manuel Santos’ government (2014-2018). This made him a very popular politician due to his duties to implement the most popular infrastructure policies: such as free housing for low-income families and highways to develop a better road system around Colombia. He always stood aside during the peace negations. Vargas had doubts about the transitional justice deal, in fact, and during the beginning of the electoral presidential campaign on 2017, he stated that he will adjust some parts of the justice deal to ensure the rights of victims. However, he has recently stated that the constitutional court has resolved his critiques and he will commit to implementing the peace deal. Now he is negotiating with the Union Party, which was the main supporter of the peace deal, to increase their possibilities to gain the presidential office on May.

The political panorama according to the polls seems not very positive for the peace implementation. If Duque wins the elections, he has promised to make changes to the peace agreement, bringing in more insecurity an instability conditions for ex-FARC members.  This could negatively fuel more splinters groups in the Nariño, Antioquia, Guaviare and Meta departments.

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As various scholars have reiterated, the first five years are the most critical in post-conflict situations around the world and lack of commitment by some of the parties might lead to the settlement crumbling down. Thus, Colombians will have another opportunity to decide if they would like to support a candidate which will uphold the peace agreement and continue an opportunity to narrow the gap between rural and urban life or to question the agreement, which would, in turn, add more uncertainty to the implementation.

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