Colombians will vote on Sunday on whether to ratify the agreement, but opinion polls show it should pass easily. Colombians are nervous over how the rebels will integrate into society, but most are optimistic peace will bring more benefits than problems.The FARC ( Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), which began as a peasant revolt, became a big player in the cocaine trade and at its strongest had 20,000 fighters. Now, its some 7,000 fighters must hand over their weapons to the United Nations within 180 days.
The end of Latin America's longest running war will potentially turn the FARC into a political party. The FARC, like the Patriotic Union, a left-wing party closely linked to the FARC, could be rehabilitated and run candidates in ''gerrymandered'' districts designed to provide seats in Congress for the insurgents after the peace deal.
Santos enjoys wide international support for his pacification efforts, from prominent leaders like UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Pope Francis as well as progressive political sectors in Europe and Latin America. Showing its support for the peace deal, the European Union on Monday removed the FARC from its list of terrorist groups. Washington would also review whether to take the FARC off its terrorism list, and has pledged $390 million for Colombia next year to support the peace process.
Although Colombia’s competent armed forces thwarted the FARC ambition to control strategic sectors of the economy, the low-level insurgency continued to exact a heavy cost on an otherwise buoyant economy. This is why Santos has linked the peace settlement to greater prosperity for Colombia’s 40 million people. Colombia has performed better economically than its neighbours in recent years, and peace should reduce the government's security spending and open new areas of the country for mining and oil companies.
Colombia has the land and climate to be a major food exporter, like Brazil, and is becoming an energy power with world-class oil, gas, and coal deposits, as well as a strategic logistical corridor with ports on the Atlantic and Pacific. Colombia’s political influence as a democratic country in South America will grow if it manages to sustain economic development and growth, offsetting the influence of Venezuela’s radical, anti-American “21st-century socialism,” now undergoing a serious internal political and economic crisis.
The United States has been a key supporter of Colombia against the FARC guerrillas since the Clinton administration launched Plan Colombia in 2000, providing substantial military equipment, training, and financing for an ostensibly anti-narcotics program, but with a more basic goal of defeating the then dangerous guerrilla insurgency. The plan worked, the FARC and other guerrilla groups were rolled back, much of the FARC leadership was wiped out, and the Colombian people became more strongly opposed to guerrilla violence.
This political-military success is what induced the weakened FARC to accept the peace deal. Cuba acquiesced in providing Havana as a neutral ground for the negotiations. Before the decline of the FARC, Cuba and Venezuela had long subversive associations with the Colombian guerrillas, including partnering in international drug trafficking.
In his campaign for international support for peace, Santos met President Obama twice. They have met before, during Obama’s first term, when the US Senate was stalling on approval of a Free Trade Agreement with Colombia because of resistance by the AFL-CIO union lobby. With help from the White House, this resistance was overcome.
But for the 65-year-old Santos, the peace deal is more political, and he hopes to focus on what new bilateral relations can develop after the peace deal. This calls for new ideas, and could be an opportunity for the Obama administration--subsequently Clinton/Trump administration--to be more creative in support of a key Latin American ally that is a defender of democracy and human rights in a continent where these values are under attack from authoritarian regimes.
Santos has established a pragmatic relationship between peace and economic prosperity. This requires greater economic inclusion for the poorest sectors in Colombia, 30 percent of the population, who are concentrated in the rural sectors where subsistence agriculture and inadequate social investments in education and health care perpetuate chronic poverty.
This breeding ground for rural violence and political instability is what a new Plan Colombia should address through specific programs of social development if President Obama wants to keep the United States relevant for Colombia’s democracy. The World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank are already working in this direction with Colombia, but this cooperation does not carry the political label of the United States to a commitment to genuine democracy and free institutions in Latin America.
Just as it defeated the guerrilla insurgency, Colombia, after the peace deal, can become a model of how political freedom and compromise can enhance the prospects for inclusive economic development, without which no democratic regime can sustain itself in Latin America.
Prof Guylain Gustave Moke
International Affairs Expert
Photo-Credit: AFP-Colombia Peace Deal in Cuba