BOGOTA – Colombians must achieve reconciliation as a society if peace in the Andean nation is to be consolidated, according to ex-President Juan Manuel Santos, who said Joe Biden’s ascent to the United States’ highest office will be a positive development for the peace deal signed four years ago between his administration and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas.
Santos, who was in office from 2010 to 2018, boldly embarked on peace negotiations with the FARC (now a political party that uses the same acronym) in a bid to end more than a half-century of armed conflict. That process led to the signing of a historic peace accord on Nov. 24, 2016, at Bogota’s Teatro Colon.
The 2016 Nobel Peace Prize laureate also said in an interview with EFE that the recent deterioration in security conditions in Colombia should not be blamed on the peace deal.
How do you view the status of the peace deal four years after it was signed?
Given how complex and ambitious this agreement was, I think the overall balance four years after it was signed is quite positive. The initial phase, what they call the DDR – demobilization, disarmament and reintegration – (of the guerrillas), was achieved in record time. The number of weapons (handed over) by the guerrillas was perhaps the highest of any peace process in recent times.
More than 94 percent of the ex-guerrillas remain in the process, according to official figures, but of course there are complexities, difficulties that are normal in any agreement.
What is the biggest obstacle to consolidating peace?
To consolidate peace, you need reconciliation (within) Colombian society. Reconciliation, as Pope Francis told us when he made his historic visit (in 2017), is the foundation for consolidating peace. Working against that reconciliation is the accumulation of hatred over a long period of time, the thirst for revenge, the inability of many to forgive. These types of attitudes are obstacles, but gradually they’re being overcome.
Of course, there are enemies of the process who have wanted to sabotage it, but gradually those enemies also are realizing that this process is irreversible.
Do you think the current administration (of President Ivan Duque) is committed to peace?
I don’t want to comment on or criticize the current government, but if we refer, for example, to studies done by the organizations tasked with monitoring the accords, for example the House of Representatives’ Peace Commission or the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute (for International Peace Studies), we realize there’s a lot still to be done, that over the past two years there are very concrete shortcomings in terms, for example, of investments in areas that previously were dominated by conflict. There are shortcomings in productive projects. There are many aspects where much more could be done.
The FARC party is being criticized by those who say it is not doing what it promised, especially in terms of telling the truth and making reparations to victims. Do you see it that way?
The FARC should be aware that if they don’t tell the entire truth they’ll lose their benefits. In that process they’re now in, of telling the truth, of acknowledging their responsibility, it’s up to the JEP (the Special Jurisdiction for Peace) to evaluate how truthful they’re being and if they’re in compliance.
What can be done to stop the constant killings of former guerrillas and social leaders?
More effectiveness is needed there on the part of the armed forces, more effectiveness on the part of the justice system, more political will so the mechanisms contained in the agreement itself, including for example the Security Guarantees Commission, work more consistently.
There also needs to be a more effective response to the early alerts frequently provided by the Ombudsman’s Office. So yes, a much more effective effort can be made to avoid these killings that are undoubtedly very worrying.
Were you surprised that FARC leaders accepted responsibility for killings of people like conservative leader Alvaro Gomez (an ex-presidential candidate), even though in 25 years that guerrilla group had never been suspected?
I was surprised, but I saw it as something very positive. A fundamental part of reconciliation and the consolidation of peace is for the truth to come to light, and that step the FARC took in acknowledging that assassination ... is an important step in the right direction and in (ensuring) that the truth emerges.
In a short period of time, the country went from optimism about peace to the sense that it’s worse than before. Do you feel there’s been a regression?
There needs to be a distinction drawn between the peace (deal) with the FARC and the violence that other criminal groups have generated. Peace with the FARC has worked, and the reductions in indicators of violence such as homicides, guerrilla takeovers, attacks on infrastructure, kidnappings, up until 2017, 2018, were very significant reductions of around 70 percent, 80 percent.
Starting in 2017, 2018, there’s been a deterioration in some security indicators in the country, but this isn’t a product, like some say, of the peace accord. It’s the product of a series of criminal organizations that have been emerging and need to be forcefully combated.
Has the problem of (FARC) dissidents spiraled out of the government’s control?
A distinction must be made among the so-called dissidents of criminal groups. Really, the FARC dissidents are very limited in number; like I said, more than 94 percent of the more than 13,000 guerrillas who demobilized are in the (peace) process. What’s happened is that there’s been an emergence of criminal gangs that call themselves dissidents or that want to figure as part of the FARC dissidents. But they shouldn’t be termed as such. They’re criminal groups that are virtually all devoted to drug trafficking.
The government is making an effort to combat them and there’s always room to be more effective in combating these mafias. It’s not easy.
Do you think the switch to a new US president will contribute to peace in Colombia?
No question. Joe Biden (as vice president) was a great promoter of the agreement and also supported the process on an ongoing basis ... and I have no doubt that Joe Biden, as president, will be equally enthusiastic about helping to implement the accords.
How can he help?
I think in terms of the resources needed to bring about social development in areas currently in need, the conflict zones; assistance from the United States (there) can be very positive.
And even in point four (of the agreement), the issue of drugs, President Biden has a much more pragmatic approach. He said so during his campaign: consumers can’t be treated as criminals but rather as patients; it’s a public health problem ... It’s going to be a more pragmatic approach, and so I think it’ll be more effective.