Colombia’s wounded peace deal puts focus on FARC, risks international funds

Colombians in the capital, Bogota, react after learning about the rejection of a peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) following a plebiscite on Oct. 2, 2016.
Colombians in the capital, Bogota, react after learning about the rejection of a peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) following a plebiscite on Oct. 2, 2016. Bloomberg

Colombia’s Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguín on Tuesday said it was up to the country’s FARC guerrillas and the political forces that campaigned against a hard-fought peace deal to take the next steps and resolve a looming crisis.

Renegotiating the peace deal is “not the government’s responsibility anymore at this time,” she said at a press conference. “The responsibility for peace, and that the country can live in peace, is with the Colombians and political movements that mobilized against the deal.”

On Sunday, Colombians narrowly rejected a peace pact with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, that negotiators in Havana had been hammering out for almost four years.

If they’re unwilling to budge, then everything will go back to the way it was.

Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguín

Former President Alvaro Uribe, who led the campaign against the deal, has said the FARC leadership should face prison time. He’s also been opposed to the idea that the guerrilla group was being offered five seats in the House and Senate for two electoral cycles.

As Uribe is pushing to renegotiate the deal, the FARC have said those issues in particular are non-negotiable.

“Just as the government had its red lines, the FARC have their own red lines,” Holguín said. “And we have to see if they’re willing to reopen the accord.”

If they’re unwilling to budge, “then everything will go back to the way it was,” she said.

The FARC and the government have been fighting for 52 years in a conflict that has taken more than 220,000 lives and forced more than 6 million to flee their homes. The group began peace talks in 2012 and the country has seen huge security gains as the negotiations evolved. In July 2015, the group declared a unilateral ceasefire, and the government decreed a bilateral ceasefire Aug. 29.

There hasn't been active combat In Marquetalia, birthplace of Colombia’s FARC guerrillas, for years, yet the rebels' presence is still felt. As the government and rebels hash out a peace deal in Havana, Cuba, villagers hope peace will bring progress.

Both sides have said they are committed to the ceasefire. But in a series of twitter posts Tuesday, the FARC suggested they weren’t open to renegotiating the deal.

“Just because we want peace doesn’t mean that the accord we signed can be modified,” said FARC Commander Carlos Lozada, who’s part of that group’s negotiating committee in Cuba.

For its part, Uribe’s Centro Democrático party issued a statement asking if President Juan Manuel Santos, in light of the FARC’s position, was “willing to correct the issues” that people had voted against.

Holguín said Uribe and his followers need to present their suggestions point by point to the guerrillas. Santos and Uribe are scheduled to meet for the first time on Wednesday.

In addition, Santos has named Holguín, along with the government’s chief negotiator, Humberto de la Calle, and Minister of Defense Luis Carlos Villegas as “commissioners” to meet with Uribe’s delegates: Carlos Holmes Trujillo, Sen. Iván Duque and former presidential candidate Oscar Iván Zuluaga.

International worry

The vote was a huge upset for the Santos administration. On Sept. 26, he and FARC Commander Rodrigo Londoño signed off on the accord in a high-profile event in Cartagena. Polls had suggested the deal would pass easily in Sunday’s vote and the international community saw it as a done deal, pledging hundreds of millions of dollars in post-conflict funds.

Holguín said all that money — and a U.N. verification team already on the ground — were now in doubt.

“All the calls I’ve received [from foreign governments] have been of disappointment,” she said. “They don’t understand how the country made this decision to not support peace.”

Promoters of the “no” vote insist they want peace, too, but they also want the FARC, whose members have been convicted of murder, kidnapping and extortion, to face stiffer penalties.

Asked if the administration had a Plan B, Holguín said, “unfortunately, no.”

“We thought Colombia wanted peace, wanted to turn the page and wanted to be a normal country,” she said.

United States Senator from Florida Marco Rubio and U.S. representative Carlos Curbelo speak to reporters about the vote by Colombian citizens to reject a peace deal with the FARC.