Taking a Look at Colombia's Peace Deal Post Plebiscite

A Southern Pulse Slack Chat*

boz (James Bosworth, Southern Pulse CEO): Hi everyone

boz: On 2 October, a plebiscite on the Colombian government's peace process with the FARC failed by a very narrow margin. The government and FARC had already signed the agreement and the FARC were moving towards demobilization. The past three weeks since the referendum have been a flurry of activity as the government has worked to rescue the peace agreement and the “no” side lead by former President Uribe has tried to figure out how to manage their stunning upset victory.

We’re going to chat for the next half hour or so about the peace process after the no vote and what it means for Colombia’s future. Let me start with the first obvious question: Will Santos be able to save the peace process?

rsalies (SP Brazil & Southern Cone Project Manager): Likely will depend if he decides to take whatever new version of the agreement through a plebiscite or not.

jessica.soto (SP Training Director): I think he will. The vote on 2 Oct in Colombia was one step that didn’t go as expected – the government still has the upper hand and Santos is still in the mix and will be remembered for his part. The ceasefire has been extended and the U.N. is still there and supporting the process.

There are plenty of examples (UNITA in Angola, LTTE in Sri Lanka), where governments and insurgencies experienced false starts, sometimes signed agreements that didn’t hold, ceasefires off and on, but eventually wound down as insurgencies (and in the case of UNITA became a major political actor).

rsalies: Then again UNITA was completely beat on the battlefield. So was the LTTE.

boz: @jessica.soto Interesting to see you reference other peace processes like Angola and Sri Lanka. Santos just announced this week he would be traveling to Northern Ireland to learn more about the peace process there

ariel (SP Analyst, resides in Bogota): I will add that here in Colombia, everyone I have spoken to has said these ceasefire extensions is just talk. Santos is using the idea of deadlines for ceasefires as a way to encourage the public to be in favor of the new talks, but the notion of any sort of ceasefire ending, according to Santos, is not taken seriously here

jessica.soto: FARC is pretty beat down from what I hear @rsalies -- part of what brought them to the table

seant93 (SP inter covering Colombia, resides in Bogota): I agree with Ariel, the ceasefire extensions seem to be a method of motivating the locals. Although I think yesterday presented a bump in the road, some FARC delegates had refused a meeting with the Centro Democratico lawyers (Uribe’s political party)

boz: Not only have the FARC been beaten down (from an estimated 25,000 fighters to around 6-7,000 now), but they’ve also taken some serious steps to begin the demobilization process and they haven’t engaged in active combat in months. Returning to war is a harder option than it looks.

ariel: Well, Jess, I agree and disagree. I had a very insightful conversation with “M,” excellent journalist here, a few days ago. Here is the situation: FARC wants the peace process. They want a peace agreement. They want "peace"-- but not in the same way the government thinks of "peace-- they want a "peace" that allows them to retire, not worry about fighting anymore-- they already have their wealth, and now they want to enjoy it and retire.  So, I while I agree they have been beat down, they also actually want the peace agreement and are motivated by that in itself

liz (SP Content Chief): The fighters want the “transitional justice system” that won’t punish them as harshly, if at all, one of the main points of contention for the “no voters” — are we really sure they will renegotiate that point, and give up their “retirement?”

manuela (SP Analyst): That's the point @ariel- the kind of "peace" you state they are looking for where they retire and enjoy life couldn't be possible if there is a renegotiation

ariel: Just want to quickly touch upon @liz 's point for a second, on the transitional justice system, because for me, this is singlehandedly the most concerning part of this whole thing. In the (failed) accord, Santos would create a "special tribunal," which would take on the court cases against FARC members accused of multitude of crimes, including crimes against humanity. Now, we know that if these FARC members tell the truth, they don't get jail time. That's the general idea. But, here are-- in my opinion-- the two big concerns with this special tribunal: First, the accord fails to give details/logistics of the tribunal, particularly concerning who will make up the tribunal. For all we know, it could be entirely made up of FARC members. Probably won't be the case, but still the idea that these specifics are not laid out is a huge problem.  

Second, and most importantly, if this special tribunal is created, Santos will have set the precedent that presidents of Colombia are allowed to create their own special courts at their own will, put them above the Supreme Court, and using them could actually delegitimize the Colombian justice system. This is extremely concerning to me.

jessica.soto: @ariel - on the question of transitional justice I wanted to share this: http://www.dplf.org/sites/default/files/the_special_jurisdiction_peace_colombia_web_06_03_2016_0.pdf

I think it is highly doubtful Colombia would veer far from a plan like that to select the tribunal. It is a big question, but I think they want to do it right

ariel: first time seeing this jess, this is a great find. yeah i guess my bigger concern would be simply the idea of creating another court above the supreme court, and setting the precedent that future presidents of colombia can also do that

boz: I think one important issue here is to treat the FARC as a diverse group. I agree with @ariel’s take on the FARC leadership wanting retirement. I think many of the front line troops want peace so that they can leave the battlefield. They won’t have much wealth to return home to, but war is hell and peace should be better.

An additional group will be the FARC members who are just criminals using the group’s brand as a convenient front. They’ll likely regroup as criminals moving forward, including those who control the drug trade on the Colombia-Venezuela border.

ariel: And, side note, I know there have been questions of whether or not the FARC will engage in a surprise attack or some sort of violent act in Bogota or elsewhere, either because they are not happy with the peace accord or for whatever other reason. The answer to this question is also in my comment above. FARC have put down their weapons, and they are really counting on it in order to enjoy a nice retirement. They are so set on this peace accord happening, the idea of a surprise attack on Bogota is just so out of the picture

rsalies: I think the main question is how Santos pushes through a new peace deal and what will be the ramifications of it. Is he likely to gamble on a plebiscite again or not

boz: I highly doubt that Santos would go back to a referendum. Even if he wanted to, I don’t think the FARC or a future group (like the ELN) would negotiate under the terms that it be approved in a referendum, given the surprise outcome three weeks ago.

That said, I’m interested in everyone else giving an opinion here when they have an opportunity: Does another referendum/plebiscite happen in the future or no?

jessica.soto: meh, maybe. I think there is enough wiggle room - even with Uribe's more restrictive proposal ("effective privation of liberty") for many of the mid- to upper level (older, more ideological) FARC leaders to retire

esmoley (SP Intern covering Colombia): I tend to believe this is just a slight hiccup in the Santos administration’s path toward peace. With a voter turnout of less than 38%,  it seems there could be a much more decisive outcome were another referendum to take place. (edited)

rsalies: I think no. Santos is not risking losing two votes on the issue. However seeing  how he treats a possible agreement with the ELN is a main indicator  of what might happen if renegotiations with farc draw out

manuela: I don't think it will. An eventual renegotiation process will give more space to the opposition affecting Santos and his peace plan even more.

eduardo (SP COO): So here's a question on the "why" of a referendum, were they legally obliged to hold it (as in is it in their constitution or laws?) or did the Santos administration think he'd win and have it be a way to legitimize the process?

seant93: Yesterday I had a conversation with the head of my masters program, she seemed surprised that the plebecito even happened in the first place, personally I don't anticipate another plebecito. It just presents a lot of unknown variables, it gives Uribe yet another chance to stick his hand in the pot as  a last ditch effort to remain politically relevant and I imagine the low voter turn out the first time around doesn't really motivate for a second referendum vote.

If I'm not mistaken Santos is not legally bound to hold a referendum

rsalies: He is not. He wanted to do it for legacy issues

manuela: They weren't obliged by law at all. Santos was sure they would win

jessica.soto: It is a risk to push a deal through without a vote too (especially after you lost a vote). . . just imagine the next campaign or the outcry when the hard work of disarmament and reintegration starts happening and people argue that they "never agreed" to the deal

rsalies: @jessica.soto  yes. it is. But Santos will be out of office and his legacy for the long term will be that of a president who ended the war

boz: ok, I want to move on to the next question

Santos’s approval ratings (around 35%) were low before the referendum. They really haven’t moved in spite of the referendum failure and winning the Nobel Prize.

Separate from the peace process and its direct impact on security and society, what are the political implications of the “no” vote? What is the fallout? Is 2018 definitely a pro-peace vs anti-peace campaign yet again?

ariel: Well, for one, this is a huge boost for Uribe. He is leading the anti-peace treaty movement, and gaining a strong band of loyal followers in the process. Among all of the potential presidential candidates, right now the name being talked about in Colombia is Uribe. Even if a new peace accord gets passed, he has a strong movement behind him that can continue to expand even after an accord passes and into the election season.

eduardo: so, can I ask people to throw some percentage guesses out there on a few scenarios: Chances for a re-negotiated peace process that includes Uribe?

ariel: @eduardo, 100%. Uribe is already at the renegotiating table with Santos here in Bogota. Now, it's one thing that Uribe is actually there, but it is another thing if Santos is simply using Uribe's presence there for show, rather than to actually get Uribe's input.

eduardo: well, I don't think Uribe will lend himself to be Santos' patsy

ariel: definitely not, agreed

boz: I think two reasons we’ve seen Uribe suddenly appear to become a more productive member of this peace process rather than someone throwing spitballs and criticisms from outside are:

1) He now owns part of this because his side won the referendum. It’s thrown his game plan off because he now must provide a viable alternative or become known as the president who sank peace in Colombia.

and 2) He knows as @esmoley pointed out above, that the referendum would have likely passed if turnout had been higher. He doesn’t want 2018 fought on peace because he doesn’t want to lose the political capital he’s gained.

jessica.soto: Agreed. And I don't think the no vote won because people dislike Santos. They may disapprove of Santos but I think those who voted no did so because of arguments (including Uribe's) about specific aspects of the peace deal. I don't think people voted "no" to peace - just this agreement. And I don't think they meant to tell Santos not to try for peace. Even if that is how he feels as he cried himself to sleep on 2 Oct

ariel: Jess-- might disagree with you on that. I do believe a good chunk of people voted no actually mainly because they don't like Santos. Just my two cents though

esmoley: I think it would be extremely unlikely for the FARC to accept any peace deal with the terms Uribe has set forth including a ban from politics and lengthy jail sentences

liz: I agree with @esmoley - they refused to show up yesterday at their first chance to renegotiate (or discuss re-negotiating) with Uribe involved

ariel: Agree with @esmoley. And in fact, it seems like every other day Santos is telling people to be realistic with their demands, and that some of them are simply not possible. He never specifically refers to Uribe supporters when saying this, but its pretty obvious who Santos is talking about

seant93: I agree with @esmoley , where is the sense in agreeing to jail and no political participation after spending your entire life as a guerrilla fighter? At the same time whether santos likes it or not Uribe is a significant political actor, and a balance between making uribe feel involved and not pushing the FARC back to the jungles must, and I believe will, be found

manuela: yes, probably most have voted NO, just because they don't like Santos- if people actually cared to find a solution for this peace process, they would have at least voted- Just 37% of the country expressed their opinion ..

Jessica.soto: I thought Uribe's new plan would allow FARC members (who are not accused of war crimes) hold Congressional seats?

boz: I think the jail sentences are the bigger hangup than the political participation. the FARC’s congressional seats were always non-voting and even if Uribe used their political participation as a threat of a future FARC presidency to scare voters into voting against the agreement, Uribe knows as well as anyone that the FARC have never had significant national popular support.

jessica.soto: I thought Uribe had also proposed wording that left wiggle room on prison, calling for "effective privation of liberty" but not necessarily jail. http://static.iris.net.co/semana/upload/documents/bases-de-un-acuerdo-nacional-de-paz.pdf (edited)

ariel: 100% agree with Boz. I actually think political participation is the least concerning part to Colombians. But, I gotta say this crazy statistic I heard a few days ago. With the first proposed accord, did you guys know that FARC would have 10 Congressional seats representing 7,000 FARC members, while there are 268 other seats representing 45 million people! Talk about a huge difference in proportions

boz: Since the referendum’s failure, there has been sudden movement on the ELN side. Formal negotiations are likely to begin and the ELN has begun releasing prisoners. Why exactly did that occur? What are the chances for peace with the ELN? This is lightning round, so five minutes to respond and then I move to next and final question.

rsalies: Chances are high. The group cannot risk being left as the only major armed movement still active in Colombia, receiving the full weight and attention of the national armed forces.

If a peace deal with FARC is achieved they are in a precarious situation. Failure in the referendum gave them a chance for better terms

jessica.soto: In a way it could be better for the ELN talks – expectations have been re-calibrated. For example, rebels need to scale back any hope for expansive impunity and the government needs to take into account public perception and opposition views.

manuela: I think an eventual peace process with ELN would be even more difficult that with FARC. The internal fragmentation of ELN could lead to several problems in finding an agreement.

rsalies: it also allows them to try to achieve a deal without a  plebiscite.  Santos learned his lesson. If I am not wrong, and please correct me if I am, they will seek a similar deal as the AUC received, which Uribe at the time signed and passed without a plebiscite, only with congressional support

eduardo: I think any chances for peace with the ELN will be frozen until there's a resolution to the process with the FARC. They have very little incentive to enter a process at the moment because Santos--by losing the referendum--effectively made it clear that he does not have the authority to actually negotiate a deal

ariel: General consensus is a peace accord with ELN isn't something to be taken seriously, at least for now. Unlike FARC, the ELN is scattered and all over the place. They are very disorganized, and have no political motivation. It's a very different type of situation than that of the FARC

rsalies: I disagree, as long as Santos can marshal congressional support and still holds the pen he has a full institutional authority to negotiate and implement a deal

eduardo: institutional yes, political capital no

seant93: I agree with Ariel, we are still a long ways from a ELN deal, also they are believed responsible for bombing two electric towers outside of bogota on wednesday (edited)

ariel: Agree, Eduardo. And they have no money. Hence the tax reform...

rsalies: it is all he needs now. He is leaving office disliked, with a bleak future regardless. His best scenario is to be remembered in 30/50 years. It is the moment politicians do things despite their popularity

jessica.soto: A long way, but peace talks take a long time and there are no guarantees. Might as well get 'em started.

eduardo: well the question here is if they'd even sit to discuss (publicly)

liz: ELN even said they didn’t want an “express” peace deal, so while they probably won’t be finalized within the next year, and certainly not while things are being settled with FARC, I think considering what @rsalies said, they don’t want to deal with the full brunt of the military or be left behind, negotiations will start… its just a question of how long it will take

boz: OK, final question. Colombia’s economy already in a bit of trouble, but the three weeks after the referendum’s failure have not seen any significant additional bumps in the stock market or currency.

How will the no vote impact Colombia’s economy, if at all? What sectors will be affected the most and why?

rsalies: Oil and Gas is the easy answer regarding sectors

ariel: Less foreign investment. That's the big one

rsalies: Pipelines are preferred targets of both ELN and FARC

manuela: Yes @eduardo... ELN has always been more ideological than FARC and they still believe in their "religious Marxism"...it's difficult they will agree to sit and negotiate with official institutions

boz: My brief take is that Colombia’s economy has avoided the worst case scenarios post-vote because all the sides jumped into action within the first 24 hours to extend the ceasefire and figure out how to keep the peace process alive. The situation could have been much worse, but everyone from Santos to Uribe to the FARC worked to make sure that the no vote was just a bump in the road, not an absolute end to the peace process (which would be disastrous to Colombia’s economy)

eduardo: So exogenously, an improvement on the venezuelan side may have a positive impact on the Colombian economy

rsalies: @eduardo but how realistic would that be?

jessica.soto: in a parallel universe, possible. otherwise highly unlikely

eduardo: So I think if they default  an number of quick changes would cascade

jessica.soto: save it for next week!

eduardo: this doesn't mean that Venezuela would be great all of a sudden, but it would certainly mean they may be buying (and paying) for more colombian goods

boz: Maybe not completely exogenously, @eduardo. I think the collapse of Venezuela has played a critical role in pushing this process forward because the FARC no longer have a fallback plan or territory to hide in. Even the FARC know a Colombian jungle or prison is probably better than hanging out in Venezuela these days.

ariel: Pretty much any potential reforms to every other sector have been on hold, with Santos focusing 99% of his attention on the peace talks. So, with the "no" vote, again this is just slowing down any potential growth in the education sector, oil industry, everywhere.

eduardo: @boz, are they not benefitting from smuggling? Or is that primarily in the hands of bacrims?

boz: @eduardo they benefit from smuggling, but not as much as they used to. The Cartel de los Soles owns a good portion of the profitable parts of the illegal trafficking now.

jessica.soto: throwing in a crazy Q: What about the cocaine and gun markets? How would peace with FARC impact those black markets?

ariel: Great question, Jess. So, remember, even if there is a new FARC accord, there are many FARC members who are against it. What will likely happen is these FARC members will form small bands, they won't engage in any major attacks on Bogota or anything extreme, but they will focus on other crimes, most likely to be drug trafficking and stealing oil from pipelines

eduardo: so pretty much just a re-hash of the demobilization of the AUC

boz: @jessica.soto Long term, peace and stability will reduce illegal trafficking including guns and drugs. It’s not an overnight switch, plenty of criminal groups will fill any void in the short term including some dissident FARC and Bacrim as @ariel mentions. But (almost tautologically) peace is good for security long term.

*Southern Pulse wants to credit FiveThirtyEight.com and their "A FiveThirtyEight Chat," as inspiration for the format used to discuss this topic. Southern Pulse's slack chat was lightly edited.