By Louis Kleyn
After four long years, Colombia’s negotiating team has returned home with an agreement with FARC leaders.
The guerrilla organization has been a security issue in different parts of the country since its inception back in the 1960s. However, it became more relevant in the ’90s, thanks to the cultivation, processing and trafficking of cocaine.
The “FARC problem,” and the search for its solution has been the main focus of the Colombian government since the administration of Belisario Betancur. After the military successes of Álvaro Uribe’s administration, the beginning of the peace talks in Havana took many by surprise. FARC’s behavior has been notably violent of late, having ambushed Colombian soldiers and kidnapped citizens.
The Cuban government offered up Havana for hosting the peace talks. This is a country whose leaders do not hold many democratic values — neither freedom of expression nor free enterprise.
Action taken by Juan Manuel Santos’ administration prior to the talks were also criticizable. To give greater importance to this “historic” moment and justify the sacrifices to come, the government made the “FARC problem” look even greater by talking about “52 years of war” and connecting the conflict to tens of thousands of people who were already dead, despite those casualties coming from a wide range of problems beyond FARC.
The government negotiators were professional politicians and enlightened literary figures. They did not seem to be valid opponents for the unscrupulous and clever guerrilla leaders, who were forged in adversity and possess extraordinary personalities that allowed them to progress and succeed in a violent outlawed organization.
The FARC negotiators, with impeccable cold blood, were willing to extend the talks without time limit, to break the patience of the Colombian government. On the other hand, the government negotiators felt they were wasting their time in Cuba.
When the dialogues exceeded six months,which seemed long enough, people understood that the process was not evolving in a favorable way for Santos, and that FARC would not yield easily to his desires. In the end, the result was a near-implausible agreement.
On one hand, there are specific topics that are impossible to accept in a democracy: 10 automatic seats for FARC representatives in Congress until 2026, in addition to the 16 seats it get for a special constituency. Moreover, FARC will receive a significant amount of state funding for its support, political dissemination, access to mass media communication and pardon for all its crimes.
The agreement is unfair to the great mass of the working population that strives daily for minimum wage, for the groups that have recently led peaceful protests seeking modest income increases, for the prisoners with minor offenses and even for the murderers and white collar criminals whose felonies might be even lower than those of the guerrilla.
There are other “abstract” issues such as the “constitutional” label of the agreement, its incomprehensible and capricious rules and the idea that “Transitional Justice” may have over ordinary justice. This will generate legal uncertainty in an already chaotic and collapsed institutional system, and also gives FARC potential excuses to say that “the state” breached the agreement.
Rafael Caldera, an important representative of the traditional Venezuelan educated class, generously pardoned Lt. Hugo Chávez who, taking advantage of the democracy he despised and that he had tried to tear apart via coup, succeeded in getting to power a few years later.
President Santos, who has invested a great personal effort to address the “FARC problem,” and who echoes the desire of the great majority of Colombians to disarm the guerrilla and reduce violence, should take a less passionate and more neutral stance toward the upcoming referendum. If the Colombian electorate, exercising their legitimate democratic right, rejects the agreement, the government would have a clear mandate to renegotiate.
The people of Colombia are facing a strange dilemma. They either vote for the FARC to seat in Congress until 2026 or, according to former President César Gaviria, FARC will unload its fury on Colombian cities and rural areas.
Is this a triumph for extortion?
Louis Kleyn has worked over 25 years in investment banking. He is currently a member of Colombian Derivatives Market, and supervisor member of the Guarantee Fund of the Colombian Stock Exchange. This article was originally published in Portafolio.