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Why the Santos-FARC Agreement Failed to Bring Peace to Colombia

By: Julio César Mejía - May 8, 2017, 11:02 am
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The Santos-FARC pact has not brought peace because of its wrong assumptions about the nature of Colombia’s violence. (YouTube)

In 2016, the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas finally agreed to a permanent ceasefire. As the FARC’s offensive actions against the armed forces virtually ground to a halt as the Santos government and the FARC leadership signed a peace agreement in Havana, Cuba, many Colombians celebrated the “silencing of weapons” with enthusiasm. President Juan Manuel Santos pompously announced “the last day of (Colombia’s) war.” Today, however, nothing seems to have changed. Everything, or almost everything, remains the same.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 3,549 people were victims of forced displacement in the first quarter of 2017 alone. Similarly, kidnappings continue to take place across the country while community leaders are routinely murdered. In some areas of Colombia traditionally occupied by the FARC, inhabitants face extortion on a daily basis, much as they did the Santos-FARC agreement.

As Amnesty International stated in a March, 2017 memorandum, the Colombian armed conflict remains “as alive as ever.” While 12,193 homicides were reported in Colombia in 2015, there were 12,000 homicides in 2016, the year in which the permanent bilateral ceasefire was announced. This amounts to a 0.8% reduction in homicides during a period in which the Conflict Analysis Resource Center (CERAC) reported an almost complete halt in the FARC’s offensive actions. So why did the homicide rate remain virtually unchanged?

To put things in perspective, in 2012, 2013, and 2014, there were 15,727, 14,294, and 12,625 homicides respectively. In other words, there was a 4.7% reduction of homicides in 2012 – 2013. In 2013 – 2014, the homicide rate fell by 6.2% while in 2014 – 2015 it dropped by 1.7%.

If nearly 7,000 FARC members ceased to cause violence in 2016, the year of supposed peace, how could there be a homicide reduction of only 0.8% compared to the previous year, when the war was still raging? Why has the Santos-FARC agreement failed to achieve the most basic goal of any peace treaty, the reduction of homicidal violence?

The main reason is that the Santos-FARC negotiations stemmed from myths that ignore the true nature of Colombia’s homicidal violence. In the first place, the agreement failed to take into account the degree to which the worldwide drug trade causes violence in the country; this is due to the fact that cocaine is illegal and Colombia is the world’s number one producer, so that production, distribution, and exportation are part of a necessarily violent process. On the other hand, the multi-dimensional aspect of violence in Colombia, a country with numerous illegally armed actors, was dismissed, and the conflict was artificially reduced to a struggle between only two parties: the Colombian state and the FARC guerrillas. If both parts came to an agreement, it was assumed, peace would necessarily ensue.

The Santos-FARC agreement also failed to take into account that homicidal violence in Colombia is not culturally determined. In other words, violence is not random, scattered, and unpredictable. Rather, violence takes place predominantly in specific areas. In fact, if one excludes urban violence in the country’s main cities, one finds that only 340 of Colombia’s 1,103 municipalities have concentrated about 80% of the country’s homicides in recent decades.

The Santos-FARC negotiations underestimated the firepower of other illegally armed groups that would inevitably clash with each other in order to control those territories which the FARC evacuated. Indeed, the FARC’s relevance in terms of total violence was overstated. In its hurry to sign any agreement regardless of the cost, the government offered the guerrillas absurd privileges such as 10 guaranteed seats in Congress, and another potential 16 seats to its allied “social” organizations. Meanwhile, government propaganda failed to mention that there is a clear geographical convergence between coca farming, drug trafficking routes, the presence of armed groups, and the regions which, as mentioned above, concentrate the lion’s share of the violence in Colombia.

In other words, the Santos-FARC agreement ignored the true engine behind the country’s alarming levels of homicidal violence, which is not communist ideology, but the very profitable and necessarily violent cocaine business and, to a lesser extent, illegal mining. In other words, offering demobilized FARC guerrilla members subsidized education programs and salaries up to three times the monthly minimum wage is irrelevant to homicidal violence while annual cocaine profits amount to $USD 4.5 billion (with an exchange rate of almost COP $3,000 per US dollar).

It is therefore not surprising that at least six FARC fronts (1, 14, 7, 43, 36 and 58) plus one of their mobile columns (Daniel Aldana) are still operating in the coca-growing areas of Guaviare, Vaupés, Nariño, Caqueta, Meta, and Antioquia. It is also not surprising that, according to the Prosecutor’s Office, the murder rate in 2016 increased compared to the previous year in historically violent areas such as Amazonas (46%), Norte de Santander (45%), Chocó (38%), Córdoba (34%), Tolima (29%), Antioquia (25%), Nariño (20%), and Huila (16%).

Although the last day of the war with the FARC arrived, Colombia’s murder rate is practically intact. But since government propaganda tells Colombians they are living in the “post-conflict” era, some analysts inexplicably claim that the Santos-FARC agreement was an unmistakeable triumph. But one should look at homicidal violence from the victim’s perspective, regardless of the colors or acronyms on a murderer’s armband. The tiny reduction of murders in Colombia is a clear sign that the privileges gifted to the FARC’s leaders were an unnecessary extravagance.

Many Colombians blindly supported the Santos-FARC agreement, which was rejected by a majority in last year’s plebiscite before the government rammed it through Congress. Politics aside, however, the Havana “peace” deal is proving to be a monumental failure because it failed to bring peace.

Julio César Mejía

Julio César Mejía holds an M.A. in International Affairs, with an emphasis on Security and Conflict Studies. He was an adviser in international affairs to the Commander of the Colombian Army. He is currently the director of Colombia's Libertarian Movement.