What to expect in post-conflict Colombia

What to expect in post-conflict Colombia

Colombia faces new challenges and opportunities as it seeks to transition to peace following an agreement with FARC.

On June 23rd 2016, when world markets and political institutions around the globe were awaiting the EU referendum results in the UK, another significant event took place in Havana, Cuba.

In the presence of the UN Secretary General and Cuban president Raúl Castro, Colombia’s president Juan Manuel Santos and FARC’s commander, Timoleón Jimenez, shook hands and signed a definitive peace agreement that, at least officially, puts an end to an internal conflict that has lasted more than six decades.

Since the peace process was launched in 2012, both parties have faced several obstacles related to the dynamics of the talks, provisions for a post-conflict arena, and denunciation by political opponents.

During the past year the Colombian government has persistently sought to address the frustration experienced by the public after four years of negotiations. This is especially important given that similar talks between 1998 and 2002 were unsuccessful, lacking a clear agenda or time frame.

Moreover, the complex geopolitical dynamics and interests involved in the peace process have influenced relations between Colombia and numerous other countries in Latin America and abroad.

This is clear in the so called ‘group of friends’ that supports the negotiations including ideologically diverse actors such as: Cuba, the United States, Norway and Venezuela, among other Latin American nations and EU members.

Peace agreement and post-conflict challenges

Colombia now confronts the challenge of persuading civil society  and the political opposition to endorse the peace agreement via referendum. President Santos already relies on the support of national institutions and the international community in pushing for ratification of the settlement.

It is uncertain however, how much political capital the government maintains in an atmosphere of economic pessimism and political confrontation.

President Santos’ approval rating reached 21% in May 2016, amid an energy crisis that threatened to cause blackouts throughout the country and economic uncertainty on account of budget cuts and a decrease in public investment.

Santos’ approval rating slightly recovered after the signing of the agreement, but he still faces growing criticism among the public and political opposition led by former President Alvaro Uribe. In particular because of provisions in the settlement and the requisite constitutional mechanism to validate it.

Recent polls suggest that public support of the process shows a tendency to be independent from the President’s popularity. Even so, Mr. Santos achieved a second term in office after a difficult campaign in which he struggled with low popularity levels and the opposition winning the first round.

Overall, the post-conflict economic forecast is optimistic, and there is a general consensus about the necessity to end the conflict. Such trends can be exploited by the government to obtain an approval for the agreement without involving the President’s political approval in the process.

Colombia’s security forecast

However, Colombia’s main post-conflict challenge will be the creation of enduring security and stability. Both aspects depend on agreement provisions to re-engage and reintegrate members of FARC into civil society and legal economic activities to prevent them backsliding into criminal ones.

Colombian society has already witnessed the effect of demobilizing paramilitary groups, after negotiations undertaken by former President Uribe by mid-2000’s. The process seems to have been adequately performed, although there remain controversies over the transparency of some of the procedures.

Insufficient provisions regarding the inclusion of former paramilitary members in civil society and their re-engagement in the economy are often cited as possible causes for an increasing level of instability in major cities.

In addition, a recent “armed strike”  declared by the so called Usuaga gang, comprised of former paramilitary members, affected economic and social activities in about 36 municipalities, and raised concerns about the security situation in a post-conflict scenario; specifically, the emergence of new actors to replace FARC in its previous drugs trafficking and illegal mining roles.

Moreover, the post-conflict paradigm represents a challenge for the Colombian Armed Forces. For instance, in 2015, the U.S State Department cited FARC as the primary terrorist threat in the Western Hemisphere, but also noted the improvements experienced by Colombia during the final stage of the peace process.

Colombia’s new role is envisioned as being a leader in security training and assistance to other countries in the region. In addition, Colombia can export its strategy in tackling radicalization and violent extremism by focusing on the promotion of demobilization of individuals and entire units’ from illegal groups.

Colombia’s new position as a provider of security and counter-terrorism services is just one element of the official strategy to adjust the role of the armed forces to the post-conflict period – a major concern for the government during negotiations.

In this context, the agreement signed between Colombia and NATO in 2013 “on the Security of Information” constituted not only the first MoU concluded between the Organization and a Latin American country, but it was also considered by NATO as the first step to negotiate the inclusion of Colombia as a partner.

Categories: Latin America, Security

About Author

Luis E. Juvinao Navarro

Luis E. Juvinao Navarro holds a BA degree in Law, post-graduate studies in consumption market and a MA in Geopolitics, Territory and Security conferred by King’s College London. His professional experience includes policy advice on sovereign affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Relations in Colombia and research activities on International politics for the United Nations Department of Political Affairs in New York.