Colombia’s congress is jeopardizing fundamental parts of the country’s historic peace process with the FARC over its lawmakers’ own political interests.
Many of the laws necessary for the success of the process are now significantly delayed, some have proposed changes that would dramatically alter the nature of the Final Peace Agreement, and some are still yet to be written.
It is unclear how many of the laws necessary to implement the peace process with the FARC will be passed before President Santos’ tenure ends in August of 2018.
Meanwhile, the urban public is increasingly disinterested in the peace process, rural citizens are engaged in a national protest, and members of the FARC are leaving their transition zones en masse.
The problem, it seems, is relatively straightforward. Members of congress are too enveloped in their immediate political interests to move the process forward, while Santos has been stripped of his bully pulpit to make them act.
Adios, bully pulpit
After signing a revised version of the Final Peace Agreement with the FARC in November 2016, the government started off the new year with a golden period of six months to pass laws related to the peace process through a legislative system called “fast-track.”
With “fast-track,” the government could submit laws to members of congress, who in turn were limited in their ability to make changes to the proposals. Any changes they did make could be vetoed by Santos’ administration.
In the first six months of “fast-track,” Colombia’s government passed a series of key bills related to the peace process, including the Amnesty Law for members of the FARC and the bill enshrining the country’s new transitional justice system in law.
But all that changed in May, when the Constitutional Court ruled that members of congress should be able to debate and make changes to “fast-track” laws without a government veto.
Although the Constitutional Court extended “fast-track” to last until November, Congress hasn’t been able to pass a single law related to the peace process since beginning its new session in July.
The politics of peace
Santos is well into the lame duck phase of his presidency. That means he shouldn’t have to hold back on his agenda anymore. But it also means members of congress have lost any will they had to be faithful to him.
Now the clock is running out.
Before the “fast-track” period ends, Congress needs to pass major bills related to elections reform, new seats in the House, paramilitarism, and the Special Jurisdiction for Peace transitional justice system.
Those at least are the ones closest to being passed. But they’re also the ones causing the most controversy.
According to reporting by political newsite La Silla Vacía, members of congress are unwilling to pass the peace process law that will add 16 seats to the House of Representatives through 2022.
The law is meant to bolster political representation of areas hardest hit by the armed conflict, but many senators are worried they’ll lose the political monopoly over their constituency if the bill passes.
Meanwhile, Santos’ former vice president German Vargas Lleras, whose party (Cambio Radical) was once a faithful member of Santos’ political coalition, has decided to abandon the president’s agenda.
Now Vargas Lleras, who left the vice presidency to run for president, is calling on his party’s senators to vote against crucial peace accord legislation, like the Special Jurisdiction for Peace.
The government should be able to pass legislation without Cambio Radical’s support, but a series of failed votes this week show that Santos’ ministers are struggling to convince even the most faithful of the president’s coalition to support peace.
In June, Santos promised that at least seven bills related to peace would be passed before November.
Some of those, like agrarian reform, a national land census program, the Special Election Mission, and laws related to social protest haven’t been formally proposed yet. Others haven’t even been drafted.
The Special Election Mission (MEE) designed in the Final Peace Accord to take election control out of Congress and ensure that all political campaigns are funded by the state, has been stripped of its teeth by lawmakers.
In its current draft form, hardly any of its original proposals remain. Those that do have been changed substantially.
According to the Silla Vacía, Santos knows many of these bills aren’t going to get passed in the remaining “fast-track” period. Instead, he’s thinking he’ll wait until the spring and try to pressure Congress to pass them through the normal route.
But spring is election season in Colombia, and even now the Congress can’t get a quorum to vote on peace-related legislation because too many senators are campaigning at home instead of voting in Congress.
Some senators recently told La Silla Vacía that “there’s a fear to commit to projects developing the peace accords, because with elections so close they feel their constituents are ‘going to make them pay.'”
Rather than voting for the politically risky peace process, these senators are letting fear and political self-interest win the day, and there’s little Santos’ administration can do about it.
As long as the general public remains disinterested in the process, parts of the peace agreement could fall apart. Some measures may never see a vote in Congress, and many may be altered from the text of the final peace agreement.
But at least some members of congress will still have their seats.