Contrary to what is claimed by Colombia’s conservative opposition, individual elements of a peace deal with the FARC can not be renegotiated if the people vote against peace with the country’s largest rebel group, according to the government’s chief negotiator.
Humberto de la Calle, the chief government negotiator since negotiations began in 2012, said that if Colombians reject the peace deal in a pending plebiscite, this would be a “huge mistake.”
The opposition, led by former presidents Alvaro Uribe and Andres Pastrana, are campaigning a “No” vote, claiming that a public rejection of the peace deal would force a renegotiation of controversial points on transitional justice and the political participation of the FARC.
According to the opponents, a “No” vote would allow negotiators to remove what they consider a far too lenient deal for the FARC, that is accused of thousands of war crimes.
But according to the De la Calle, “to think that you can renegotiate certain points would be a huge mistake,” adding that there would be “little to win for Colombian society” if the peace deal is rejected.
“Resisting to take the step forward on the day of the plebiscite means condemning the country to a period of uncertainty.”
Chief government negotiator Humberto de la Calle
The congressional coalition supporting the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos and the leftist opposition are currently campaigning a yes vote to the deal that would dismantle the 52-year-old FARC.
However, the deal is controversial as few Colombians want to see former guerrillas who have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity benefit from impunity for compliance with the transitional justice mechanism that is a key component of the agreement.
For many more Colombians, the idea of political participation of the FARC rebels in the future is not something that they find appealing. Additionally, the transitional justice deal that allows war criminals to evade jail if they cooperate with justice is considered too lenient by many.
De la Calle reiterated that efforts are being stepped up by senior government officials to hasten towards reaching a final agreement with Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo, Post-conflict Minister Rafael Pardo and the director of the Colombian Reintegration Agency (ACR) Joshua Mitrotti set to join the negotiating table in Havana, Cuba.
“Today we set off again to Havana, with the objective of coordinating the various efforts required to achieve the signing of the Final Agreement and the feasibility of its implementation. The president has instructed us to work simultaneously on different committees,” De la Calle said.
Government officials, the FARC, the military and the United Nations are carrying out “technical visits” to 23 designated concentration camps where FARC guerrillas should demobilize and hand in their weapons.
The findings will be presented to the United Nations security council at the end of next week as they will make the final preparations which will see the FARC lay down arms within a week of the deal being signed and fully demobilize 180 days after that.
This ongoing work for the removal of weapons and preparations for the entry of the FARC rebels into both civilian and political life is something that De la Calle praised but warned that the Colombian public must be patient regarding the pending issues.
“We must recognize that there are still sticking points: the participation in politics of the FARC. Colombians must face this debate. I have said that is not only an issue for the (negotiating) tale. We believe that the central purpose of a peace process is disposing of weapons and opening the space for politics.”
Colombians will vote in the coming months on whether they want to ratify a peace deal with the FARC through a plebiscite, requiring a threshold of 13% to pass.
Considering the low threshold, the odds are favorable of President Santos being empowered to sign the final agreement for cessation of hostilities.
A victory of the “Yes” would not immediately integrate the agreement into the constitution with ratification by Congress required.
Even if the public vote “no,” while it would be a major setback for the President excluding him from proceeding with the agreement, Congress itself could still pursue another legal strategy to make the agreement a reality.