President Juan Manuel Santos on Sunday inaugurated Colombia’s new Congress. The president called on the legislators, elected in what observers called the most fraudulent elections in recent history, to support ongoing peace talks with leftist rebels.
In spite of a reduced majority in Congress and a strengthened opposition on the right of the political spectrum, the president told the lawmakers that “this will be the Congress of peace” referring to expectations the administration will be reaching peace accords with the FARC and ELN, Colombia’s leading Marxist rebel groups.
According to Santos, outgoing lawmakers had already paved the way for peace by approving key legislation that set the legal framework for peace deals and granted victims of the last 30 years of political violence the right to claim compensation and the return of land that had been stolen by now-officially demobilized right-wing paramilitary groups.
“Congress fulfilled a fundamental role by preparing the way with laws that repair victims and reforms that establish the possibility to apply transitional justice” once the armed conflict with the leftist rebels is over.
“The new congress, we hope, will be holding the enormous responsibility of supporting the implementation of agreements [made with the FARC and ELN] and to legislate for a new nation; the post-conflict nation, because this will without a doubt the Congress of peace,” said Santos.
House (13 of 166 seats still unassigned)
For the first time since peace talks with the FARC formally began in 2012, Santos is facing an opposition in Congress that is critical of the ongoing peace talks.
And unlike in his previous term, Santos is now not just dealing with an opposition on the left of the political spectrum, but also on the right where former President Alvaro Uribe, elected to lead 18 fellow senators and 12 house representatives of his Democratic Center party, took seat.
Santos predecessor has long opposed the talks claiming the government is legitimizing terrorists and preparing to grant impunity to the rebels.
According to Santos, Uribe’s arguments are invalid because Santos’ concessions to the rebels “are not about — and I want to be clear on this — sacrificing justice to obtain peace. No. This is about seeing how to achieve peace with the maximum justice.”
Ironically and on its first day in Congress, Uribe’s party proposed to release all members of the military convicted for war crimes since 1980.
In spite of already being inaugurated, 15 of the 166 seats in the House of Representatives remained empty as electoral authorities are going through hundreds of complaints about voter fraud in the March elections. The two lawmakers elected for the two reserved seats for Colombia’s Afrodescendant minority were impeded to enter the house for failing to represent or have ties to the ethnic minority, while 13 seats are still being disputed.
- ‘Unidos por un país en paz’ (President’s Office)