Amid increasing foreign pressure and days before the end of his transitional mandate, Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos has begun signing a series of decrees seeking to accelerate the country’s peace process.
Santos delivered a stirring public address on Monday in which he defended his administration’s commitment to the peace process and sent a clear message to both the Colombian people and the opposition led by former President Alvaro Uribe that the peace accord with the Marxist-inspired FARC will not be be undone.
While Uribe has tried to discredit peace with the country’s oldest rebel group since before talks began, illegal armed groups proved faster than the military in occupying the abandoned FARC territories, leading to a security crisis in some of the former guerrilla zones long abandoned by the government.
“We will not go back. For no reason will we return to the terrible times of violence, fear, murder and massacres. Colombia is leaving behind that story of blood and pain forever,” he said in a televised address to the nation.
Having fulfilled these first six months since the signing of the Agreement, we can say without a doubt that peace is irreversible. Let us make peace for the benefit of our children. We are going to do as we agreed. We will multiply the fruits of peace that we already feel and we will take them to all corners of the country.
The speech came as something of a rallying call to the Colombian public as the peace process enters a new, tense phase, and a justification to use his temporary authority to push through elements of the peace deal to curb violence against social and community leaders, policemen and, most recently, school teachers in rural areas.
The government’s failure to facilitate the FARC’s timely and orderly demobilization and disarmament, congress’ failure to timely ratify the peace deal and the military’s failure to effectively take control of abandoned guerrilla territory spurred international observers to increase pressure on the president to use temporary presidential decrees rather than Congress to deliver the peace promised in the deal signed in November last year.
The first presidential decrees that were announced by the United Nations, the government and the FARC set in motion a joint police-prosecution initiative to effectively dismantle paramilitary groups former president and opposition leader Alvaro Uribe claimed to have dismantled between 2003 and 2006.
Additionally, the deadline for the FARC’s disarmament was extended for three weeks.
Colombia extends deadline for FARC disarmament, activates elite units to confront post-FARC violence
Santos’ transitional mandate to bypass Congress and ratify legislation ends on Wednesday. Before that, the president should have issued approximately 20 decrees to accelerate the process, reported newspaper El Tiempo.
Among the decrees is legislation in regards to land redistribution strongly opposed by Uribe, his hard-right Democratic Center party and allies on the extreme right of Colombia’s political spectrum.
Facing both legal and illegal opposition to the peace deal made with the Marxist rebels, Santos called on the Colombian people to unite behind the peace process.
Three years ago you gave me a clear and direct mandate in the elections: Seek and achieve peace. Today I want to renew my commitment to you, with that mandate, with peace, until the last day of my government … and my life. I invite you all to respond to the call to peace and reconciliation. We are one people, one nation, an immense and beautiful country. Let’s honor it!
President Juan Manuel Santos
Both the European Union envoy to the peace process and the former government negotiator had called on Santos to effectively implement the peace deal in spite of opposition.
Additionally, former negotiator Humberto de la Calle called for a “broad” and “extra-congressional” coalition of grass-roots organizations and citizens to save the process from utter collapse.
Since the beginning of the peace process, 35 social and community leaders have been assassinated.
The peace process, supported by the United Nations, the United States, the European Union seeks to end more than half a century of political violence and armed conflict.