Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos on Thursday sidelined his main political adversary, former President Alvaro Uribe, in efforts to revive a peace deal with the country’s largest rebel group, the FARC.
The party of the former head of state led the campaign that successfully but barely sank the already signed peace deal in an October 2 referendum.
The electoral shock came after years of resistance by Uribe to the talks leading up to the agreement.
Santos’ divide and conquer strategy
The referendum result put the country’s ongoing peace process on hold and forced Santos to immediately negotiate changes to the deal with those who had promoted a “No” vote.
But, instead of focusing on Uribe and his political allies, the president spent most his energy on skeptic FARC victims and electoral minority groups like evangelical Christians and business owners.
Additionally, Santos has taken to the public on several occasions, rectifying and clarifying disinformation that had been spread by the “No” campaign and had created unrest among the electorate.
On Thursday, Santos confirmed the passing of the deadline for proposals, announcing these will now be sent to the FARC for consideration after which government and guerrilla negotiators seek to formulate an amended peace deal.
This renegotiated deal can then be sent to Congress or the Council of Municipalities for ratification, which will effectively resume the peace process.
In both bodies, the Uribe-led conservative opposition is an easily ignored minority.
Uribe in the corner while criminal charges pile up
The former president, emboldened by his first electoral victory in six years, agreed to meet with Santos immediately after the referendum more than five years after the two last talked.
The meeting between the embittered rivals led to nothing, but an agreement to continue talks.
But, instead of negotiating with Uribe, Santos moved on and began negotiations with other opponents and critics of the FARC deal.
During the same period, the president debunked one by one the lies Uribe and his campaign had spread before and during the campaign.
After initially making a number of faux proposals, Uribe retook his hard-line opposition last week and presented far-stretching changes to the deal while claiming to be preparing others.
But, Santos had enough on Monday and set the deadline for all proposals for Thursday, pressured by both the United Nations and the United States to quickly resolve the impasse.
On Wednesday, the president simply dismissed some of his predecessors’ key proposals as “unfeasible” and on Thursday, the door shut in Uribe’s face, leaving the former president in even more legal trouble than he already was.
Because, apart from multiple criminal charges over the former president’s alleged ties to death squads and responsibility for the killing of thousands of civilians by the military under his watch, Uribe now faces additional electoral fraud charges over the allegedly intentional misleading of the public ahead of the referendum.
According to El Tiempo, a newspaper with strong ties to the Santos family, government negotiators will travel to Havana, Cuba, carrying with them a variety of proposals as soon as Friday.
With Uribe out of the way, the government and the FARC are likely to reopen the already closed negotiations for the “adjustments and clarifications” the guerrillas promised to consider in order to present a second version of the deal.
It is unclear whether Santos will call for a new referendum or move the amended version directly to Congress with the blessing of the evangelicals, business owners and FARC victims.
Uribe, in the meantime, may begin preparing his legal defense for the transitional justice system that is expected to call him to respond for the mass human rights violations and war crimes committed by the state while he was in charge.