By Armando Neira, EL TIEMPO, November 24, 2022

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

Jorge Restrepo, Director of Cerac (Center for Resources in Conflict Analysis) analyzes the challenges of implementing the Peace Agreement.

In the not yet accomplished search for reconciliation, the country saw a light of hope in the solemn scene in the Colón Theater when the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP) signed the Peace Agreement six years ago.

It was an end point and beyond of a process that began secretly in the depth of the jungles and came into a public space in Oslo and in Havana, with daily noise from the opposition. They even imposed a plebiscite where “no” received 50.2 percent of the votes, against “yes” which received only 49.7 percent. Anyway, it was the beginning of another stage of the same kind or even more challenging. It was beginning.

Apropos of these six years, Jorge Restrepo, Professor at Javeriana University and Director of Cerac, the independent Center for the Study of Conflict, which has been part of the technical secretariat for verification of the Peace Agreement, balances accounts of its progress.

For you, what’s the good news on the implementation of the Peace Agreement?

The Final Agreement ended an armed conflict, disarmed more than 14,000 guerrilla combatants, and reduced violence. We went from having open armed conflict with the now-defunct FARC in 352 municipalities to the disappearance of all such conflict in 225 of them. We went from having 294 members of the Armed Forces killed in 2014 to 138 last year.

What would have happened if the Agreement had not been signed?

Without the Final Agreement, as of now, 4,900 more people would have died—just in the conflict with the guerrillas–. And up to 7,200 if we use the worst years of the violence for comparison.

And the other side of the coin? What’s the bad news?

It has taken more time, money, and effort than expected. In 100 municipalities, the violence was transformed instead of disappearing. That was because there is no security for the public nor any forceful legal actions against the criminal organizations.

Why do you think that there was no progress in what was budgeted?

Because building peace requires effective public policies to be designed and put into effect. And because development is not possible when the government does not provide security. The regional and national political élites have been trying to use the peace in their disputes for power and not in making peace a national purpose. It’s not that there isn’t enough money; what was lacking was the political budget.

Was the analysis of what’s been done or what we stopped doing trapped in the middle of a political argument?

Yes. The implementation of the Final Peace Agreement turned into a matter for political debate and election contention. It’s politics with a small “p”, where the interests of the communities are subordinated to the political interests.

One of the events that attracted attention was that the guerrillas that once had been able to push the Colombian government to the wall are now a legal political party playing a secondary role. Why do you think that happened?

Because the government defeated the guerrillas militarily; they had no future as an armed organization, and because the atrocity of the violence they carried out contaminated their political action irreparably. They waited too long to abandon the violence.

They have experienced another tragedy simultaneously. More than 350 guerrillas that signed the Peace Agreement have been murdered. How does that compare with other peace processes in the world? What has that cost?

That’s a tragedy we should have seen coming; we knew that the principal opponents of peace-building would be the organized crime groups that grew stronger while the country was busy with its conflict with the FARC. No other peace process in the world has faced the organized crime that existed in Colombia and, lamentably, we didn’t build a public security and criminal justice apparatus for the post-conflict; that’s why we have been defeated by the violence.

What we know is that we Colombians are continuing to kill each other. How do we get out of that spiral?

With a forceful, effective, and prompt criminal justice system. With an agreement with the ELN, and building peace through social and economic development. In a few words, enhancing the accomplishment of the Final Peace Agreement.

There are a lot of reports that say that the ELN took over the spaces previously occupied by the now-defunct FARC. Is that what happened?

They tried, but they didn’t succeed. The ELN tried to get to 60 municipalities where they had not been, in Cauca for example, but they got into conflicts with other armed groups in all of them, and they only won in a few. Their violence is all they have left.

What experiences could President Gustavo Petro use from what happened with the FARC in his search for “total peace”?

First, we have to negotiate quickly. Second, we have to achieve agreements for reduction of the violence, which will open political space for the negotiations. Third, there’s no need to have recourse to the voters to legitimize an agreement. This agreement will be legitimized with effective implementation. Fourth, it’s necessary to disarm the society, not just the combatants. And fifth, there can be no peace without a criminal justice system that’s forceful, effective, and prompt.

By the way, how do you see the negotiations with the ELN that were just re-started in Caracas?

I’m optimistic. It’s the right time; for the first time, the ELN have a centralized command that’s responsible for their violence, a command that could order the abandonment of kidnapping and terrorism. In addition, the ELN are in a military situation with two exits: negotiating, or turning into an organization based on terror.

In your role as a member of the Technical Secretariat of the International Verification Component, do you think that the administration of ex-President Duque abandoned implementation of the Final Agreement, the way his critics are saying he did?

The actions taken to implement the Final Agreement during the previous administration made very important progress. They organized the execution of development projects and programs and for participation in the PDET (Development Plans With a Territorial Focus) territories; they promoted reincorporation, and they maintained support for the transitional justice system, in spite of the enormous foolishness of the objections to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace.

And then what?

The implementation, however, of the Final Agreement must not only be integrated, but it must also fulfill the progression established in the Agreement. In that sense, there would have been a stronger impulse if it hadn’t been for the selectivity in the inclinations of those who made the decisions on progress, and if they had considered the progression and the emphasis that was necessary to accomplish all of the potential for transformation that the Agreement offers, so as to obtain all of the dividends of peace.

Going back to the present, is “total peace” compatible with the implementation of the Peace Agreement?

Carrying out the Peace Agreement is the best way to build peace; the policy of “total peace” is not contrary, it’s complementary. Now, we can’t stop trying to make peace with the violent groups and only build peace in the countryside, as the previous administration tried to do. Neither can we think of just making peace and not building peace. That’s why it’s indispensable to take care that we implement the Final Agreement.

Some analysts say that it isn’t possible to build peace without solving the problem of illegal drugs . . .

That’s the way it is, and that’s highlighted in Point 4 of the Final Agreement. However, the key is the manner in which public policies for solving the problem of illegal drugs are designed and executed. It’s necessary now to evaluate the effectiveness and impact of the PNIS (Integrated National Program for the Substitution of Illegally Used Crops) and revise the incentives to avoid a new increase in illegal plantings.

There can’t be peace without a different drug policy, both locally and internationally, a policy that doesn’t criminalize the small growers and where drug use is treated as a public health issue and not a crime to be prosecuted.

Going back to security for the ex-combatants of the FARC, how can that situation be improved? It’s key for the future of implementation.

The main enemies of re-incorporation are the drug trafficking and illegal mining organizations. Overcoming that situation has to do with forcing the Attorney General’s Office to carry out its responsibility regarding the dismantling of the paramilitaries’ successor organizations and other organizations that are putting the building of peace at risk.

Anything else?

It’s also important for the Police Unit for Construction of Peace (Unipep) to get going on the exclusive functions for which it was created, with the capabilities that are necessary for its operation, and with the appropriate authority and leadership. The good news is that there is a match between the Petro administration’s focus on human security and the focus on security in the Final Agreement. But that has to lead to military and Police operations and to the much-needed improvement in the confidence that the communities have in the Armed Forces.

Finally, do you think there is any relationship between the murders of the ex-combatants and the murders of community leaders?

I can’t say categorically that any such relation exists, but there are indeed some similarities. There isn’t much information about those mainly responsible for the murders, but the patterns of victimization are similar. They take place in areas where there are disputes between criminal organizations, which are probably looking to facilitate a fluid operation of organized crime. The Unit for the Dismantling of Criminal Organizations in the Attorney General’s Office has to be evaluated by the number of organizations it dismantles, and not by its investigation of the cases, as they are doing now.

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