A few days ago the Juan Manuel Santos government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) signed off on the second item of their five-point negotiation program: that of political participation. This agreement, alongside the preceding agreement on the agrarian question, elevates the positive expectations that the peace process is moving in the right direction, and that prospects of a final agreement are closer than ever before. There are two points on the significance of the agreement that I would like to analyze in this blog—one on the timing of the declaration, and the other of more substantive nature, on what this political agreement is about.
Regarding timing, this agreement is in fact the FARC’s Christmas gift to Santos to help him secure his bid for re-election next year; it is not surprising that, according to the latest polls, Santos’ image improved after the declaration. If the polls are valid and no major setbacks occur between now and election day, this will be the second time the FARC has helped to secure the election of a presidential candidate. The first one was in 1998 when the FARC helped Andrés Pastrana win against his rival Horacio Serpa in the run-off.
The more substantive point relates to the significance of the political reforms that the contending parties have agreed on. Humberto De La Calle, chief of the government negotiating team, eloquently described the importance of the agreement as a “strategic and far reaching plan: to generate a process to deepen the paths of democracy that were laid out in the 1991 constitution.” He added: “This agreement is designed to revive the reformist spirit [of the 1991 constitution] and give it an impetus.” De la Calle is a representative not only of Santos, but also of a faction of the Colombian bourgeoisie that played an important role in the Constituent Assembly of 1991. He is finally acknowledging that the armed struggle of the FARC and other insurgent groups has all along been aimed at expanding the democratization process for all those seeking political inclusion. This struggle has existed within a deformed electoral-bourgeois system in which access to political power has been circumscribed by a recalcitrant political elite tied to the landed oligarchy.
There are three core points that have transpired from this agreement that are noteworthy. One is the activation of the Statute of the Right of the Opposition that was introduced in the 1991 constitution but never put in practice. Securing the Right of Opposition allows minor or junior political parties and groups to participate in the political process, providing guarantees in a country where the leftist opposition has been constantly slaughtered by the state’s agents and its death squads: the paramilitaries. Both the Statute and the current agreement call for equal access to the media and the equal distribution of financial support to all political parties, not just the most dominant. If this reform is actively introduced, it will deepen the political participation of the now excluded groups.
The second core point of the agreement outlines the creation of Special and Transitory Circumscriptions of Peace in the House of Representatives for the areas of conflict for a period of eight years. This reform is designed to secure wider political representation in the House of Representatives for these deprived areas, supplementing the current representation with additional seats elected in a popular vote. These additional seats will allow the FARC, alongside other insurgent groups and social movements, to access congress. Finally, this reform to the electoral system will eliminate the minimum threshold for groups to qualify as a political party or movement, thereby giving them access to the media and to the support of the state.
The agreement is an important step toward the pacification of the Colombian polity after half a century of war that has left more than 200,000 people killed and more than five million internally displaced and dispossessed. Many threats and challenges are expected ahead by the “spoilers” who, knowing the history, are armed and dangerous to a disarmed FARC.
Nazih Richani is the Director of Latin American studies at Kean University. He blogs at nacla.org/blog/cuadernos-colombianos.