Ten days after voters in Colombia rejected their government’s peace deal with leftist FARC rebels, the country’s main opposition party has published proposals that would modify the agreement but leave significant portions intact.
At first glance, the proposals by the Democratic Center party of former president Álvaro Uribe appear to reflect relatively modest changes to the deal and may raise hopes that Colombia can avert a return to war.
The biggest modifications would scrap plans under the accord to establish a special justice system to prosecute leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, who are guilty of serious crimes and bar them from holding public office. But the changes would not require rebel commanders to go to prison or take away a guarantee of 10 seats in Colombia’s Congress through 2026 for the rebels’ future political party.
“Considering that ‘No’ voters have rejected the Accord and have called for substantial corrections, our country should consider the possibility of a major national coalition to recognize the will of the voters and act on it,” reads the 26-page document, “Foundations for a National Peace Accord,” which was delivered this week to President Juan Manuel Santos.
Santos, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for his effort to end his country’s 52-year conflict, has yet to respond formally to the proposals, but he has pledged to recalibrate the deal to make it more palatable to critics.
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Tens of thousands of Colombians have marched through the streets in recent days demanding a political compromise to save the accord.
Many Colombians were worried that Uribe and other opponents would condition their support for a reworked deal by making demands that FARC leaders would find unacceptable, thus risking a return to hostilities when a cease-fire expires Oct. 31.
But the opposition’s proposed modifications — especially if viewed as an opening move to a new stage of negotiations — do not read like deal-breakers.
“The technical tone of most of these proposals is a relief,” said Adam Isacson, a senior associate at the Washington Office on Latin America with a focus on Colombia. “Most of it is pretty moderate and not fundamentally changing the accord.”
Whether FARC commanders will see it that way remains to be seen, and they are waiting to find out which elements of the proposed changes will be assimilated by the government for a new phase of talks.
FARC commanders say they remain committed to ending the war. But they may bristle at other changes proposed by Uribe’s party that would undermine their most prized victories, especially a government commitment to bring roads and social services to long-neglected rural areas.
Uribe and his party insist that those projects must be reconciled with the fiscal realities of a slowing economy and should not threaten large landowners and agribusiness.
The most significant proposed changes to the accord relate to what many Colombians view as its most controversial element: the prosecution of FARC members accused of terrorism, kidnapping and other war crimes.
Rather than establish a separate judiciary, the opposition proposal would create special tribunals within Colombia’s existing court system. Under this proposal, by fully confessing their crimes and paying reparations to victims, FARC leaders could serve five-to-eight-year terms on work farms, avoiding prison. But those convicted of atrocities would not be eligible to run for office.
The proposed modifications would open the tribunals to members of the security forces convicted of rights abuses and other crimes over the course of the war and afford them preferential treatment.
Ordinary FARC soldiers who are not guilty of major crimes or drug trafficking would be eligible for amnesty, an offer that would probably apply to the vast majority of the rebel group’s 5,800 fighters and perhaps thousands more civilian supporters and militia members.