The historic bi-lateral ceasefire recently signed by the Colombian government and the FARC seems to consolidate the possibility of a final agreement that will end the conflict. This is a momentous occasion. It demonstrates that conflict with the FARC and the carnage it produced in Colombia over the past six decades can be ended. The fact that the last ten months (during which the FARC observed a unilateral ceasefire) have constituted a period characterized by the lowest intensity of violence in the entire conflict between the government and the FARC proves the value of the peace process for saving the lives of Colombians—civilians, soldiers, and guerrillas alike.
The preliminary agreements reached in Havana dealing with agrarian policies and land reform, political participation, illicit crops and drugs, policies relating to the victims of the conflict and a transitional justice mechanism have been already signed. The last points under debate relate to the end of the conflict (of which the ceasefire is a component) and the implementation of these agreements.
However, two vital elements are still not resolved. They center on post-peace process concerns, and the extent to which violence in Colombia can be reduced beyond that perpetrated by the FARC.
1. Other actors are not yet in formal negotiations processes. The ELN and EPL—two other rebel groups—have not initiated formal negotiations yet. In addition, there are several former paramilitary outfits that operate more as warlords and drug trafficking cartels (the so-called BACRIM). These groups will not necessarily abide by the agreements between the FARC and the government, and will likely try to profit from the spaces left by the FARC. In some cases, they may even try to sabotage the outcome of the negotiations. In a country with an area of more than one million square kilometers, violently exercising power beyond government control is still very much a possibility.
2. Agreements must be interpreted and implemented in the provinces of the country. Provincial institutions will need to implement the items agreed on in Havana, and do so in contexts in which the demand for resources is highest and in which institutional capacity is challenged. It is no accident that 65 percent of Colombia’s poor live in the country’s peripheral departments, while 99 percent of them were born there. Institutional capacity in Colombia is strong at the center (i.e. in the capital, and large cities), but weak in the provinces and on the fringes of the state. Political dynamics in the provinces create an abysmal gap between the Colombian constitution (which conforms to the principles and ethos of a modern democracy) and the reality of a senate in which 30 percent of its membership comprises supporters or representatives of paramilitaries in the past. This is one of the reasons why the High Commissioner for Peace in Colombia has insisted on the importance of the implementation of the agreements in the provinces as key to the post-negotiation phase.
However, the million dollar question remains: How does one build administrative capacity in an environment beset by corruption and violence? The state must expand its reach beyond brute military force in order to establish a solid presence throughout the entirety of Colombia. Finding the resources to fund this, however, will be challenging, though congressmen have recently been debating the costs required for these initiatives and the expansion of the state.
One should not overlook the achievements and successes different government agencies have had with the limited resources at their disposal. For example, the Colombian Agency for Reintegration (ACR) has managed to establish solid demobilization and reintegration policies for former combatants. However, this and other institutions are managed at a central level from Bogota. On the fringes of the state, corruption looms. Consider a case like that in the province of La Guajira, where government transfers in 2015 accounted to US$ 266 million, but where indigenous children were dying of starvation in 2015 and 2016. La Guajira is symptomatic of the way politics operates in the provinces of the country. Indeed,, some politicians are openly asking what their cut of the funds allocated for the implementation of the peace agreements will be. There is therefore the risk that peace, and the resources allocated to support it, may feed the same political system that generated the guerrillas, paramilitaries and warlords that have caused so much harm. Ultimately, warfare and armed groups are the most visible symptom of the structure of the political landscape in Colombia and its challenges.
It is in this context that institutions such as Post-Conflict Ministry are central, and necessary for peace. However, in spite of the initial announcements of the establishment of this new ministry, its role seems to have been relegated to a mere advisory function. How, then, will the coordination of all the initiatives for the implementation of the peace agreements and of the resources supporting them be effected? How will peace be realized in practice? The capacity of the Colombian state to commit resources and personnel for the next twenty years will define the success of the peace initiatives and agreements reached with the FARC. Otherwise, in twenty years’ time we will be using another acronym to describe an armed group that emerged as a byproduct of corruption and the lack of state capacity in the Colombia following the peace agreements with the FARC.
Paola Chaves is a PhD candidate at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. Fabio Andrés Diaz is a researcher on peace, conflict and development, at the Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam and a Research Associate at the Department of Political and International Studies at Rhodes University in South Africa.