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Peace in Colombia fragile year after historic deal with FARC

  • Rodrigo Londono, top leader of the demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, gives a thumbs up upon arrival to an event marking one year since the signing of a peace accord with the government at Colon theater in Bogota, Colombia, Friday, Nov. 24, 2017. A year on from the signing of the peace deal, authorities are in a race against the clock to implement key aspects of the accord against the backdrop of worsening violence and a booming coca harvest in areas formerly dominated by the rebels. At right if FARC leader Pablo Catatumbo. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan) Ricardo Mazalan

  • FILE - In this Sept. 26, 2016 file photo, Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos, front left, and the top commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, Rodrigo Londono, known by the alias Timochenko, shake hands after signing the peace agreement between Colombia's government and the FARC to end over 50 years of conflict, in Cartagena, Colombia. As war-weary Colombia marks the first anniversary of the peace accord's signing on Friday Nov. 24 2017, the hopeful mood has dimmed.(AP Photo/Fernando Vergara, File) Fernando Vergara

  • FILE - In this Nov. 24, 2016 file photo, supporters of the peace process with rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, celebrate as Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos and rebel top leader Rodrigo Londono sign a revised peace pact, a few blocks from the main square in downtown Bogota, Colombia. While the guerrillas' guns have been silenced for a year since the peace accord was signed, implementation of the historic deal is flagging, according to several outside observers supporting the peace process. (AP Photo/Ivan Valencia, File) Ivan Valencia

  • FILE - In this Feb. 28, 2017 file photo, Weapons belonging to rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, are stored at a rebel camp in La Carmelita near Puerto Asis in Colombia's southwestern state of Putumayo. Since the peace accord was signed one year ago, many of the 8,000 guerrillas who disarmed in June appear to have grown disillusioned, with about 55 percent having left the rural camps where they were expected to make the transition back to civilian life, according to the United Nations. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara, File) Fernando Vergara

  • FILE - In this Aug. 15, 2016 file photo, rebels soldiers of the 32nd Front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, patrol on the Mecaya River in the southern jungles of Putumayo, Colombia. Although Colombia's homicide rate nationally is hovering near a four-decade low, murders in former FARC enclaves jumped 14 percent in the first half of 2017 compared to the same period a year ago, according to a recent study by Bogota-based Ideas for Peace Foundation. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara) Fernando Vergara

  • FILE - In this Feb. 1, 2012 file photo, residents and police rush to the site where a bomb attributed to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, exploded outside a police station in Tumaco on Colombia's southern Pacific coast. One year after the government of Colombia and the FARC signed a peace deal on Nov. 24 2016, decades of fighting left 8 million victims, including some 250,000 people killed. (AP Photo/Victor Manuel Correa, Diario del Sur, File) Victor Manuel Correa

  • FILE - In this March 16, 2013 file photo, an officer of the Prosecutor General's Office guards packages containing cocaine during a media presentation at the airport in Tumaco, Colombia. A year after the peace accords between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, in 2016, the city is disputed among criminal gangs and a dissident FARC movement, all of which are recruiting former rebels whose only marketable skill is wielding a gun. (AP Photo/William Fernando Martinez, File) William Fernando Martinez

  • In this Jan. 6, 2016 file photo, Juliana, a 20-year-old rebel fighter for the 36th Front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, rests from a trek in the northwest Andes of Colombia, in Antioquia state. On year after the Nov. 24 2016, peace accords between the Colombian government and the FARC rebels, Bernard Aronson, who served as President Barack Obama's special envoy to the peace talks, said that even if Colombia misses the historic opportunity to integrate its lawless countryside with the more prosperous cities "the war is over and nobody thinks it will restart again." (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd, File) Rodrigo Abd

  • Rodrigo Londono, top leader of the demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, gives a thumbs up upon arrival to an event marking one year since the signing of a peace accord with the government at Colon theater in Bogota, Colombia, Friday, Nov. 24, 2017. A year on from the signing of the peace deal, authorities are in a race against the clock to implement key aspects of the accord against the backdrop of worsening violence and a booming coca harvest in areas formerly dominated by the rebels. At right is FARC leader Pablo Catatumbo. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan) Ricardo Mazalan

  • President Juan Manuel Santos speaks during an event marking one year since the signing of the peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, at Colon theater in Bogota, Colombia, Friday, Nov. 24, 2017. A year since the signing of the peace deal, authorities are in a race against the clock to implement key aspects of the accord against the backdrop of worsening violence and a booming coca harvest in areas formerly dominated by the rebels. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan) Ricardo Mazalan

  • Rodrigo Londono, top leader of the demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, speaks at an event marking one year since the signing of a peace accord with the government at Colon theater in Bogota, Colombia, Friday, Nov. 24, 2017. A year on from the signing of the peace deal, authorities are in a race against the clock to implement key aspects of the accord against the backdrop of worsening violence and a booming coca harvest in areas formerly dominated by the rebels. At right is FARC leader Pablo Catatumbo. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan) Ricardo Mazalan



Associated Press
Friday, November 24, 2017

BOGOTA, Colombia — When rebel commander Rodrigo Londono signed a peace deal committing his troops to laying down their weapons, it was heralded as the best chance in decades to end Latin America’s oldest and bloodiest armed conflict.

But as war-weary Colombia marks the first anniversary of the peace accord’s signing on Friday, the hopeful mood has dimmed.

While the guerrillas’ guns have been silenced, implementation of the historic deal is flagging, according to several outside observers supporting the peace process. Lawmakers are still racing against the clock to meet a deadline for passing key elements of the accord, and violence in areas once dominated by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, is once again on the rise amid a record surge in cocaine production.

Meanwhile, many of the 8,000 guerrillas who disarmed in June appear to have grown disillusioned, with about 55 percent having left the rural camps where they were expected to make the transition back to civilian life, according to the United Nations. While the government contends many are just breaking free from the once total control of their former commanders, many fear they could be joining criminal gangs or a dissident FARC movement that has about 1,000 fighters nationwide.

“This is exactly what you don’t want in a peace process,” said Dag Nylander, a former Norwegian diplomat who was the chief international mediator of the four-year talks. “If Colombia doesn’t act now, the peace process is not going to be the example for the rest of the world that both sides said it would be.”

As during the war, security remains the chief concern. Although Colombia’s homicide rate nationally is hovering near a four-decade low, murders in former FARC enclaves jumped 14 percent in the first half of 2017 compared to the same period a year ago, according to a recent study by Bogota-based Ideas for Peace Foundation.

The driver of violence is a deepening turf war for the valuable drug routes once controlled by the FARC. Since 2013, the year after peace talks began in Cuba, cocaine production in Colombia has more than tripled to potentially 710 metric tons last year, according to U.S. estimates.

Nowhere is the volatile mix of drugs, retreating rebels and traditional state neglect as intensely felt as in the Pacific Ocean port of Tumaco, an embarkation point for much of the cocaine heading to Central America and then by land to the U.S. The city is disputed among criminal gangs and a dissident FARC movement — all of which are recruiting former rebels whose only marketable skill is wielding a gun. Also active in the area is the much-smaller National Liberation Army, which has initiated peace talks of its own with the government.

Last month, seven protesting, coca-growing farmers in Tumaco were killed in clashes with police sent in to forcibly eradicate the drug crops. The government blamed the incident on the dissident FARC rebels, who it said ordered the farmers to confront security forces while their drug crops were being harvested. But others say the slow roll-out of the crop-substitution plan in the accord is fueling tensions.

Nationwide at least 61 leftist activists, many of them leaders of communities dependent on the coca trade, have been killed so far this year, according to the United Nations. That’s up from 52 murders during the same period in 2016. Some are the result of land disputes that have revived without the FARC around to impose control.

The fragile peace on the ground mirrors equally treacherous political realities. On Dec. 1, Congress’ special fast-track authority to implement the accord expires, with several key piece of legislation still pending. Foremost among them is a bill setting up the special peace tribunals where former rebels as well as members of the security forces are to be judged for their war crimes.

“Without the transitional justice element in place, the whole peace agreement could collapse,” said Nylander, who blames the political dynamic ahead of wide-open presidential elections six months away for lawmakers dragging their feet. “It seems like several political actors and institutions, including Congress, are running away from their commitments because of the 2018 elections.”

President Juan Manuel Santos, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end Colombia’s conflict, said the cold reception isn’t surprising. Decades of fighting has left 8 million victims, including some 250,000 people killed. The accord was rejected in a nationwide referendum last year, forcing Santos to take the unpopular step of ramming a modified version through Congress.

“The best peace agreements are the ones that leave people on both sides unsatisfied,” Santos told journalists on Thursday. “But some people want to sign the agreement’s death certificate already without considering that peace-building takes time and that in less than a year of actual implementation, Colombia is ahead of other peace agreements.”

The president said he’s optimistic his peace coalition in congress will hold together long enough to bulletproof the core of the agreement from any serious meddling should a more conservative government take power next year, as many analysts expect.

The outlook is less certain for hundreds of other ambitious peacebuilding measures, everything from agrarian reform to a rethinking of the health and education systems, contained in the 310-page agreement. According to the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at Notre Dame University, 17 percent of the 558 stipulations in the accord have been fully implemented, with activity on another 55 percent yet to even begin.

Bernard Aronson, who served as President Barack Obama’s special envoy to the talks, said that even if Colombia misses the historic opportunity to integrate its lawless countryside with the more prosperous cities “the war is over and nobody thinks it will restart again.”

“The agreement didn’t turn Colombia into a paradise,” said Aronson, who in a private capacity has visited Colombia several times since the accord was signed to meet with FARC leaders, government negotiators and visit rebel camps. ““But given the high expectations, it’s inevitable that there is some frustration.”