Colombia: Final Peace Agreement, Stakes and Challenges Ahead

This blog post by Dr. Virginia Bouvier, Senior Advisor at United States Institute of Peace, addresses the Colombian final peace agreement resulting from the Havana Peace Negotiations between the Colombian government and the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces-Army of the People (FARC-EP). This is the first of a series of blog posts related to the Colombian Peace Process.

On August 24, after four years of formal negotiations in Havana, the Colombian government and the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces-Army of the People (FARC-EP) announced their plan to end a war that has lasted more than half a century, forcibly displaced more than seven million Colombians, produced hundreds of thousands of deaths, and generated tens of thousands of disappeared.  President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC commander-in-chief Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri (aka “Timochenko”) will officially sign the final peace agreement on September 26, in Cartagena, Colombia.  Six days later, the Colombian electorate will vote up or down on their support for the peace accord reached by the long-time adversaries.

Former Presidents Alvaro Uribe and Andrés Pastrana, and Comptroller General Alejandro Ordóñez are campaigning heavily for a “no” vote in the Oct. 2 plebiscite, arguing that tougher terms for the FARC could have been (and should be) exacted. They oppose in particular the transitional justice formula reached that allows the FARC temporary seats in Congress and eschews jail time for FARC crimes.  The agreement, while complex, does not grant impunity and explicitly prohibits amnesties for war crimes and other serious crimes; provides reduced sentences and alternatives to jail time for those who fully confess their crimes; stipulates jail time for those who fail to come clean; and requires community service and other punishments to be negotiated with victim communities.  Recent polls marginally favor the “yes” vote, but Uribe still commands tremendous support in the Colombian countryside, and his convening power should not be underestimated.

With the announcement of the final peace accord (and of a definitive bilateral ceasefire days later), the logistics for the transition to peace have already begun.  FARC troops are now moving toward concentration zones, where the UN will oversee the monitoring and verification of the ceasefire, the decommissioning of arms and reincorporation of FARC troops.  Training for 80 leaders of the tripartite monitoring and verification mechanism has now been complete. Protocols for minors to leave FARC camps; be received by the ICRC, OIM, UNICEF, and others; and begin preparations for “reincorporation, comprehensive reparations, and social inclusion” will be initiated on September 10.  While a “no” vote would invalidate the accord, interrupt these activities, and send the parties back to the drawing board, the government is working to make the peace plan irreversible, and has asked the UN to accelerate the work of the political mission in Colombia.

The challenges ahead are enormous and go beyond the technicalities of approving, refining, and implementing agreements, however. The lack of a similar peace deal with the National Liberation Army (ELN) is perhaps the most pressing challenge.  Formal peace talks with the ELN announced earlier this year have yet to materialize.  A new wave of ELN-related violence recently killed 30 Colombians in the ELN-dominated territory of Arauca on the Venezuelan border, sparking new calls for peace talks. Finally, ELN troops and criminal bands including the “Usuga clan” are poised to take over the lucrative coca trade, illegal mining, and extortion opportunities in areas being abandoned by the FARC.  All signs show that peace without the ELN will be an “incomplete peace,” and that failure to bring the ELN to the peace table soon threatens to undermine the long-awaited political solution with the FARC. 

About the Author: Dr. Virginia Bouvier is Senior Advisor at United States Institute of Peace and Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University. She joined USIP in January 2003 and has headed USIP’s Colombia team since 2006. She was seconded in 2012-13 to serve as a process design expert for the United Nations Standby Team of Mediation Experts. For the previous seven years, she was an assistant professor of Latin American literature and culture at the University of Maryland.

Virginia is blogging at

See more on our work on Colombia here and our Briefing Paper 01/2015: Colombia Chronology

Photo: Marcha por la paz, Barrancabermeja, Santander – Manuel Chacón/Creative Commons