Colombia’s congress approves peace deal with Farc

Government criticised over refusal to put revised agreement to second referendum

Colombia’s House of Representatives in session on Wednesday before it voted to back a new peace deal with Farc. Photograph: Leonardo Muñoz/EPA

Colombia’s House of Representatives in session on Wednesday before it voted to back a new peace deal with Farc. Photograph: Leonardo Muñoz/EPA

 

Colombia’s government has ratified a new peace accord with guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or Farc (after its initials in Spanish), amid criticism over its refusal to put the revised agreement to a second referendum.

In a plebiscite on October 2nd, Colombia’s voters unexpectedly rejected an earlier version of the peace deal designed to bring Latin America’s longest-running insurgency to an end. In light of that setback government negotiators resumed talks with leaders of the region’s biggest Marxist guerrilla army to rescue the process.

Largely cosmetic changes were made to the agreement, including a demand the Farc provide an inventory of all its assets, thought to include a fortune derived from the cocaine trade, which will be used to compensate its victims.

But President Juan Manoel Santos decided not to risk a second referendum as the revised agreement still frees Farc leaders from the risk of serving prison time for human rights crimes committed during its 52-year armed campaign, seen as a major reason why the original deal was rejected by voters.

Commands

Instead, the administration decided to have the revised accord ratified by congress rather than directly by voters. The lower house approved the peace deal Wednesday evening, following the senate’s vote in favour on Tuesday. Mr Santos rushed the revised deal through congress where he commands a large majority less than a week after it was signed at a subdued ceremony in a Bogotá theatre.

Both houses passed the revised accord unanimously after critics of the peace process demanding a second referendum walked out.

This failure to put the accord to a popular vote a second time has drawn fierce criticism from opponents of peace with the Farc, with the Conservative party tabling a demand for a second referendum. “You do not change the rules of the game right at the end,” said party leader David Barquil.

In a tense session on Wednesday, Colombia’s former chief public prosecutor warned the lower house that the revised deal was “a defeated agreement that will be ratified by a defeated congress” in light of voters’ rejection of the earlier version that was backed by a majority of senators and congressmen.

Trick

“This is a genuine trick and ignorant of the Colombian people’s right to a referendum,” Alejandro Ordóñez told deputies.

The refusal by Mr Santos to risk a second referendum risks polarising the race to succeed him in 2018 around the question of peace with the Farc.

The president was to address the nation Thursday night to give more details about the implementation of the deal ,which will see the Farc demobilise and become purely a political party within six months.

Authorities are eager to start the demobilisation process as soon as possible to prevent a breakdown of a ceasefire with the Farc or risk more of its fighters defecting to the smaller ELN guerrilla group with whom peace talks have yet to produce any agreement.