The seemingly impossible came true two weeks ago, when pictures circulated of Colombian President Santos and FARC leader Timoleón Jiménez, wearing symbolism-laden white shirts and shaking hands — a union being blessed by the beatic smile of Cuban President Raúl Castro.
While the deal struck between the Colombian government and the FARC was hailed by some as groundbreaking and the dawn of a new era, naysayers have been quick to quip that the deal is a blatant act of impunity.
The long and arduous process of the peace talks were started back in 2012 and held in Havana, Cuba, nudged on by Cuba and Norway’s benign attempts to get both parties to play nice. The talks have already gone through several stages, in which topics such as rural reform, democratic transparency, political participation and drug trafficking were discussed.
The latest meeting on September 23 resulted in a document that addressed victims’ reparations and the transitional justice process. It is surprisingly succinct — but its two pages were enough to launch a media maelstrom across Colombia and beyond.
To be even more brief than the document itself: both parties committed themselves to creating a special commission that would overlook the peace process and reparations. A tribunal would also be enacted, to “seek out the truth” and punish the perpetrators of crimes during Colombia’s last 50 years of partisan violence.
So far so good, but this is where it gets tricky: Both sides will be tried — guerrilla members and members of the armed forces — and those who confess their crimes before the tribunal will enjoy a special amnesty that will allow the self-professed criminals to serve only up to eight years in low-security work camps. Those who do not confess but are found guilty of a crime, will receive sentences in accordance with Colombia’s legal system — which means that the maximum they could get is up to 20 years in prison, even for multiple murders.
And as for the straw that broke the camel’s back: the FARC has been guaranteed the right to transition into a full-fledged political party, with the backing of the national government.
Former President Álvaro Uribe, whose own father was murdered by the FARC in an attempted kidnapping, was up in arms about the deal, as well as a slew of mostly right-wing politicians and government officials. He claims that punishing both the FARC guerrilla members and military service people puts both sides at the same level, when the latter were merely doing their job. He said that this would only “promote more violence.” Alfredo Rangel, a senator from Uribe’s party, added that this deal “makes a joke out of justice.”
President Santos, on the other hand, hurried over to the United Nations’ 70th Assembly this week in order to praise the peace talks’ joint efforts to ensure “peace with no impunity.”
While the political spectrum is heavily divided, the Colombian public remains skeptical. Next month’s regional elections in Colombia should act as a good barometer of the citizens’ generally lukewarm feelings towards the peace deal. Whether the majority seems alleviated to see light at the end of the tunnel, nobody is ready to claim victory just yet. And rightly so.
The deal has not been finalized just yet. The final peace treaty is expected to be ready for March 23, 2016. Both parties will have to sign in and then it will have to pass through a people’s referendum in Colombia in order to be valid.
It is estimated that 220,000 people were murdered over the last half-century of conflict in Colombia, and that 80 percent of these were civilians.
Carla McKirdy is a journalist currently based in Buenos Aires. You can connect with her @CarlaMcKirdy.