New blog: The FARC’s Transition to Colombian Democracy



The FARC’s new logo for their political party, the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force

Here is my new article for the AIIA looking at FARC’s transition from militancy to democracy.


New Article: Mapping the Pursuit of a ‘Combination of All Forms of Struggle’: How Colombia’s Peace Agreement Complements the FARC’s political strategy


I recently wrote a new article for the Small Wars Journal. With emphasis often being placed on the nature of the FARC’s military activities and engagement in aspects of the coca trade, it is often stated that the movement lacks a cohesive political agenda. However, my article maps the FARC’s historical political strategy to demonstrate a consistency in adopting ‘la combinación de todas las formas de lucha’, or ‘the combination of all forms of struggle’. By drawing on primary FARC literature, it demonstrates how the 2016 Peace Agreement between the insurgency and the Colombian government appeases insurgent grievances and aids in the group’s political advances.

Colombia Votes No: But is all Really Lost?


Image taken from The City Paper Bogotá

I wrote this piece for AIIA’s Australian Outlook and has originally been printed here on October 4th, 2016 with additional hyperlinks

In a surprise outcome of the 2 October plebiscite, the Colombian population has voted ‘No’ to the final peace agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or the FARC. With 99.98 per cent of votes counted, the plebiscite question: ‘Do you support the final accord for the end of the conflict and the construction of stable and lasting peace?’ received 6,431,376 ‘No’ votes, closely followed by 6,377,483 ‘Yes’ votes. With a ‘No’ vote at 50.21 per cent and a ‘Yes’ vote at 49.78 per cent, this marks less than half a per cent between those voting for peace with the FARC, and those against.

President Juan Manuel Santos signed the final peace accord with the FARC at an official ceremony in Colombia on 27 September in Cartegena, Colombia. The agreement dealt with the five key agenda items in the current administration’s round of negotiations: rural and agrarian land reform, the nature of the FARC’s political participation, the solution to the illicit drug problem, how best to deal with the victims of the conflict in terms of transitional justice and repatriation, and how to end the conflict. Importantly, the Colombian government and the FARC agreed to a bilateral ceasefire marking the cessation of hostilities, and preparations have commenced towards post-conflict processes. For example, the FARC had begun to move towards 23 UN-monitored verification zones to commence the process of disarmament and reintegration. However, in light of the plebiscite decision, these processes have been temporarily stalled without a mandate that a successful plebiscite would have provided the presidency to implement the accords. Despite this unexpected result, does this mean that all in the four year negotiations are lost?

Reasons for a ‘No’ vote

Leading up to the plebiscite, polls demonstrated that there was in fact a clear lead for a ‘Yes’ vote. Should the ‘Yes’ vote been successful this would mark the end of the conflict with the FARC spanning over 52 years. Moreover, the final agreement dealt with key grievances that had traditionally framed the FARC’s political and military objectives and allowed for the transition from the battlefield to the political arena as a political party, with a guaranteed five seats in both the Senate and the House. The rural and agrarian reform provisions would allow for investment back into rural economic development, improving livelihood conditions for those living within the countryside. As such, there would be further government investment in social services and infrastructure, and the development of alternative illicit crop substitution in areas throughout the country. The agreement also included strong provisions for the inclusion of women in post-conflict processes, with both the Colombian government and the FARC agreeing to the necessity in creating a gender sub-commission overseeing the implementation of these gender inclusive provisions.

Yet a ‘no’ vote prevailed, significantly influenced by former President Álvaro Uribe who has consistently argued that the peace accord was too lenient. Uribe, a hard-handed president responsible for successful securitisation initiatives throughout the country, was particularly vocal against the FARC receiving guaranteed political seats and amnesty provisions. This echoed the sentiments of many in the broader Colombian public who felt that the government is granting too many concessions towards the guerrillas. In a conflict claiming over 220,000 lives since its inception, including over 7,900,000 registered victims, a variety of stakeholders, including the FARC, have caused lasting damage—both physically and psychologically. Particularly in terms of providing justice to the victims, this becomes complicated when many FARC fighters will not receive jail sentences but rather smaller penalties. Furthermore, a guaranteed incorporation into the political structure despite these atrocities can be seen by some as the legitimation of violence. Questions remain as to where and how the Colombian government will obtain the funding for many of social initiatives outlined in the accords, despite vowed US assistance through the launching of Peace Colombia.

What happens now?

Regardless of the narrow success of the ‘No’ vote, this doesn’t mark the end of peace attempts with the FARC. In fact, it has the potential to strengthen it. Whilst the rejection of the peace accord marks a significant blow for the Santos administration, the plebiscite itself is non-binding and the task now reorientates to addressing the question as to why Colombians would vote ‘no’. Although voter turnout was very low at just under 40 per cent, what is clear from the results is that the regions most affected by the conflict voted ‘Yes’ to the plebiscite.

Despite staking his presidency on a mandate for peace, Santos recognised the success of the ‘No’ vote in a speech shortly after the results of the plebiscite. He vowed to continue the peace process with the FARC, stating that he would be committed to calling “on all the political forces—particularly those that demonstrated ‘No’ today—to hear them and encourage dialogue and determine the way forward”. The president confirmed that the chief negotiator, Humberto De La Calle, and the High Commissioner for Peace, Sergio Jaramillo, will head back to Havana to advise FARC negotiators on the nature of the results. Shortly after the president’s announcement, the FARC issued a communique stating that the insurgency “maintains its will for peace and reiterates its willingness to only use the word as a weapon of construction towards the future”.

What is clear is that the peace process will take longer than initially intended. Whilst the ‘No’ vote may be a disappointment to many, the commitment of both parties towards recommencing negotiations immediately in Havana signifies not only the strength of the accords, but the strong desire to obtain peace for the country. Despite the fact that this plebiscite is not binding and could be passed with certain amendments through the Colombian congress, Santos has reaffirmed his commitment to popular democratic processes, and acting on the desires and opinions of the Colombian population. In vowing to work with stakeholders within the ‘No’ camp and include them directly in renegotiations of a final agreement, it potentially provides the opportunity for a more holistic framework respecting the wishes of greater sections of the population. Although the plebiscite’s outcome was a shock to many, it could in fact reorientate an agreement to achieve a more inclusive, consolidated and sustainable peace.

The final stages towards peace in Colombia, but what of politics and plebiscite?

Uribe Santos

November has marked a productive month in terms of peace negotiations between the Santos administration and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of  Colombia (the FARC).  Whilst under pressure to reach a final peace settlement before the agreed upon date of March 23rd 2016, on Monday the government and the FARC agreed to 74 of 75 points on a transitional justice deal.  As elaborated on in my previous post, some of the more controversial points include the granting of amnesty for FARC combatants, state agents and military officials who co-operate in terms of admission to their involvement in violence, and the nature of the FARC’s political involvement after a final deal is signed.

On Sunday, the government announced that it is granting pardons to 30 FARC members as part of a broader confidence building measure between the state and the insurgency. The FARC had urged the administration to release 81 of its jailed combatants based on health grounds. This was alongside imprisoned members of the insurgency protesting with a hunger strike to demand the release of injured combatants and appropriate medical treatment supplied.  Santos’ department guaranteed that none of the combatants being pardoned were imprisoned for serious crimes, and that they will be entitled to receive help in finding employment and receiving social support once they leave prison.

Moreover, the FARC’s Commander-in-Chief, Rodrigo Londono Echeverri alias ‘Timochenko’, announced that he had ordered the insurgency in September to stop buying weaponry as part of a ‘good will gesture’.  Of course, the complexity in disarmament continues to remain, with no clear process yet established to obtain the arsenal the combatants currently hold.

However, whilst it appears quite evident that a final deal between the government and the FARC will be in fact reached, the outcome of a plebiscite still remains.  In an interview with President Santos by BBC’s ‘HARDTalk Programme’ (audio available here), Santos stated that it is easier to make war than peace, and admitted that he will be ‘in serious difficulty’ if the Colombian population rejects the peace agreement put before them.  The question was posed to the President that many influential figures, including former President Álvaro Uribe Vélez, continued to remain staunch opposers to the process. It was addressed that Uribe had formally stated, ‘it is not peace that is near, it is surrender to the FARC’.  In the context of Uribe stating that the FARC was literally getting away with murder, Santos later responded that ‘if you analyse what President Uribe is saying, you will come to the conclusion that he is being a bit…emotional’.  To which the interviewer reclaimed, ‘well the Colombian people are emotional! Of course they are emotional, 220000 people died in this war!’


In staunch criticism of the peace process, Uribe often takes to Twitter to vent his frustrations.  Photo Javier de la Torre, taken from Semana

It is clear to followers of Colombian politics that Uribe continues to remain a controversial figure, but it is hard to argue against the point that he was a strong president.  Under his administration, there were crucial  improvements in the securitisation of the country (not without its controversy).  These were policies that are remembered, and were largely supported by portions of the Colombian population.  Whilst Uribe has accused Santos of selling out to terrorists, he still wields significant influence over the Democratic Center (CD) party, who continue to opposed components of the package.

Furthermore, from a legislative perspective, not all has been smooth sailing for Santos.  In a surprising move in early November, the Colombian Senate voted against a constitutional reform that would allow for FARC leaders to participate in national politics, particularly in terms of the enforcement of peace.  As quoted in a Colombian Reports article, the Minister of the Interior, Juan Fernando Cristo, stated that-

‘We took the decision to eliminate the issue of political participation from Senate approval due to some modifications that were incorporated. The truth is it will be worth it to give it more debate and make more profound reflections concerning the issue’

Whilst this also surprised the Congress, it is indeed a move that draws attention to the fact that despite good intentions, there are a variety of legal issues that could influence the implementation of a peace agreement without support. The FARC has been pushing for guaranteed seats in Colombia’s Congress a part of the ‘political participation’ and ‘end of conflict’ agenda items.  Although the government is believed to support this motion, there is various division within the legislative bodies as to how this will technically occur.

Agreement to a political solution in ending the conflict with the FARC is one thing, but agreement to allow the FARC Secretariat’s involvement in Colombian politics is another- an issue that indeed is ’emotional’, and has the potential to influence a referendum vote.  Last week Colombia’s Senate approved a plebiscite, allowing the Colombian population to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the implementation of the peace deal with the FARC.  Proposed by members of Santos’ political party as the method of ratification, the final settlement cannot be implemented without the agreement of the Colombian population despite the March 23rd deadline.

Santos is confident that there will be a ‘yes’ vote to a final settlement, and what could work in his favour is that a 13% ‘yes’ vote could ratify the peace deal, rather than a 51% majority.  Despite it being argued that such a low threshold may need to be applied to all future plebiscites, this was set as a result of  historically low turnout rates in the country.  Not surprisingly this passed in the absence of the DC, as there as disagreement with the 13% threshold.  Despite his confidence, Uribe’s influence can not be forgotten- both within official politics, and the memory of the Colombian people.

Fundamentally, a plebiscite does indeed allow a vote of emotion.  I hold high hope that a ‘yes’ majority will pass, however when dealing with such a protracted and violent conflict, historical memory comes into affect.  Should there be a ‘yes’ vote, so starts the process towards peace.  Should there be a ‘no’, I suspect we’ll have a resignation.

Welcome to morethanwars!

Welcome to my personal blog, morethanwars

I’ve been meaning to set up a personal blog for quite a while to provide my thoughts on a range of issues pertaining to security and prospects for peace in Latin America, Central America and Southeast Asia.  However, as I am entering into the final stretch of my PhD research, I figured this would be a good time to start!

morethanwars has been set up to provide broad analysis on security issues being faced in Latin America, Central America and Southeast Asia. Generally, my research focuses on non-state militant threats to state autonomy and overall perceptions of state legitimacy.  My PhD is a Colombian country study, examining the Colombian government’s relationship to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (the FARC).  I research into government decisions to shift between policies of counterinsurgency and negotiation at times.

Currently the Colombian government is in the final stages of negotiations with the FARC, and it is looking promising.  This is not to say peace in Colombia will be achieved if a final settlement is signed, with the country then facing an array of other issues- including a settlement with the ELN, and the security threat posed by BACRIMS.  However, it is a step in the right direction and has the potential to minimise conflict within the country if implemented correctly.

Whilst parts of this blog will be developed to Colombian analysis, I have a strong passion for Latin American politics- particularly in terms of conflict and security.  I find that here in Australia, little exposure is devoted to this region in terms of news and media coverage.  Perhaps this is to be expected, and this blog is in no way ambitious that it seeks to fill that void! However, I do hope to provide a degree of basic analysis for those interested, and to be in contact with likeminded individuals focussing on similar research.

Thank you for taking the time to stop by, I look forward to this endeavour!