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Peace accord between Colombia and FARC would end world’s longest conflict

August 25, 2016 at 6:40 PM EDT
Colombia’s president delivered a historic peace deal with FARC rebels on Wednesday. The agreement outlines a timetable for the leftist group to disarm and re-enter society -- thus concluding one of the world’s longest-running conflicts, which resulted in some 220,000 deaths. But the Colombian people still must approve. Hari Sreenivasan discusses the accord with The Wilson Center’s Cindy Arnson.

HARI SREENIVASAN: As we reported earlier, the government of Colombia signed a deal with the largest rebel group, the FARC, that could end the world’s longest-running conflict.

Here to discuss what’s in the accord and the road ahead is Cynthia Arnson. She’s director of the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

So, thanks for joining us.

CYNTHIA ARNSON, Wilson Center: Thank you.

HARI SREENIVASAN: First of all, this deal has been a long time coming. What’s in it?

CYNTHIA ARNSON: Well, there are five basic agreements that cover agrarian reform, cover the kind of political participation that the guerrillas will have, cover illicit economies, including drug trafficking, transitional justice, and then the final one on the terms for disarmament and demobilization.

So it’s very comprehensive, very detailed. The text itself is over 250 pages, but there are some provisions of it that are more controversial than others. And as with any peace accord, the real test comes when it’s time to implement, and the government and all of Colombian society have to live up to the agreement, including the FARC.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The disarmament seems like one of those complicated motions that there are just also — there is a distrust between people who have been fighting, shooting, killing one another for quite some time. What’s to keep someone from saying, you know what, I’m going to wait until the very end before I hand in my guns or before I walk in through this process?

CYNTHIA ARNSON: There is a very explicit timetable for the demobilization and disarmament of the FARC.

It’s supposed to start the minute that the peace accord is actually signed between the government and the president of Colombia, which will probably be some time in a couple of weeks, in mid to late September. And then that is considered day one, and there is a 180-day period, basically six months, for the FARC to go to one of 23 zones throughout the country that have been designated that will be overseen by the United Nations monitors in terms of verification.

So there’s a very detailed thing. And the Colombian military will actually be in place to guarantee the safe passage of the guerrillas from the various places in the country where they are. So the Colombian military has also been at the peace table. That was one of the very unique, I think, features of the Colombia peace process.

So they have been working together with the guerrillas to come up with these procedures.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And this is still a country that has a lot of opposition to the FARC. What about the feeling that this is perhaps giving them a pass? There have been injustices and human rights violations on both sides of this. How do you bring some of those perpetrators to justice while you build this peace?

CYNTHIA ARNSON: Well, it is hugely controversial. And the country is very polarized.

And there will be a plebiscite, a chance for the Colombian public to vote either yes or no for the peace accord to be binding and valid. Thirteen percent — 50 percent of 13 percent of the registered voters have to come out and approve the peace accord that’s been negotiated.

And the most strident critic is the former president, Alvaro Uribe, and the current president, Santos, was his defense minister, and so there is a tremendous amount of bad blood. And there are provisions on transitional justice and on the political participation of the FARC guerrillas that are really, really controversial.

And there is an expression in Spanish about swallowing frogs. And I think there are many such frogs in this agreement.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Is there a possibility here we could actually see a campaign, almost a political-style campaign, to try to encourage voters to scuttle this accord?

CYNTHIA ARNSON: Well, that campaign has been under way throughout the peace negotiations. A lot of criticism, almost daily tweets from President — former President Uribe and members of his political party.

There will be a very, very active campaign between over — now and October 2, both by the government and its supporters to mobilize people to come out and vote in favor of the accord, and an equally vigorous campaign by the opposition to say vote it down, this is not a good agreement for Colombia.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Cynthia Arnson of the Woodrow Wilson Center, thanks for joining us.


HARI SREENIVASAN: My conversation with Cynthia Arnson continues online on our Facebook page. Viewers also asked her about the U.S. role in the conflict, and what happens if the agreement to end the war is rejected in the referendum. You can hear what Cynthia Arnson has to say at