Can the revised agreement revive the peace process in Colombia? And what does it mean for the FARC? By Stine Lehmann-Larsen and Patrick Gavigan

Negotiations update:  From NO-vote to a new agreement?

On the 13th November, the Colombian Government and the FARC announced a new agreement to end the conflict that has plagued the country for 52 years. This is a revised version of the agreement which was rejected in a surprise victory for the NO-side in a referendum on October 2nd. It is not yet clear whether and how President Juan Manuel Santos will secure ratification of the new agreement; the President must decide whether to call for another plebiscite or other form of popular endorsement, or seek for the agreement to be processed by Congress where he has the majority support.

The major actors leading the opposition towards the Havana Agreement - Alvaro Uribe's Centro Democratico, Andres Pastrana, Alejandro Ordonez, Marta Lucia and a group of evangelical church pastors – who all submitted proposals to the government for changes to the accord following the referendum, have asked for an opportunity to look over the revised agreement. The nature of the opposition’s proposals for modifying the Havana Agreement, which were taken into account during the renegotiations, offer some cause for optimism. One Colombian news site looking at the opposition’s proposals noted that of the 75 individual proposals collected from the opposition, approximately 13 repeated something already established in the agreement, or referred to issues or items that the agreement in fact does not cover, an additional 14 could be addressed clarifying language in the agreement and 10 would require small changes to the document. However, an additional 23 would require substantive, but negotiable, modifications, while 16 implied major changes affecting issues of core concern to the FARC.

The updated agreement has addressed 56 out of the 57 points that opponents of the agreement criticised, it incorporated 65% of the opposition’s proposals on transitional justice, and over 90% of the gender-related issues that drew a lot of criticism from religious groups. No fewer than 500 proposed modifications were presented to FARC representatives in Havana and, humbled by the referendum result, FARC accepted most of them, crossing its earlier red lines. However, proposals to deny political participation to those accused of serious human rights violations, or applying the doctrine of command responsibility to the FARC leadership, fell on deaf ears. FARC leaders still have the possibility of gaining elected positions which was a major cause of the rejection of the agreement presented to the people in October.

The new agreement is particularly welcome to the FARC who is currently caught in a weak limbo-like position with low approval ratings across the country. Aware of the dangers of a drawn-out process, most actors have behaved with an admirable sense of urgency and seriousness. Nevertheless, despite the new agreement, the rejection on October 2nd, the vociferous opposition, and the possibility of politically-motivated efforts to prolong the talks have created tensions and a sense of instability. The uncertainty stemming from this is profound and greatly affects the FARC’s position, as the longer the process drags on, the harder it is going to be to keep morale and discipline in check.

FARC’s challenges until a final agreement is signed and ratified

In a renegotiation period any group faces the dual challenge of managing new talks and maintaining internal coherence and discipline until the accords are finalized and ratified. FARC leadership must continue to address the efforts of a number of the opposition groups working to restrict the organisation's ability to transform itself into an effective political organisation. This includes the aforementioned proposals to juridically limit the ability of senior FARC leaders able to assume legislative seats and participate in politics, reduced guaranteed political party funding, and restricting the changes possible under a new rural development policy. A FARC hobbled by new restrictions, and poorly organised internally, would be unable to effectively influence the post-accord commitments to address rural poverty and increase political participation of the poor and marginalised. It would struggle to ensure its voice - and policy recommendations - are heard in national debates in the legislature. This inability to effectively reorganise politically after a peace agreement has hurt the efforts of other guerrilla organisations accepting democratic rules in the region (the guerrilla parties in Guatemala gradually disappeared after the peace accords and the FMLN in El Salvador struggled for years before becoming an effective political force).

The FARC will also need to organise itself internally as a political party, including policy and programme development and implementation skills, and communications capacities. Increasing the political party reflection and organisational efforts in parallel to the mandated Disarmament, Demobilisation, and Reintegration (DDR) process may assist the FARC to maintain internal cohesion while the talks continue and will help to position the group to manage the post-disarmament part of the relatively-short DDR period. This may help to avoid a political vacuum among its core constituency and the national political scene in the year(s) after a final agreement is reached.

Additionally, if the DDR process remains stalled, the risk of a confrontation between FARC units and the army and/or other armed groups increases. The ongoing uncertainty could accentuate dissent within the FARC ranks, including leading to the shift of some units out of the FARC to other armed groups or criminal gangs. The lack of a quick security transition in FARC areas could encourage other armed groups to move in and take over FARC narcotrafficking or illegal mining activities, with negative implications for local populations and the return of state authority. And continued delays could provide incentives for political actors to stretch new negotiations into late 2017 when they would be further stalled by campaigns for presidential elections in 2018. The postponement of the start for the peace negotiations with the ELN, Colombia’s second largest guerrilla group, accentuate these issues as well as underline the importance of an agreement to set an example for the country’s other armed actors.

In conclusion, Colombia and the FARC still face a multitude of challenges as a result of the popular rejection. The main question being whether President Santos succeeds in winning ratification for this revised agreement. Yet, the end of the 52-year civil war is in sight with all sides understanding that time is of the essence –  the prospect of peace offers powerful support and a reason to remain hopeful.