Bello: the fate of Colombia’s peace deal ||| Will the Nobel prize bring peace to Colombia?

Screen Shot 2016-10-13 at 1.53.15 PMOct 15th 2016

The prize exposes the gap in perceptions over the rejected accord with the FARC rebels

THEY may be overrated and politicised, but Nobel peace prizes are still nice to have. Ask Juan Manuel Santos: on the evening of October 2nd, after Colombians had voted narrowly to reject the peace agreement his government had negotiated with the FARC guerrillas, he was contemplating the ruins not just of six years of work but also of his presidency. Five days later the Norwegian committee announced that Mr Santos had won this year’s peace award. It was a tonic; even Álvaro Uribe, his chief political foe and the inspirer of the No vote, offered guarded congratulations.

The prize underlines the gap in perception between outsiders and many Colombians. For the former, the agreement concluded in August, after two years of preliminary negotiations followed by four years of talks in Havana, represents a necessary compromise to end a costly internal conflict; it sets a new international benchmark for reconciling peace and justice. But for the latter, it treats the FARC too leniently. Guerrilla commanders guilty of war crimes who make a full confession to a special peace tribunal will avoid incarceration. Many Colombians want to see FARC leaders in jail, not in congress (as some could be). Mr Santos’s opponents accuse him of failing to hold out for tougher terms because of a desire to clinch peace (and, yes, the Nobel prize) before his term ends in 2018. Its award vindicates their cynicism.

The gap in perceptions reflects confusion over the nature of the peace talks. Many Colombians thought they would be about the terms of the FARC’s surrender. After all, Mr Uribe, president for eight years, and then Mr Santos (who had been his defence minister), had reduced the FARC from a peak of 20,000 troops to 5,800. Three of the guerrillas’ top commanders were killed in targeted attacks; the others could no longer feel safe.

By entering talks the FARC implicitly recognised that they could no longer win the war. But they view themselves as an undefeated army motivated by communist ideology, rather than as the drug-trafficking terrorists other Colombians perceived them to be. They were determined not to be the first guerrilla leaders to disarm in order to serve long prison sentences. And they wanted things they could claim as political conquests, such as a government commitment to land reform. But the FARC’s arrogant insistence on presenting the talks as being between two equally legitimate sides was a political mistake that made the agreement look more generous to them than it actually was—and made winning the plebiscite harder.

Salvaging Colombia’s peace will not be easy. The No campaign and the FARC will have to find common ground. Mr Uribe has adopted a conciliatory tone since the vote, even meeting Mr Santos for the first time in six years. On October 9th he set out the changes he wants to the peace agreement. Some echo what is already the government’s position—that the pace of rural development and land reform will take into account fiscal constraints, for example. Others are points on which, in light of the plebiscite, the government should press the FARC: Mr Uribe wants the “effective restrictions on liberty” that would apply to those who confess to war crimes to involve confinement, though not prison, and for these to be incompatible with a seat in congress. Harder to accommodate is Mr Uribe’s insistence that FARC leaders should be tried by Colombia’s supreme court, rather than by the special tribunal, the centrepiece of the agreement’s chapter on justice.

At least all sides are talking. On October 7th the government and the FARC agreed quickly to consider proposals for “adjustments and clarifications” to the agreement. While that happens, they will maintain the ceasefire (and the UN its mission to monitor both this and the guerrillas’ disarmament).

But time is short. Mr Uribe prefaced his proposals by calling for both “urgency” and “patience”. That suggests he may want to spin out the consultations so that they merge with the campaign for Colombia’s presidential election in 2018. It is hard to see the ceasefire holding until then. The start this month of peace talks with the ELN, a smaller guerrilla group, may also complicate matters.

Whether or not the government holds another plebiscite on a revised agreement, it is clear that peace requires a broader political accord. That is where the Nobel prize might just help. It is encouraging that 400 business leaders this week called for a “swift search for a definitive, inclusive and sustainable peace”. The world is watching Colombia, and thus Mr Uribe’s and the FARC’s next moves. But its attention span is short.