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Colombia’s Congress approves revised peace deal with FARC

But critics say congressional move bypasses the “popular mandate” that rejected the original agreement

The Colombian Congress on Wednesday approved a revised peace agreement between the government and the FARC rebel group to end a 52-year-old war. The move follows two marathon sessions, in the Senate first and the lower house later, where supporters and detractors of the deal had heated exchanges over the controversial agreement – mirroring the last four years of negotiations between the Colombian executive and guerrilla leaders.

Colombia's Santos and FARC leader Timochenko after signing revised peace deal.
Colombia's Santos and FARC leader Timochenko after signing revised peace deal. AP

The governing coalition led by President Juan Manuel Santos controls both houses, which made the approval a foregone conclusion. The Senate backed the revised deal with 75 favorable votes and none against; in the House of Representatives, the government chalked up a 130-vote victory.

There were no negative votes because representatives of the Democratic Center, led by former president and agreement detractor Álvaro Uribe, walked out of the chamber.

In six months, the conflict will be completely ended

Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos

Critics of the peace process, who scored a victory at the October 2 popular referendum that sent back the original peace deal, continue to reject the revised version despite its incorporation of some of their proposed changes.

Agreements “require a balance between peace and justice, but this one offers complete impunity,” said Uribe on Tuesday, during a 40-minute address to the Senate.

Uribe has called for a new plebiscite, arguing that the congressional approval seeks to replace “the popular mandate.”

Two months after the original deal was announced, Colombia is back at the spot where it would have been, had “yes” won the referendum.

But it has got there against a backdrop of complete political fracture and generalized weariness among Colombians.

Both realities pose a tremendous challenge to authorities as they begin to implement the content of the deal with the FARC guerrilla.

Former president Alvaro Uribe is the leading opponent of the peace deal with FARC.
Former president Alvaro Uribe is the leading opponent of the peace deal with FARC. AFP

On Wednesday, President Santos said that Thursday would be “D-Day,” for the beginning of the implementation.

“In five days, the FARC will move towards the Veredales Transitory Zones, where all FARC members will convene before December 30. That is where the disarmament process will begin. On D-Day plus 150, all FARC weapons will be in the hands of the United Nations, and FARC will cease to exist as an illegal armed group. In six months, the conflict will be completely ended.”

But Santos’ expectations run counter to the guerrilla group’s own statements. The FARC have clearly stated that they will not be demobilizing at UN-monitored zones before their jailed colleagues are released.

“D-Day will begin after the first actions are executed: approving the agreement and the first pardon and amnesty laws,” said Pastor Alape, a member of the FARC secretariat.

Fast-track laws

In order to speed up the process, Congress approved the Legislative Peace Act nearly a year ago, granting the president extraordinary powers to sign peace-related decrees during six months.

These new laws will get fast-track treatment, requiring less congressional debate. But this could also turn into another obstacle, as it depends on a popular vote to be legally valid. After the no victory at the October 2 referendum, some claim that the fast-track procedure is void, while others say that congressional approval is enough. The Constitutional Court will have the final say.

English version by Susana Urra.

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