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  • Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Rodrigo Londono, known as Timochenko, shake hands after signing a peace accord in Bogota, Nov. 24, 2016.

    Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Rodrigo Londono, known as Timochenko, shake hands after signing a peace accord in Bogota, Nov. 24, 2016.

Published 27 November 2016

The Colombian government and the FARC signed a new peace deal. Now it's up to Congress to make the next move.

Colombia’s largest guerrilla army, the FARC, has signed a new peace deal with the government, but this time it won’t go to the ballot box, where it was defeated in October — it will go straight to Congress.

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That’s the issue at the top of the South American country’s political agenda this week after President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño, better known by his alias Timoleon Jimenez or Timochenko, signed the revised peace accords in Bogota last Thursday, more than a month after the original landmark deal was voted down at the polls in the Oct. 2 plebiscite on the deal.

It means that this week in Colombia’s Congress will be crucial — and likely heated.

Santos conceded to the right-wing opposition in allowing there to be debate on the peace deal. Senator and former President Alvaro Uribe, the chief leader of the “No” campaign rejecting the peace agreement, reiterated in recent weeks that he is not willing to budge on his staunch opposition to the deal without an outright overhaul that both sides of the negotiating table have deemed unviable. The far-right politician, who wields considerable power, has made increasingly clear that he’s not willing to give peace a chance in Colombia.

Now, in Congress this week, Uribe’s “No” camp will have an opportunity to speak on the peace accords, as will backers of the “Yes” side campaigning for the peace deal to be implemented as soon as possible. Uribe and his supporters have expressed the most vitriolic opposition to the peace deal’s measures for transitional justice — which prioritize uncovering the truth of abuses during the war over criminal prosecutors — and the FARC’s participation in electoral politics after it disarms and reorganizes as a political party.

An editorial in Colombia’s El Tiempo Saturday argued that while the Congress holds the "key to peace," it also faces a “colossal challenge” of both approving the deal and carrying out the legislative roadmap it puts in place, which it predicted will be a difficult task in the “current political environment marked by polarization.”

El Tiempo — which historically has had ties to the Santos family and the Liberal Party — also noted that both the government and FARC have made efforts to make the deal more acceptable in the tense context that saw opposition from both the political right and religious conservatives. “There is a willingness to build bridges at a time when the interests of the country have to be above political calculations,” the editorial reads.

Last Thursday, the 102-seat Senate voted in favor of opening the process of ratifying the peace deal in Congress with 54 votes in favor and zero against, just scraping past the 52-vote threshold. The 20 lawmakers of Uribe’s bloc plus 28 others abstained.  

This week, debate will take place Tuesday in the Senate and Wednesday in the lower house of Congress. Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo and government peace negotiators Humberto de la Calle and Sergio Jaramillo will attend the sessions.

The FARC and Colombian government unveiled the new peace deal one month and 10 days after the original deal was narrowly defeated by less than half a percentage point in an upset result in the Oct. 2 plebiscite. Victims of the conflict concentrated on the peripheries of the country overwhelmingly voted in support of the peace agreement, while cities in the interior such as Medellin — Uribe’s stronghold — rejected it.

The plebiscite on the original peace agreement was one possible method of approving the deal, but not the only choice.

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As Senator Juan Manuel Galan, a member of President Santos’ Liberal Party and son of assassinated former Presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan Sarmiento pointed out in a column Sunday in El Mundo, the new peace deal doesn’t ignore the will of the people expressed in the Oct. 2 vote, but “establishes a new mechanism of participation for the approval of the accords.”

He argued that the agreement at the negotiating table in Havana, Cuba, to put the question in the hands of Congress was significant because it shows that the FARC — a group he described as “historically at the margin of the law” — recognizes Congress as a “legitimate institution” in a positive move toward peace.

Since voters elect the national lawmakers, a referendum on the deal in Congress has the same weight as a plebiscite. The Oct. 2 vote was not legally binding, except on the president himself, and was aimed at lending democratic legitimacy to the deal. The surprise win for the “No” camp sent the country and its burgeoning peace into a tailspin, as the consequences of the result were not immediately clear.

Ratification of the deal and preparations for its implementation are expected to be wrapped up in Congress before the end of the year. The actual rollout of the agreements is likely to begin at the outset of next year.

The peace accords between the government and the FARC bring an end to over half a century of internal armed conflict that has claimed more than 260,000 lives and victimized some 8 million Colombians.

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