In his final speech before Congress, outgoing Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos welcomed ten legislators of the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force (FARC), the party that emerged from the demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and called for the country to continue on the path set out by the 2016 peace agreement.
“Legislators of the FARC party: now that you have given up arms, that you have accepted to contribute to the truth and submit yourselves to transitional justice, now that you have sworn to respect our Constitution and the norms of our Republic… Welcome to this temple of democracy,” Santos said.
Of the ten FARC legislators, only eight were sworn in.
Jesus Santrich, who is facing an extradition request by the United States after being accused of participating in a drug trafficking network after the peace accords were signed, is detained and was unable to appear in Congress. The FARC has affirmed the whole case is a setup and an attempt to sabotage peace.
Ivan Marquez, chief negotiator of the peace accords, also did not take his seat in the Senate as a form of protest against the violation of the peace accords, arguing there are no judicial guarantees for the demobilized guerrillas as demonstrated in the Santrich case.
Recent modifications to the contents of the peace accords as revealed by the last-minute changes imposed by president-elect Ivan Duque’s Democratic Center on the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), and the increasing murder of social and community leaders by paramilitary groups and state security forces have plunged the peace process in a deep crisis. Since the peace accords were signed in Havana over 400 social and community leaders have been killed.
Despite these facts, Santos asked the new Congress to “tend to peace so it grows strong… because Colombia deserves to live in peace.”
There is only a 49-member bloc of center-left and progressive legislator of Decent Colombia list, the Democratic Pole, the Green Alliance, and FARC, who have committed to protect and defend the peace agreements. They were unable to secure important leadership positions within the legislature.
The Democratic Center, the ruling party in Colombia, will head the Senate after Ernesto Macias was elected over Green Alliance candidate Antanas Mockus with 81 votes. According to local media Macias is a close ally of former president and paramilitary-linked politician Alvaro Uribe.
A member of the Liberal Party will preside over Colombia's House of Representatives after the majority of representatives vote to elect Alejandro Chacon.
The Democratic Center has vowed to promote Duque’s proposed changes to the peace agreement, several left-wing legislators headed by former presidential and vice presidential candidates Gustavo Petro and Angela Maria Robledo were also sworn and have pledged to uphold the agreement and changes proposed by the Duque government.
Petro and Robledo arrived at the senate and house after finishing second in Colombia’s presidential race. One of the stated priorities of the “bloc for peace and life” is to stem the alarming rate at which social leaders are being killed in the South American country.
Robledo arrived at Congress protesting this trend. “Today my swearing-in in the Congress of the Republic is also a cry of protest in defense of life. No more social leaders murdered!
According to Ivan Cepeda, senator of the Democratic Pole and leader of the bloc for peace, said there are legislators from other parties who are also part of the coalition, like John Jairo Cardenas, member of the house for the Unity Party, also known as La U.
On Friday, the first day of the Colombia’s new Congress the peace coalition presented 14 bills and legal reforms to combat paramilitarism, improve working rights, secure access to water, and create 16 transitory districts for peace for the house of representatives which will allow for the victims of Colombia’s armed conflict to exercise congressional representation, among others.
This bloc’s legislators also sent a message to the newly appointed minister of defense Guillermo Botero, who proposed to regulate social protest. “Social mobilization will be incentivized in this government,” Democratic Pole senator Alexander Lopez said, reiterating the call to demonstrate on August 7, Duque is scheduled to be sworn in, in a show of support for the peace process.
Finally, the bloc also spurred laughter and controversy after Antanas Mockus, senator for the Green Alliance, and legislator, who captured the second highest number of votes after Alvaro Uribe, dropped his pants and underwear during the inaugural session of Congress.
The act was performed during the speech of the outgoing president of the Senate Efrain Cepeda. According to Mockus, it was a “pedagogical act,” and his colleague, senator Angelica Lozano, explained Mockus had requested silence several times during Cepeda’s intervention to no avail.
Mockus performed the same act 25 years ago, when he was principal of the National University, to cause the same effect: silence and attention.