Colombia’s new President, Ivan Duque, announced modifications to the peace accords signed with the now demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and a review of the ongoing peace process with the National Liberation Army (ELN) during his inaugural address Tuesday.
Duque, the protege of former President Alvaro Uribe’s and member of the Democratic Center party, was sworn in Tuesday as thousands protested in nearby Simon Bolivar Plaza to defend the peace process and demand action against the systematic murder of social leaders nationwide.
The new head of state addressed these two issues. Instead of referring to the agreements as peace accords, Duque talked about an “accord for legality.”
“For the respect, we have for Colombia and the citizens’ mandate we will deploy corrective measures to guarantee truth, proportional justice, reparations, and non-repetition for the victims,” Duque said in his speech.
However, his party has already introduced changes to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP for its Spanish acronym) that go in the opposite direction to the claim he made by delaying military hearing and demanding the creation of a special tribunal for state security agents who participated in crimes against humanity, a fact that is no longer contested.
On the round of talks between the Colombian government and the ELN, Duque said he would “responsibly” review the development of the talks, which are taking place in Havana, Cuba.
ELN chief negotiator Pablo Beltran reiterated the group’s willingness to continue with the peace process. “We want the new government to know of our complete willingness to move forward with the negotiations,” Beltran said.
However, Duque warned that “a credible process must be based on a total cease of criminal actions.” The ELN and the Colombian government have not yet reached a new ceasefire since last year's one, and this seems more unlikely if Duque’s government insists on a unilateral ceasefire that exposes ELN members to attacks by the Colombian army.
“We want to move forward but the Colombian people will not tolerate the legitimization of violence as a means to pressure the state,” Duque said.
He also announced another obstacle to a potential peace deal with the ELN: a constitutional lock that would make kidnappings and drug trafficking crimes not subject to amnesties. That effectively means that the ELN would have to accept prison terms for its members and leadership if they demobilize.
Duque also spoke about targeted social leaders. “We receive a country in turmoil. Over 300 social leaders have been murdered in the last two years,” Duque highlighted while placing blame on the outgoing government of Juan Manuel Santos.
Despite expressing alarm over these killings, Duque made no announcements on how his government will tackle the increasing threat of right-wing paramilitary groups who are largely behind the recent massacres in the country.
Activists and politicians who oppose Duque believe the precarious situation faced by social leaders will only worsen. Their fears are based on the recent announcement that Duque’s interior minister will be Nancy Patricia Gutierrez, who was investigated by Colombia’s Supreme Court for links to paramilitary groups in 2008.
Duque’s reforms will have the support of Congress, Ernesto Macias, president of the Colombian Congress, said during his speech. “You have the commitment of the Congress of the Republic to process the great reforms that you will present because the country needs them, waits for them and are demanding them,” Macias said.