In a surprising decision that could be a major impediment to the ongoing process to end the 52-year-long Colombian internal conflict, the country's Constitutional Court struck down the "fast track" process for approving the deal in Congress, declaring parts of the measure unconstitutional.
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From now on, the laws and reforms that implement the peace accords and protections for demobilized FARC members will have to be voted on article by article, rather than in blocks, significantly slowing the process and opening up more opportunities for interference and change in the agreements.
The leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, Rodrigo Londoño, also known as Timoleon Jimenez or Timochenko, announced on his Twitter account that in response to the sudden decision to end the fast track process, FARC members in “all the regions and points of transition and normalization enter into permanent assembly."
Another FARC leader, Jesus Santrich, clarified that permanent assembly is “a way of saying that all of the soldiers enter into a state of alert,” Colombia's Semana magazine reported.
In a live broadcast, Ivan Marquez, lead negotiator for the FARC in peace talks with the government, questioned the Constitutional Court's authority, urging President Santos to do whatever he can to keep the implementation of the peace accord on track, "We need fewer laws and more action," adding that the FARC would continue to hold up its end of the accord.
Marquez called on the Colombian people to mobilize in support of the peace accord, which he said took six long years to reach and should not be derailed by judicial actions.
The fast track process that just came to a sudden halt was approved by the court last December in order to allow Congress to carry out a special legislative procedure that would accelerate the implementation of the historic peace deal to end the war between the government and the FARC guerilla army. It sped up the approval process for key bills needed to implement the deal, most notably an amnesty bill that gave guarantees of safety to FARC members after they demobilize.
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With FARC demobilization still underway with United Nations supervision, the decision casts doubt over the future of the process.
According to Semana, Senator Roy Barreras, one of the early proponents of the fast track process, expressed that he was “very worried” by the decision of the court, adding that it is a “hit to the heart of the peace process.”
"Just as we should be very worried from now on, the judges must also know that they made the the peace process much more difficult," Barreras continued.
The Colombian conflict erupted in 1964 when the FARC and National Liberation Army, known as the ELN, took up arms for rural land rights. The conflict drew in various rebel and paramilitary forces and drug gangs as well as state forces, leaving at least 260,000 people dead and displacing more than 7 million, according to authorities.
Ending the 52-year long conflict between the government and FARC has been a long and difficult process. In recent months, as many regions formerly controlled by FARC demobilize, power vacuums have opened up giving space to right-wing paramilitaries to gain footholds in areas with lucrative illegal economies. In some areas, violence has actually increased in the midst of demobilization.