President Juan Manuel Santos will visit Washington next week in hopes of gaining support for his government’s controversial peace agreement with the ex-FARC. He already knows that some of Colombia’s strongest supporters in the United States question the effectiveness of a peace plan that the FARC already is violating. Ultimately, salvaging the peace plan and saving Colombia are not mutually exclusive objectives. But, both goals can only be achieved if Colombians maintain a rational skepticism about the FARC and its intentions.
There is no denying that the relative “peace” in Colombia today is a tangible, significant benefit of the agreement. However, questions about the FARC’s compliance, missed deadlines in the implementation phase, and dramatic increases in coca production contribute to doubts within Colombia and among U.S. stakeholders.
Perhaps no one will be satisfied that the accord fails to hold FARC commanders accountable justly for their horrific war crimes. Nevertheless, the agreement advances many positive and necessary goals for Colombia, and many of the shortcomings of the agreement can be mitigated as it is implemented. The objectives of expanding economic growth and the government’s presence in post-conflict zones will address what has been a core failure of the Colombian state. In signing this agreement, Colombia starts down a path that will eventually enable it to reduce and redirect the resources that it now dedicates to battling guerrillas and criminal groups; however, that day will only arrive if the government is realistic about the stubborn security challenges it still faces today.
In Colombia and the United States, many observers worry that the FARC has not renounced its intention to subvert and transform Colombian society, identified all of its illicit funds, or surrendered its weapons. Concerns about the FARC’s intentions are based on a fair reading of its Marxist Leninist ideology and fueled by their current attitudes and actions. The FARC has failed to adhere to the accord’s timeline, and there are serious concerns regarding the release of child soldiers, weapons, and the compliance of guerrillas. Healthy skepticism about the peace process is not assuaged by the government’s strategy of downplaying problems with implementation and FARC compliance.
There is an understandable tendency of some in the Santos camp to emphasize the positive and minimize challenges. After all, this complicated accord is in a delicate phase, and Santos’ opponents assail the plan with exaggerated, politically motivated criticism. However, by neglecting shortcomings, the government reinforces the narrative that it is not sufficiently committed to holding the FARC accountable or fulfilling its promises to long-neglected Colombian communities. The unhelpful result is growing skepticism within Colombia and among U.S. policy makers contemplating the wisdom of continued aid.
To reverse this trend and ensure the long-term success of the agreement, Colombian authorities must adhere to the deadlines in the accord hold the FARC accountable for its violations. The government also should demonstrate to its U.S. partner that it is committed to reducing coca production urgently, if necessary, by reinstating aerial fumigation. The United States can and should reciprocate by providing political backing, material assistance, intelligence support, and help in finding, seizing, and repatriating hidden FARC financial assets.
It is a persuasive argument that the United States should continue to support Colombia to consolidate the gains made by a decade-long partnership. However, it is just as important that the United States counsel Colombian policy makers not to squander those gains by trusting the FARC more than their own common sense.
The author was U.S. Ambassador to the OAS and Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs from 2001-05. He is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and his firm Visión Américas LLC represents U.S. and foreign clients.