Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Inevitableness of Impunity

Pres. Santos and FARC leader Timochenko make a historic handshake in Havana, Cuba, with a little help from friend Raul Castro.
'Nobody will sign a peace deal if it means they're going to jail,' Pres. Santos told the nation a few months ago.

He was right, and now he's put his words into action with the signing of a landmark, and perhaps feckless, peace deal with the FARC in Havana.

After the signing, Santos promised the nation that 'the worst crimes' would not be left without punishment. However, by my admittedly superficial understanding of the agreement, it leaves huge openings for only symbolic punishments, such as education and restoration work, as well as near impunity for politically motivated crimes and for those wrongdoers who confess all of their crimes. Following the agreement, media analysts agreed that the great majority of FARC fighters will receive symbolic punishment or none at all.

Who will pay? The FARC destroyed the Iglesia de Bojaá in
2002, massacring as many as 120 civilians hiding inside. 
The agreement stipulates the vague 'restriction of liberty' under 'special conditions' for some guilty of even crimes against humanity. That might mean probation within the limits of the Department of Cundinamarca.

This agreement is probably necessary and perhaps the least-bad deal attainable, at least during Santos's presidency - which is what matters to him. However, it will undoubtedly leave the guerrillas' countless victims feeling raw and violated.

"The dea won't please everybody," Santos said this week.

The agreement's advocates will point out that it doesn't include impunity for war crimes such as rape, massacres forced disappearance and forced displacement. However, the FARC are a main reason why Colombia has one of the world's largest number of internally displaced, commonly estimated at between 4 and 6 million people. Inevitably, the great majority of FARC fighters are responsible for such crimes against humanity, particularly the FARC leaders who set policies and tolerated such atrocities.

But if these men confess their crimes, no matter how terrible, they will be subject only to the vague and malleable 'restrictions of liberty under special circumstances.'

"Impunity sends a very bad message," said Senator Paloma Susana Valencia, a supporter of ex-Pres. Uribe. She asked what effect this would have on other criminals.

"So that there's no repetion, there must be real sanctions," said ex-minister of defense Marta Lucia Ramirez, who also served under Uribe.

The agreement still must pass several hurdles, including being found constitutional, as well as approval in a national referendum. Uribe and his supporters will ferociously and unceasingly denounce the accord, but they don't control the government. However, further guerrilla atrocities or a steep drop in Pres. Santos' popularity could still sink the accord.

And nobody should believe that this agreement will end drug-fueled violence. As long as there's a market for drugs, somebody will provide them, whether they call themselves guerrillas or just plain narcos.

The guerrillas now intend to convert themselves into a political party. How will Colombians respond to the spectacle of guerrillas, fresh from committing war crimes, legislating in Congress? Might this agreement undermine the government's own legitimacy?

Nevertheless, this flawed agreement creates Colombia's best chance in more than a half century to end its conflict, if not to find justice.

The agreement does little for the peace of mind of Colombia's millions of victims. But it will mean fewer future victims, which is most fundamental.

"What's important is that we escape from a violence of more than a half century," said Senator Armando Benedetti, "and that these outrages are not repeated."

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

No comments: