Gearóid Ó Loingsigh 12 April 2023 (first published in Socialist Democracy)
(Reading time: 5 mins.)
The president of Colombia, Gustavo Petro, announced in a National Peace, Reconciliation and Harmony Council (CNPRC) meeting that the state didn’t have sufficient funds to fulfil the Havana Accord signed with the FARC.(1)
The situation seems to be so serious that according to the President it will take 125 years to fulfil it. There are some points in which he is right, but only if we ignore the most obvious things: the nature of the Accord itself.
He alludes to this and asks some rhetorical questions, ones which he should really ask as proper questions, not as some gesture in his oratory, but rather as questions to the FARC, Santos and all those who promoted the Accord nationally and internationally.
Petro asks “was that Accord signed with the aim of applying it, or with the aim of disarming the FARC and later, Colombian style reworking everything?(2)
Well of course it was sonny boy. That much was clear. At the time you were told so and those of us who criticised the Accord were accused of wanting more war, ignoring that many of us had never participated in or supported the war. It was a debate they didn’t want to have.
During the not very open process negotiated behind closed doors, it was said, in the midst of the euphoria of the signing and the parties in public squares with huge screens in the streets so one would miss it, that criticisms were not welcome.
They were, as an old friend used to say, as welcome as a fart in a space suit.
Petro continued and stated something he certainly believes is very important.
I want to implement the Peace Accord, but it costs 30.5 billion Euros. If the Santos government signed this in the name of the state and society is represented in this, then, tell me where am I to get this 30.5 billion?(3)
There is an easy answer to that question. The money can be got from the same place that they, and in that I include Petro, thought it was when they signed the Accord in 2016. Don’t ask where they are going to get the money, but rather tell us where you expected to get it in 2016.
Senators such as Iván Cepeda who played an important role in the process can point to where. The cost of the Accord was obvious from day one, this problem is not new and it is just not credible thatPetro and his Congress benches have just realized how much money was needed.
But the truth is Petro, Cepeda wanted to bring the FARC to an end and rework things later. All of them without exceptions. Of if this is not the case, maybe they can tell us where they thought they would get the money.
The former FARC commander, Timochenko said that war against the FARC (he excludes all of the other guerrilla groups that have existed) cost 83.7 billion Euros and the 30.5 of Petro is a minimal cost for the chance of a country in peace.
He is partially right, except that the problem is not about money or amounts, but rather the Accord itself and their perspective that what is needed is money and not political changes. The Havana Accord reads like shopping list, like a list of demands and a not very precise list at that.
A Land Bank would be set up with three million hectares, but it doesn’t say where and left it to the whim of whichever government.
So Petro announced that he would fulfil that part by buying land off cattle ranchers. The same ranchers whose spokesperson José Felix Lafaurie accepted that Fedegan’s affiliates, rice growers and various multinationals financed the right-wing paramilitaries.(4)
Nothing happened to him, nor to the 10,000 cattle ranchers who had signed an open letter where they acknowledged their crime.(5) At the time it was argued that the Prosecutor was not in a position to process that many people.
It wasn’t true, the crime had been publicly vindicated and they also said that there was nowhere to put 10,000 criminals. This wasn’t true either.
According to the prison service’s own figures and the calculations of the Corporación Excelencia en Justicia, in 2006 the Colombian prison system had a capacity for 52,414 prisoners with 60,021 actually held in them.
In 2011, that figure had risen to a capacity of 75,260 with 100,451 people in them i.e. they managed to put 40,000 poor prisoners in overcrowded conditions, but they had no room for 10,000 paramilitaries and their lackies.
In 2006 there were 19,353 prisoners on remand.(6) A little bit of creativity with the judicial abuse of remand and they could have put the paramilitary funders in jail without any problems.
The prison population eventually reached the figure of 125,000 prisoners in overcrowded conditions whilst others rambled around their lands despite having acknowledged their crime.
What was missing was the will. But instead of spending money buying land from paramilitaries and their backers, Petro could confiscate the land of those 10,000, amongst others. It wouldn’t cost that much.
There are other measures he could take with a view to peace, justice and truth. Petro could ask for the extradition of the Board of Chiquita who paid a 25 million dollar fine in the US having accepted their responsibility in the crime of financing paramilitary groups.
It wouldn’t cost more than the price of posting the request. There are other measures that have some bureaucratic costs, like forcing public bodies to comply with land restitution findings, something which does not happen. It also only requires the will to do so.
Petro’s focus is the same one as the FARC and the Santos’ government and other peaceniks, who are now Congress reps: it is a question of money. But this is not the case. It is a question of returning stolen land, reviving organisations, guaranteeing the right to exercise one’s rights.
It is also the disbandment of the specialised riot squad, ESMAD. It is more expensive to change its name and give it a makeover, as Petro proposes, than abolishing it.
He wanted to buy fighter jets at a cost of 3,150 million dollars. Due to public reaction, he backtracked but he did buy the Barak MX air defence system from Israel at a cost of 131.2 million dollars.(7) He also bought 18 Howitzers from Israel at a cost of 101.7 million dollars.(8)
Such systems are for conventional wars between countries, they are of no use against insurgents, i.e. they are toys for the military. Maybe they will be used in the Coup that Petro’s followers announce all the time. It is what happened in Chile.
So, is there any money or not? And what will be done with the things that don’t cost much? Why don’t they reduce the extravagant salaries of the magistrates in the Special Jurisdiction for Peace who to date have produced little?
But then, at least he partly accepts what was always the case, that the peace process and the Havana Accord were a mockery of the victims of the Colombian conflict. Their only purpose was to remove the FARC from the field, particularly in areas with oil and other natural resources.
No one sought to solve any deep-seated problems in the country and here we are with the tale that there is a lack of money, when really what was lacking throughout the entire process were clear political positions.
(1) El Espectador (12/04/2023) Petro asegura que no hay recursos para cumplir el Acuerdo de Paz ni para víctimas https://www.elespectador.com/colombia-20/paz-y-memoria/petro-afirma-que-no-hay-dinero-para-acuerdo-de-paz-ni-para-indemnizar-a-victimas-del-conflicto/
(3) Ibíd., Euro figures were calculated at 4906 pesos to the Euro and the original figure of 150 billion in the article was taken using the Spanish definition of billion, which is a million, million.
(4) El Cambio No 704 diciembre 2006/enero 2007 Diez Preguntas (Entrevista con José Félix Lafaurie p. 48)
(5) El Espectador (17/12/2006) La hora de los ganaderos, p. 2A
(6) CEJ (2018) Evolución de la población reclusa en Colombia https://cej.org.co/sala-de-prensa/justiciometro/evolucion-de-la-poblacion-reclusa-en-colombia/
(7) Defence News (05/01/2023) Colombia buys Israeli-made Barak MX air defense system. José Higuera. https://www.defensenews.com/land/2023/01/05/colombia-buys-israeli-made-barak-mx-air-defense-system/
(8) Defence News. (06/01/2023) Colombia picks Elbit’s Atmos howitzer over Nexter’s Caeser. José Higuera https://www.defensenews.com/land/2023/01/06/colombia-picks-elbits-atmos-howitzer-over-nexters-caesar/