Colombia's Congress has ratified a revised version of the peace accord with the FARC, a positive sign of political will to move the process forward despite lingering uncertainties concerning the time frame for implementation.
The amended version of the agreement was approved on November 30, reported Radio Santa Fe. After the first version of the accord was rejected in a public referendum on October 2, the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC) modified the document and signed an amended version on November 24.
Speaking during a police ceremony on the day of the congressional vote, President Juan Manuel Santos stated, "Tomorrow is D-Day. In five days, FARC members will start moving towards the transitory concentration zones."
The president's reference to "D-Day" alluded to the date that marks the beginning of the FARC's demobilization and disarmament process.
Santos added that "in a month, all FARC members should be in the concentration zones and in six months, the conflict with the FARC will be over."
However, FARC leader Felix Antonio Muñoz, alias "Pastor Alape," expressed a different opinion about the date of the D-Day on Caracol Radio. Under his interpretation, the implementation process will only begin once Congress approves the provision of the peace accord granting amnesty for certain crimes related to the long-running conflict.
As InSight Crime has previously explained, the time frame of the process is key to achieving peace and addressing the organized crime issues related to the FARC's demobilization. Thus, the diverging opinions on the date of D-Day -- which may now hinge on when the peace accord's all-important amnesty law is passed -- are worrying. But the speed with which the new deal was finalized and ratified, as well as the FARC leadership's ongoing support for the process, are a reminder that there still is significant political will to reach a viable peace in the country.
The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) points out that there are several possible time frames for when D-Day might occur.
Under the first scenario, the amnesty law could be submitted to Congress as early as next week, where it could be debated under a so-called "fast track" process that expedites the way in which elements of the peace accord are passed. If this happens, D-Day could be just a few days away. However, the fast-track mechanism has to be approved by the Constitutional Court. And while the court is meant to vote on the issue on December 5, both the date of the final decision and the outcome over the legality of the process are uncertain.
As WOLA notes, the "Constitutional Court may decide that the fast track option is only valid after the accord's approval by plebiscite," which would mean the government would need to hold another vote to use the mechanism. Given the time it would likely take to organize the plebiscite, in this situation, D-Day would likely be at least two or three months away.
But it isn't certain that the accord would pass a second plebiscite. Therefore, the Santos administration may opt to abandon the fast track option and submit the amnesty law to Congress through normal means. In this scenario, the opposition could potentially submit a large number of amendments to the deal, each of which would have to be debated, thus significantly delaying the final implementation. WOLA estimates that D-Day could be six months to a year away if this happens.
Nevertheless, despite uncertainty surrounding the time frame, the ratification of the peace deal by Congress is a positive sign that the process is moving forward after being in a state of limbo since the October plebiscite's "no" vote.
Shortly after this article was published, the Colombian government released a statement saying that the FARC had agreed to consider December 1 as D Day. This statement resolves that uncertainty, though questions still remain about whether the amnesty proposal will recieve fast-track treatment in Congress. The article above appears as it was originally published.