QuickTake Q&A: Colombia Eyes Peace for First Time Since 1960s

  • Government wants to stop drug cartels taking ex-rebel areas
  • Finance Ministry predicts very large ‘peace dividend’

Colombia’s peace deal with Marxist guerrillas ends a conflict that claimed more than 200,000 lives over half a century. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, will deploy its fighters to temporary zones where they will hand over their weapons to a UN mission. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has pledged that voters will have the final say on whether to accept the deal. There are questions over whether the state can consolidate control over remote regions of the country before other armed groups move in. 

1. Is Colombia now at peace?

Not completely. A far smaller Marxist guerrilla group known as the ELN hasn’t yet started formal talks with the government, although it says it plans to. If the negotiations take as long as the FARC talks -four years- the ELN may move into former FARC areas, to take control of cocaine production and illegal mining rents. FARC fighters disillusioned with the peace process could decide to join the ELN.

2. Will Colombian voters back the peace deal?

An Invamer poll conducted this month found that 67.5 percent of voters will back the agreement.

3. Will there be a peace dividend?

Estimates on the boost to economic growth range from 0.3 percentage point per year from Francisco Rodriguez of Torino Capital to the Finance Minister’s prediction of a full percentage point, putting Colombia on a path to the prosperity levels of Portugal and the Czech Republic. Oil companies such as state-controlled Ecopetrol, which suffered frequent bomb attacks on their pipelines will benefit. Agriculture stands to gain the most as areas of the country, such as the grassland east of the Andes, can be opened up to more mechanized production.

4. How much will this cost?

Unclear. The peace agreement includes agrarian reform, eradication of illegal drug crops and programs to integrate former fighters into civilian life. Government finances have already been hit by the plunge in oil prices, so it will have to raise taxes later this year to avoid breaching its self-imposed deficit limits. To avoid security vacuums in former FARC areas, the government says there will be no immediate reduction in Colombia’s armed forces, which are among the biggest in the region.

5. Will guerrilla leaders go to jail?

The agreement contemplates an amnesty for political offenses, so most FARC members won’t go to jail. But for guerrillas -- as well as army and police forces -- there’s no impunity for serious crimes such as massacres, torture, rape, kidnapping and forced displacement. People confessing to such crimes will face restrictions on their liberty, while people refusing to take responsibility and found guilty face lengthy jail terms.

6. Will the cocaine trade come under new management?

Probably. Colombia produces more of the drug than Bolivia and Peru combined, and much of the production is concentrated in the remote regions controlled by the FARC. The guerrillas “taxed” the producers, set prices, and in some regions bought the drug from the farmers. If the government can’t eradicate coca, the raw material for making cocaine, drug cartels and the ELN will fight over the spoils.

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