Will we see the FARC in Congress?


Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos plans to allow the FARC to fight for seats in congress.

For many in Colombia the mere thought of a Timochenko in a position of power is enough to make the blood boil. How can a mass murderer enter parliament, they say? How can the families of the victims killed by the 45 years of terror be expected to react to the sight of this criminal pretending to represent the electorate?

They have a point, but however difficult it is to live with, we are going to have to get used to the idea of former combatants fighting for our vote.

President Santos confirmed as much in an interview with CNN while in the US last week.

In the UK they have grown accustomed to the site of former terrorists now in power, Following the Good Friday Peace Agreement of 1998, the IRA promised to disarm and began the process of choosing politics over violence.

But in Northern Ireland these former guerrillas are not just any ordinary senators or parliamentarians – they have been elected to govern, and they hold some of the top jobs.

In Colombia it is virtually impossible to foresee a Timochenko becoming president, or vice president. The thought of his even occupying a ministerial role appears more science fiction than potential reality.

But while we look to the example set in Northern Ireland we should remind ourselves that demobilised guerrillas have been reintegrated into society and have played a role in the nation´s political life even here in Colombia.

Two former M-19 guerrillas are now emblematic leaders of the left, perhaps their most electorally succesful in recent years. Gustavo Petro is of course Mayor of Bogotá and Antonio Navarro Wolff is a former Governor of the department of Nariño.

So, starting from the basis that, should the peace process be successful, political actors (either ex-guerrillas themselves or those sympathetic to the group´s professed ideology), the question is when to expect them to take to the national stage, and in what form.

Evidently we will not know for certain until after the peace talks have concluded, but there has already been speculation that candidates will be put forward for the congressional elections in 2014.

It is difficult to see how the talks could be concluded and the necessary amendments made to the constitution in time for such an eventuality. Nevertheless, it is possible that the FARC could lend their support to candidates that are sympathetic to their cause but were not active in combat.

Piedad Córdoba´s Marcha Patriótica is a movement that shares at least part of the prospectus put forward by the rebels.

The Marcha Patriótica is currently on a tour of Europe, forming alliances with far left politicians there – alliances that could well be used to finance electoral battles and or to provide campaign assistance.

Córdoba denies the link between the FARC and her political ´party´, but for Defence Minister, Pinzón the ties are irrefutable. Córdoba, it should be remembered, has been banned from occupying a congressional post because of her closeness to the guerrillas.

Amid these rumours that suggest we may see, as soon as the end of next year, the beginning of an official FARC or post-FARC political campaign, news emerged today via the new Interior Minister, Fernando Carillo, that the government is planning a legislative reform of the electoral code – a reform that many have suggested has been designed to permit just this.

Carillo is expect shortly to present the bill to congress, but denies that it has been cooked up to allow rebel participation at the ballot box. Carillo took to the airwaves this morning to argue that the reform is necessary to iron out the wrinkles that have crept into the system over the last 26 years.

Participation is explained is something that cannot be decided by congress, but requires a change to the constitution, which in turn demands presidential approval.

However, Carillo´s interview left the listener less than convinced.

Although it is true that the president must authorise the change, it does not mean that congress cannot examine the issue and propose it – indeed pass the law and offer Santos the opportunity to rubber stamp.

Equally, although the government has not planned to include participation in the legislation as presented to parliament, we all know that senators and representatives have the ability to amend, to add or to remove clauses as the bill passes through both houses. That is the nature of the presidential and bicameral system.

In other words, it is perfectly possible that discussion of the FARC´s involvement in Colombian politics could be heard in parliament within weeks – concurrent with the peace talks.

Is this a worry? Perhaps so if you belong to the part of society appalled by the idea of former terrorists in positions of political power.

For those who analyse other peace processes, however, it appears that such steps are necessary and unavoidable.

The final judgement will always lie with the people. We are not compelled to vote for those who march to the FARC´s colours. And yes, I realise that Colombia´s democracy is far from perfect and that the electoral system is subject to distortion, but that is another issue the country faces,

At the end of August the Attorney General, Eduardo Montealegre said he would ´rather see (the FARC) in congress than causing violence´. He may well get his wish.

Source: Colombia-Politics


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