Colombia. According to Countryaah.com, Colombia population in 2020 is estimated at 50,882,902. President Juan Manuel Santos was re-elected in the second round of the presidential election on June 15 after lying to rival Óscar Iván Zuluaga in opinion polls in the weeks before. Santos won in six of the most important cities and in 19 provinces, most along the coast to the north and west, while Zuluaga won in the country’s central provinces. Noteworthy was that Santos managed to win in the capital Bogotá and in some of the provinces where the country’s second largest guerrilla group ELN (National Liberation Army) has its strongest holdings.
Crucial to Santo’s advantage was that the country’s leftist parties decided to stand behind his candidacy to establish a peace agreement in the decades-long armed conflict between leftist guerrillas and the government. Santos also concentrated his election campaign on the fact that the peace negotiations with the country’s largest guerrilla group FARC (Colombia’s revolutionary armed forces) would be completed well in advance to present in Congress a draft referendum for the regional elections in October 2015.
Santos was sworn in for a second term on August 7 and promised in his installation speech to promote peace, equality and education. In the March 9 congressional elections, while President Santo’s government coalition lost some of its seats in the House of Representatives, it retained its majority. The big winner was Zuluaga’s and former President Álvaro Uribe’s Democratic Center Party (CD). But the hopes that the CD’s success would improve Zuluaga’s chances of winning the presidential election were thus not met.
In the Senate, the CD moved forward, but President Santo’s coalition could still count on the support of other parties on various issues, especially the peace talks with the FARC. The FARC’s “Foreign Minister” Ricardo Téllez (or Rodrigo Granda, whom he is known as within the FARC) even optimistically argued that the prospects for a peace agreement have never been better.
Negotiations with FARC in Havana in Cuba continued throughout the year but did not go completely painless. In February, it was revealed that Colombian intelligence service was spying on the negotiators, prompting President Santos to re-furnish within the intelligence agencies, and in November, negotiations were completely suspended when the FARC kidnapped a general. At the end of the month, however, General Rubén Dario Alzate was released with two kidnapped soldiers, and negotiations resumed on December 2, but with considerably greater pessimism than before.
The FARC’s armed attacks also continued throughout the round of negotiations after their one-sided ceasefire ended in January. At the same time, the second major guerrilla movement threatened ELN with “armed strike”, the well-known name for infrastructure sabotage.
President Santos and the Law of Victims
Juan Manuel Santos ‘ victory in the 2010 presidential election was interpreted by many as a continuation of President Uribe’s policy in a number of matters, not least in dealing with the civil war. Santos had been Minister of Defense in Uribe’s other government. He was chiefly responsible for a military action that crossed the border into Ecuador in 2008, leading to both the death of FARC leader Raul Reyes and diplomatic conflict with neighboring countries. The surprise came as a big surprise when, in August 2010, he introduced a bill that would later become known as the “Victims’ Law”. Act 1448 on Victims ‘Rights and Land Recovery was approved by Congress in July 2011. This law put victims’ right to justice, truth and redress on the political agenda in Colombia.
Victims’ rights were part of the “Justice and Peace” process, but work on redress was slow. Millions of people had been displaced from their homes, without the opportunity to return or recover land and property. The “Victims’ Law” took hold of this situation and established a nationwide redress program. A national register of victims was established in 2012. Over eight million people have been registered as victims of Colombia’s civil war. In the same year, a comprehensive land and property recovery program was established. The goal of the program is to support those who have to flee because of acts of violence, and give them back formal property rights in the area they fled.
Peace treaty and referendum for peace
The peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC EP was signed in Cartagena on September 26, 2016. It is a comprehensive and detailed 297-page document that includes, among other things, draft legislation, mandate for the Truth Commission, schedules for demobilization protocols and more.
The Santos government considered popular support as the best support for the peace agreement and its implementation, and called for a referendum on October 2, 2016. The choice was between “yes” or “no” to the peace agreement, and the debate that arose showed great polarization in society on a number of issues.; including demobilization conditions, conditional punishment for the demobilized, agricultural development and the gender perspective. The Yes side was led by the government and a number of civil society organizations. The no-side was led by former President Uribe, who was very critical of the negotiations with the FARC guerrilla. With a turnout of 37 percent of voters, the No side won 50.2 percent over the Yes side’s 49.7 percent of the vote. The result of the referendum was considered a major setback to the peace process.
However, the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Juan Manuel Santos on October 7, 2016 for his efforts in the peace process showed international support for the peace agreement. In light of the referendum, the peace agreement was revised on several points following input from a number of community actors. The final agreement was signed and approved by Congress in November 2016.