Commissioner Cardoso in Globe and Mail on “Colombia’s long, difficult path to peace”

Fernando Henrique Cardoso was president of Brazil from 1995 to 2003. He is also a founding member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy.

For the first time in more than half a century, a child was born in a peaceful Colombia. She was delivered on Sept. 27, minutes after historic peace negotiations came to a close. This is a stunning achievement. Every Colombian man, woman and child has been affected by the country’s 52-year-old war. The path to securing the agreement was fraught. The road to keeping peace will be even more challenging.

The peace agreement is not yet a done deal. Colombians need to first ratify the agreement in a plebiscite on Oct. 2. And while the deal suffers from some flaws – there is no such thing as a perfect peace agreement – it is far and away the best settlement ever negotiated with the country’s largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

If Colombians say Si, it will put an end to Latin American’s last and longest-running war.

A return to armed conflict would be disastrous for all Colombians. By contrast, the peace agreement will deliver widespread agrarian reform and could improve conditions for all citizens, especially the rural poor.

Not only does the deal offer a novel approach to integrating former FARC members into the democratic process, but it also features a smarter way of addressing illegal drugs – including restoring government authority in areas previously ceded to FARC, and effective crop-substitution programs for farmers.

Colombians are understandably wary of making too many concessions to FARC. The scars of war run deep. More than 220,000 soldiers, guerrillas and civilians have been killed in the fighting and nearly seven million expelled from their homes over the past half-century. There are also worries about whether the guerrillas will surrender all their weapons, with or without United Nations supervision. The Colombian government and society have good reason to be cautious; they have been down this road before. Negotiations in the late 1990s collapsed, setting back the prospect of peace by almost 20 years.

The trickiest issue to deal with in the postwar period is how to prosecute war crimes. Under the terms of the pact, people who confess to the most egregious atrocities – including assassinations and kidnappings – could face sentences of only five to eight years. Some may end up doing community service.

Meanwhile, erstwhile fighters involved in less-serious crimes, such as drug trafficking, could be given amnesty. Some people feel that these measures are far too lenient.

Whether in Colombia or any country negotiating peace, the process of adjudicating war crimes is often the most contentious part of the process. It is often presented as a trade-off between peace or justice. But this is a false dichotomy: Colombia can achieve both. If the country’s authorities execute the peace agreement with sensitivity and fidelity, they should be able to reconcile the rights and needs of victims with the legal requirements of holding war criminals to account. No one ever said achieving peace in Colombia would be easy.

The courage and conviction of Colombia’s leadership is without parallel in recent history. The negotiations in Havana that started in 2012 were fraught and exhausting. Yet the negotiating teams steered the process forward. Throughout negotiations, they were challenged by a chorus of hostile voices and deepening polarization across the country. Today, the country is split down the middle about ratifying the accords.

But it is the Colombian people, including victims and survivors, who must be commended. When the negotiations ended last month, President Juan Manuel Santos announced that “today is the beginning of the end of suffering, pain and tragedy of war.”

It is those who have suffered most who are giving the next generation an opportunity that most citizens believed would never materialize – a chance to live in peace.

Click here to read the original article in The Globe and Mail, 30 September