Duque’s house of cards is shaking

Sergio Guzmán & Katherin Galindo (*)

A perfect storm threatens Colombia’s delicate social balance. The government’s halfhearted commitment to implementing the peace accord, a deteriorating security situation in rural areas, a faltering economy, and ongoing frustrations with social inequality are reaching a boiling point. President Duque’s response to the police killing of Javier Ordóñez is likely to trigger a significant wave of social unrest. We’re just seeing the beginning.

Colombia’s social fabric has always involved walking a tightrope between hope and hopelessness, between trusting government institutions and discrediting them, between peace and war. Even singular events can precariously tilt this balance.

During the past two years of Iván Duque’s presidency, there have been a series of unresolved issues, all now coming to a head in a moment of tumult and unrest. The government has fumbled in implementing the peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and has been unable to establish territorial control in rural areas. At the same time, unemployment has skyrocketed to historic levels in urban centers, due in part to COVID-19.

As Colombia approaches October 2, the fourth anniversary of the failed peace referendum, the country is no closer to fulfilling the promise of addressing rural poverty, providing justice to the conflict’s main actors, disarming insurgents, and reforming the war on drugs. During his campaign, President Duque pledged to modify parts of the peace deal. However, the administration has failed to make significant changes, which must also go through Congress.

Tensions have focused on the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), a transitional justice tribunal set up by the peace agreement. The government’s attempts to reform the JEP, which it considers illegitimate, have so far been unsuccessful. At the same time, former FARC commanders have denied their involvement in crimes against humanity, such as rape and recruitment of child soldiers. The accused have asserted that these events were precipitated by soldiers, rather than war strategies dictated by commanding officers.

For his part, President Duque touted the “peace with legality” initiative as a way to implement parts of the agreement that he supported. The initiative includes programs that invest in territories most affected by war through Development Programs with a Territorial Focus (PDET), as well as policies to eradicate coca production through the Comprehensive National Program for the Substitution of Illicit Crops (PNIS). Still, coca yields have continued to increase. Last year’s crop was measured at 212,000 hectares. The government asserts that resuming aerial fumigation is the best solution to combat the continued rise, but the tactic is unpopular among coca farmers who often rely on the illicit crop as their only source of income. These rural communities already lack road access, have difficulty accessing credit, and are not receiving aid or purchase guarantees for their lost income.

The killing of social leaders and abundance of criminal groups vying for control of coca producing areas also threatens the security of rural areas. Dissidents and other criminal armed groups have taken control over these territories, exacerbating the already precarious stability of these regions. In 2020, social leaders have been murdered at a staggering rate of one per day. The government’s inability to address the violence has allowed criminal groups to consolidate power and subdue the local populations.

The peace agreement, and the subsequent disarmament of the FARC, opened a window of opportunity for the state to establish its presence in previously unreachable territories, but progress has been stymied by economic hardships and the administration’s halfhearted commitment to the process. Rural residents are still awaiting promises made by the government decades ago, which seem unlikely to materialize before the end of President Duque’s term.

(*) Sergio Guzmán is the Director of Colombia Risk Analysis. Katherin Galindo is a Research Analyst at Colombia Risk Analysis. See the complete article published by Global Americans www.theglobalamericans.org