Colombia's road to peace is riddled with potholes, and today the country hit a big one. On May 17, Colombia's Constitutional Court, accepting a legal challenge introduced by Ivan Duque of the right wing Democratic Center party, amended two aspects of the law allowing Congress to approve the legislation underpinning the government's peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). After voters struck down the original FARC peace deal in a national referendum in October 2016, the government decided to approve the laws to implement the agreement through Congress using fast track powers granted by the Constitutional Court. These powers cut down the time needed to approve the laws in Congress, something the government, which only has about a year left to finalize the deal before it has to hand over power to a successor government, desperately wanted. Now that they have been altered, implementing meaningful peace could become much more difficult.
Two aspects of the law were deemed unconstitutional and therefore amended. One enabled changes to parts of the deal brought before congressional committee, allowing plenary votes to be approved or denied in a single vote. The other prohibited congressional changes to laws under discussion, not without the approval of the government. With the court's decision, all changes to legislation proposed in legislative committee votes or plenary votes will have to be voted on individually. Any congressman now can also request changes, which in turn will have to be studied by Congress.
This development is a threat to the peace deal because of its timing. The second round of voting in the presidential election will occur in June 2018. The government will give up power to its successor in August 2018. This leaves slightly over a year to approve the deal. But politicians opposing to the deal, such as those from the Democratic Center, can use the court's changes to delay final approval, taking issue with any aspects of the peace agreement they disagree with, such as legislation underpinning land reform, or the transitional justice courts that would grant FARC members amnesty.
There's now a very real prospect that the opposition will deliberately attempt to present as many changes as possible to try to stall the deal's final approval, at least until the next administration. If they threaten to or actually delay implementation, the government would have to negotiate with the Democratic Center and other politicians opposed to the deal, potentially compromising on it. Otherwise, the deal would face a slow process of attrition as challenges to it pile up in Congress. Ultimately, aspects of the final agreement could end up being changed. And then the FARC would have to decide whether it wants to accept such a modified deal. The FARC is unlikely to give up on the peace agreement easily: It's spent five years negotiating it. But the deal's opponents have now been handed a critical tool with which to influence parts of the deal's passage.