In Stratfor's 2017 Fourth-Quarter Forecast, we said that the Colombian government would try to pass the last pieces of legislation pertaining to the FARC peace agreement, especially the legislation to create amnesty courts for former rebels. But opposition party Democratic Center's attempts to launch a referendum to repeal the legal framework for amnesty courts circumvents this legislative process, and, if held, could very well undermine the entire peace deal.
A new threat to the Colombian government's peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has emerged. According to an Oct. 18 report, opposition party Democratic Center will begin collecting signatures for a referendum to repeal the Special Jurisdiction for Peace — the legal framework that would allow amnesty courts authorized under the peace deal to function. The courts, which would grant FARC leaders amnesty, are a key part of the peace deal, and repealing them would put the entire deal in jeopardy.
But a few things must happen first. From Oct. 17, Democratic Center politicians have six months to collect around 1.8 million signatures demanding the referendum. If they meet the vote threshold, then election authorities have to help them organize a national referendum in which half of all voters participating (25 percent of registered voters have to participate) must approve or reject the initiative. The referendum can't coincide with another electoral process, of which there are three in 2018: two rounds of a presidential election and one round of legislative elections. If all of these requirements are met, a referendum attempt could take place by the second quarter of 2018.
If it proceeds smoothly without any legal challenges from the government, the referendum has all the ingredients to truly threaten the FARC peace agreement by legally invalidating the Special Jurisdiction for Peace. The referendum requires the participation of a fairly small percentage of the overall population to pass. There may also be a friendly president in power by 2018 if candidate German Vargas Lleras wins, though having a executive friendly to the initiative is hardly necessary, since a referendum can proceed regardless of who's in power.
The peace process is already precarious: many FARC members have abandoned certain demobilization camps. If the trend continues, it will weaken any future administration's rationale for the peace deal. The Democratic Center's motive is to weaken the deal even further so it is sure to fail. Its initiative can't be dismissed.
It's possible, however, that the Colombian government will try to legally challenge the referendum, either in a federal court or Colombia's Constitutional Court. The court, after all, recently ruled that the laws already approved by Congress are protected for three subsequent presidential terms. Any decision will come down to whether a court decides that this new referendum can supersede the Constitutional Court's previous decision. Referendums are enshrined in the constitution: It may be hard to halt this one quickly, if at all. A return to FARC militancy is not something anyone is forecasting, yet. But the effect this new referendum by the opposition could have can't be ignored.