The Slow Death of Colombia’s Peace Deal

A Spate of Murders Exposes the Government’s Broken Promises

Colombian indigenous groups perform a ceremony for Rodrigo Londoño in Bogotá, Colombia, September 2017 Henry Romero / Reuters

On November 24, 2016, at a somber ceremony in Bogotá, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Rodrigo Londoño—leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a Marxist-Leninist rebel group—signed a historic pact to end Latin America’s longest-running conflict.

Less than three years later, Colombia’s peace process is unraveling. Santos’s successor, conservative President Iván Duque, campaigned on a promise to dismantle the 2016 accord, appealing to segments of Colombian society that wanted a more punitive deal for the FARC. Once in office, Duque found himself constrained by the Constitutional Court, which ruled that he, along with the next two presidents of Colombia, must implement the peace deal. The international community has also continued to express strong support for the accord. And so Duque has trod a dangerous middle path, claiming to support peace while at the same time defunding or derailing key provisions of the deal.

Duque’s administration has slashed funding for or otherwise maladministered truth and justice initiatives, programs aimed at reintegrating demobilized fighters, and efforts to support small-scale farming as well as other alternatives to the drug trade. As a result, tensions have flared between the government and various armed groups. In September, several FARC commanders announced their intention to take up arms once again.

The Duque administration’s mismanagement has had many destabilizing effects, but one stands out as particularly troubling: since the peace deal was signed in 2016, hundreds of human rights defenders and social activists—at least 486, according to Colombia’s human rights ombudsman—have been murdered. A disproportionate number of the victims have been members of the country’s long-neglected Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities. And although Duque’s government did not carry out these killings, by defunding the truth and justice provisions of the accord, Duque sends a message to illegal armed groups that if they commit crimes there will be no consequences.

As long as those demanding land reform and other rights in underserved areas are gunned down by armed

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