September 23, 2015 was an historic day for Colombia.  A handshake between President Juan Manuel Santos and Rodolfo Londoño also known under the alias ‘Timochenko’, leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) reinforced the idea that peace had no turning point and was the background to announce that on March 23, 2016 would be signed the long-awaited agreement to end more than 50 years of war. However, last week hopes dimmed.

There were two weeks left to the day that had been announced and the party seemed spoiled.  President Santos said that the most important thing was to get a good deal and that it was more important than a date.  The FARC, meanwhile, showed signs that were points that were still far from being achieved.  And so it was.

Different readings

The position of the government and guerrillas seem to be away from not only what is happening at the negotiation table in Havana, but also in how they see the process.  At least that was the feeling they left behind their declarations on March 23rd.

The government said that in some aspects they had not made ​​significant progress. “In all honesty, we must inform public opinion that at this time important differences remain with the FARC on substantive issues.” said Humberto de la Calle, spokesman of the delegation in Havana.

The FARC, in another tone, made a declaration through Ivan Marquez, who announced the existence of a road map that was not detailed, but which he said would be enough to make 2016 the year of peace.  Rodrigo Londoño, alias ‘Timochenko’, added, in a televised interview that so far they have advanced a 70 percent in the negotiation process.

The postponement of the signing, which for now has no fixed date, it is logical for such a complex negotiation as to reach peace; however, it should not be categorized as a setback. So it was analyzed by Maria Victoria Llorente for DW Latin America, director of the Ideas para la Paz Foundation (FIP), an independent center.”I read it as a delay, but in terms of achieving a safer and viable agreement for the post-conflict in Colombia.  It is a delay that does not jeopardize that we reach a final agreement with the FARC.” said Llorente. Despite the optimism of some, in various sectors the presence of the Colombian president in the announcement of the postponement of the signing of the agreement was complained.  In addition, they were not few who saw it as a bad sign that the statements of the parties have been done separately. For Llorente, however, is not a signal of disagreement, as it could be interpreted given the moment the process is passing through.

“Although the statements have been given separately they converge to some extent, in the sense that both parties are clearly stating that the process continues and the commitment to achieve an optimal agreement continues too.” says the analyst.

So far, the parties have control over four of the six major points of the agenda. Agricultural issues, participation in politics, the issue of drugs and the crucial issue of victims are the points where progress has been achieved, but it has not been possible on other key issues such as verification of the ceasefire, surrender of weapons, countersigning of the agreement and areas of concentration of mobilized guerrillas.

Criminal economies

There are many questions that remain open. Where, how and when the guerrillas will concentrate? How will the countersigning of the agreement be held?  What will the guerrillas live on after demobilization?

The FARC, for some people such as the Attorney General of Colombia, Alejandro Ordóñez, stopped fighting for an ideology and became a company that survives on drug trafficking, illegal mining and to a lesser scale extortions and kidnappings. Between 6,800 and 8,000 FARC fighters would be left without those revenues after a peace agreement.

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Therefore, it is not only to demobilize and disarm the guerrillas, but to address all dimensions in the regions that so far have managed from ‘criminal economies’, as indicated by Llorente, who adds that there must be “clarity on how these territories are governed and how conditions are generated so that there will be other means of production different than criminal economies.”

According to the Paz y Reconciliación Foundation, in regards to the post-conflict there is an ‘extreme risk’ in 88 municipalities across the country who have been ‘governed’ by the guerrillas. For Llorente to avoid that scenario depends largely on that “the Colombian State, along with demobilized FARC, to be able to establish democratic rules in those areas.  If so, I do not see that it’s going to be an extreme situation of insecurity after the signing.”

The ELN, the other side of the story

Another player entering the peace poker, is the ELN, the second largest guerrilla group in Colombia. Upon release of lawyer Ramon Alfonso Cabrales last Wednesday, the guerrillas could return to the periphery of the peace negotiations. “The dream many Colombians embrace is that, through this peace process, we managed to also accelerate negotiations with the ELN”, the analyst says. However, little has been known about this new negotiation and so far, it seems that all the effort of the government is on ending the process that initiated with the FARC.

This article first appeared in Spanish on as ‘Colombia, una paz que se hace esperar’: