Inter-American Dialogue

World News


Iván Duque: Easy on the FARC, Tough on the ELN

Although Iván Duque is a hardliner, he will be moderately soft toward the FARC. However, with the ELN he will be able to show his strength.

New Colombian President Iván Duque spoke much about the peace process while campaigning. He repeatedly vowed to “correct” the peace accord during his campaign and even after winning the election. “Peace with justice,” this has been his mantra. But the truth is that Duque will probably not change anything regarding the peace accords with the FARC.

Duque likely is aware of the same key point that previous President Juan Manuel Santos was: although peace is a much better outcome for the country, it was not communicated effectively enough for the Colombian people to all accept it. Élber Gutiérrez Roa made this point in El Espectador: “Santos struggled to make people understand that a country without violence is better, that all peace deals entail concessions, and that while signing a pact is difficult, its implementation is more so. Ultimately, he failed to convince Colombians that consolidating peace is a collective exercise. Everyone’s participation is required, including the opposition.”

Duque, being conscious of this vein of miscommunication, was able to capitalize on it throughout his campaign. Having the blessing of former hardliner President Álvaro Uribe, Duque was able to run his campaign under the guise of “Mano Firme y Corazón Grande 2.0.” However, let us not forget that Juan Manuel Santos also ran with the support of Uribe, only to immediately create his own, separate legacy once in office which some would consider almost counter to “Uribismo.” The point is that Duque will be able, now that he is in office, to stray from the path in order to achieve his own objectives. It is probable that Duque will be right down the middle between Uribe and Santos since it will allow him to distinguish himself enough without alienating enough people to avoid re-election.

One reason that Duque could use distancing himself from Uribe is the new case regarding witness tampering on the behalf of Uribe. Allegedly, Uribe’s messy entanglement with paramilitaries during his brute approach towards exterminating the FARC has some lingering effects that are now coming back to haunt him as he is now under investigation by the Supreme Court. Duque doesn’t have to publicly disavow Uribe completely; he simply doesn’t need to, but he can definitely distance himself with good reason. Although Duque pitched himself as a hardliner, this is definitely a lesson as to where one should draw a line in the sand about how far they will go to fight guerillas.

Returning to the main point, Duque will not make any major revision to the peace accords simply because he understands how valuable they are to the country. The peace accords can help build a stronger GDP, while also helping rural areas financially grow as well. Duque must realize how devastating it could be to reverse the progress. However, no expert is needed to see that there is a rage inside many Colombians that burned during the peace process and that led them to vote against it. Duque bridled this energy and rode it to victory. Although he will not do much about it now that he is in power, his political savvy let him use it to his advantage to get to that position.

One of the ways that we can already see this occurring is by his asking the UN and the FARC to extend the peace monitoring period. This UN mission helps the FARC’s reintegration into society and politics, while also fighting off criminal factors that would deter the peace process. Because Duque knows that the peace process is better for the country, he will be soft on the FARC, by comparison to statements that he had made on the campaign trail. However, in order to keep the appearance of a hardliner, he can take that stance with the National Liberation Army (ELN).

The ELN almost reached a peace agreement with former President Santos, but they were unable to do so completely, leaving Santos no option but to hand the reins off to Duque. Even though the ELN was extremely close to a ceasefire agreement, their first move after seeing that the Santos deal was unreachable was to kidnap six people, including three police officers and a soldier. They likely did this to increase their leverage over potential negotiations with Duque when he assumed power. However, Duque has made it clear that there will be no negotiation until all the hostages are released, including others from previous incidents. The ELN responded that this was simply unacceptable but that they “intended to free captives anyway,” which only makes them appear weak by complying.

It seems that eventually a peace agreement will be worked out with the ELN and Duque’s government, but right now it is on his terms and therefore he is perceived to be a political strong man. This compensates for his likely moderate-to-soft approach toward the FARC, thus leaving him with the legacy of a hardliner who was wise enough not to destroy the peace progress made by his predecessor.