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Rushing Peace: The Fast-Track in Colombia

By Mateo Villamizar Chaparro | November 15, 2017



In 2016, the Colombian government signed a peace treaty with the guerilla group FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia), putting an end to a conflict that started almost half a century ago and had taken a toll in the lives of all Colombians. The process drew criticism from different positions in the ideological spectrum, but it managed to succeed after 4 years of conversations in Havana, Cuba.


The agreement revolved around six different points between the warring parties. The first one, was related with a comprehensive policy for rural development that incentivizes investment in the rural areas of the country. The second point defined the agreements related to political participation and the widening of the democratic spectrum. After this point, the third defined measures to end the conflict including the processes of disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of ex combatants. The fourth one discussed possible solutions to the production of illicit drugs. The fifth one defined how people involved in the war were to be judged and how victims will be repaired. Finally, the last point makes sure that the five previous aspects were to be implemented by designing credible guarantees for its application.


According to Barbara Walter, a commitment to peace is the result of the design mechanisms that allow the warring parties to transcend the commitment problem related to the vulnerability they suffer during the implementation of the peace accords. Just to quantify this, Walter states that 43% of the negotiated bargains between 1940 and 1992 were not implemented. One of the mechanisms that the Colombian government used to handle this commitment problem during the implementation of the peace agreement was use of the Fast-Track. This was a temporary mechanism makes the legislative procedures more agile, to allow the peace legislation to pass through the Colombian congress.


Table 1 illustrates the results of the Fast-Track in the Colombian congress, by the type of legislation being passed. It shows the total number of ordinary laws and constitutional reforms passed in each presidential period since 1998, as well as the average time each bill spent in Congress. In terms of the time required to make a bill an ordinary law, the fast track has not been as successful. Between 2014 and 2018, the president signed 114 laws, each of which stayed in Congress in average 424 days. During 1998-2002 and from 2010-2014 the average number of days was lower. However, these results should be read carefully as they don’t include the final days of the last legislative year where usually more bills are converted into laws.


Despite this, the figure of the fast track has brought agility to the approval of constitutional reforms. For the period between 2014 and 2018, seven changes to the constitution were accepted by the Congress and the President. In average, these took 199 days to complete the legislative process. In the other periods, this number was almost 100 days more. Certainly, some of the constitutional changes required by the peace agreement were easier to pass in congress as the number of veto players was reduced.

To summarize, use of the Fast-Track has brought a more credible commitment to the peace process, in particular to the constitutional amendments. This means, that during the period this figure prevailed, the presidency was able to pass through congress various projects without much opposition and at a fast pace. Notwithstanding, some of the initiatives presented with regards to the peace process are still pending and probably would not be covered by the fast track mechanism, which can complicate some of the institutional building blocks of the post-conflict period. This can entail some insecurities for the warring parties and potentially can affect the implementation of the peace process, as the guarantees between the government and the guerrilla group might be diminished.


Mateo Villamizar Chaparro is a Colombian student doing the Master of International Affairs at GPS. Prior to that, Mateo pursued studies in Economics and Political Science. His research interests revolve around methodology, political institutions and human geography. He is the current Managing Director of JIPS.