What is a Constituent Assembly?
It is a national meeting of citizens, who get together with the specific purpose to make new rules that determine the relationship between governors and people being governed, as well as the functioning and distribution of power and the fundaments of its political and social system. It´s a group of people in charge of writing a new Constitution, to which all public institutions should submit. In 1991 there was a National Constituent Assembly in Colombia, with the participation of the former guerrilla movement M-19, who had demobilized in 1990. The FARC-EP also wanted to send their delegates to the Constituent, but at the moment the elections for the Constituent were made, the headquarters of the FARC-EP’s secretariat were bombed.
So if there was a Constituent in 1991, why should there be another one right now?
The Constitution of 1991 has a lot of positive elements: a decentralizing spirit, party-plurality, administrative and political power for the municipalities, etc. But those positive elements have been neutralized by neoliberalism; that’s to say, until now, 38 (!) changes have been made to the original Constitution, which has become unrecognizable. By means of those modifications, for example, the president has been given excessive power; all the branches of power, and even the control agencies, have been subordinated to executive power. The presidential re-election, which wasn´t possible in Colombia, has been imposed by the manipulated modifications of the Constitution. The 1991 Constitution stipulated that within a short period, a new territorial plan should be designed and approved, which- until today- hasn´t been done.
«The unfair distribution of land, the lack of education, health care and housing, to mention just a few, are everybody´s problem. So their solution requires everybody’s participation»
In general, the 1991 Constitution is “dead letter”, it’s a democracy written on a piece of paper, which doesn´t have anything to do with real life in Colombia. But that´s another theme of discussion.
The FARC-EP strongly believe that the eventual agreements should be countersigned through a National Constituent Assembly, for several reasons.
First of all, we have always insisted on the importance of the people’s participation in this peace process, i.e. the participation of peasants, indigenous people, Afro-Colombians, women, youth, the LGTBI community, trade unions, and so on. The conflict exists because there are some objective causes that originated it, and to resolve it, we have to resolve the causes. But the guerrilla fighters are not the only ones who suffer those causes; the unfair distribution of land, the lack of education, health care and housing, to mention just a few, are everybody´s problem. So their solution requires everybody’s participation.
The eventual agreements are being constructed by two parties: government and FARC-EP. Colombian people are invited to make proposals through forums, the internet page or physical forms. But it´s obvious that in a way, this is a limited participation. So is there a better way for the people to participate than through a Constituent? The Assembly, in all its wisdom, will see if it approves, changes or disapproves the Havana Agreements. We shouldn´t be afraid of the opinion of the people; of real democracy. We think sovereignty resides exclusively in the people.
«The General Agreement states: “The construction of peace is an issue of the society as a whole that requires the participation of everybody, without distinction»
Secondly, we think that the so-called “salvedades” (points of contradiction that haven´t been resolved yet) could be perfectly submitted to the judgment of Colombian citizens.
In the third place, the sixth point of the General Agreement - implementation, verification and countersignature- isn´t being clearly defined, it has been left open for interpretation. And it should, in our opinion, be interpreted keeping in mind the preamble of the General Agreement that states: “The construction of peace is an issue of the society as a whole that requires the participation of everybody, without distinction, (…)”. Moreover, the second point about political participation states: “Democratic mechanisms of citizen participation, including those of direct participation, on different levels and diverse themes”. A good start of implementation of this point could be, three guesses, a National Constituent Assembly.
Fourth; only the agreement on the first point of the agenda, Integral agricultural development policy, consists of twenty pages, keeping in mind that there are still some points that continue without being resolved. Therefore, it would be quite difficult to countersign the agreements using other mechanisms, as multiple voices have suggested, like a referendum for example. That would be far from practical, and technically difficult, not to say impossible.
«A lot of proposals sent by Colombian people from a great variety of sectors, through the different forums held in Colombia, are precisely about the need of a National Constituent Assembly»
Fifth; the FARC-EP think it’s important to “armor” the eventual agreements against the whims of any future president who could try to roll them back. In other words, the agreements should become a State policy and not depend on the goodwill of future governments. That’s why the different social and political sectors of Colombian society should be exemplarily represented in the Constituent: Political parties, guerrilla movements, but also trade unions, peasants, business sectors, indigenous people, etc. for the Constituent to have enough strength and authority.
The Colombian government has responded negatively to the FARC-EP's proposal, they say that the issue is not included in the Agenda. Some mass media and analists claim that the FARC-EP are asking for "impossibles", and thus obstructing the peace talks. However, a lot of proposals sent by Colombian people from a great variety of sectors, through the different forums held in Colombia, are precisely about the need of a National Constituent Assembly. We think those voices should be taken into account. The discussion should not revolve around "impossibles", or groundless denials, but around political analyses about what this country really needs to find its way out of the war. A debate based on solid arguments would be an ideal way of starting to construct democracy in Colombia!