Recap of Peace News as 23rd Cycle Begins

April 4, 2014

The parties resumed their twenty-third round of talks today, Friday, April 4th, after a relatively shorter break than usual.  The last round ended on Sunday, March 30, with a joint communiqué by the government of Colombia and the FARC-EP delegates.  The communiqué attested to substantial advances in the “construction of agreements on different aspects contained in the agenda item on the solution to the problem of illicit drugs,” the third agenda item under discussion at the peace tables and noted that the parties will continue “crafting agreements on these issues in order to conclude, soon, discussion on all of the themes in that agenda item.”  (See joint statement here.)  It was a  relatively quiet round in Havana as the government and FARC teams continued discussions on illicit crops and drugs.

At the beginning of the 22nd round of talks, the FARC had reiterated its call for a truth commission whose goal would be the “clarification of the origins and truth of the history of Colombia’s internal conflict.”   At the close of the cycle, Colombian government delegation chief Humberto de la Calle noted that the government is prepared to back a truth commission once a final peace agreement is reached, but not before.  The government “has always sustained that the truth is the central theme for the victims of the conflict” and is “a priority for the Government in these conversations.”  (Read De la Calle’s statement here.)

The theme of truth and reparations for victims is pending on the peace agenda.  A recent conference at the U.S. Institute of Peace laid out some of the proposals that civil society groups are preparing in anticipation of those discussions.  (See post here.)

For its part, the peace delegation of the FARC-EP also held a press conference at the close of the talks, in which members reiterated their assessment of “progress” and “achievements” in the last round of talks.

Electoral Politics

The electoral cycle meanwhile spins on.  Centro Democrático candidate Oscar Iván Zuluaga, and senator-elect Alvaro Uribe, continue to question the peace process, and have challenged Santos for not withdrawing from the talks following the brutal torture and killing of two policemen in Tumaco.  Conservative presidential candidate Marta Lucía Ramírz has said that, if elected, she would put a deadline of four months on the talks.  Enrique Peñalosa, the Alianza Verde candidate who some polls have shown as the favored candidate in a second presidential run-off, announced that he would maintain the current negotiating team in Havana, which he considered to be “responsible and suitable.”  Clara López, leftist candidate for the Polo Democrático Alternativo, has been a consistent supporter of the peace talks, and has named Aída Abella, president of the Unión Patriótica, as her vice-presidential candidate. (See article here.)  Former Senator Piedad Córdoba has made a proposal to include a ballot for the presidential elections that would facilitate creation of a new citizens’ mandate for peace.  (For more on her proposal, click here.)

Convening of the National Peace Council

In the brief pause between the rounds in Havana, President Santos announced his plan to convene the National Peace Council when the process is “mature,” a move that will address the ever-pressing need to engage the citizenry more actively in support of the peace process.  Its backing will be essential if a final peace accord is to be ratified by the public, as has been stipulated in the framework agreement establishing the peace talks.  The citizenry will also be a key factor in the implementation of any peace agreements reached down the road.

The National Peace Council was created under Law 434 in 1998 as a mechanism to ensure civil society’s participation in the last peace process with the FARC, but it has been inactive for over a decade. Luis Eduardo Garzón, who participated in the NPC as representative of the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (CUT) during the Caguán peace talks more than a decade ago, will coordinate the effort.  The Council will undoubtedly be expanded to include representation from the Marcha Patriótica and perhaps victims’ groups.

At the local level, the destitution of Bogota’s mayor Gustavo Petro, strongly backed by President Santos, has alienated large parts of the left.  Some read the President’s convening of the NPC as an effort to recoup this disaffected sector.

On another front, there is some indication of newfound efforts to decentralize the peace message and help it take root within the country.  This week, Peace Commissioner Sergio Jaramillo launched a Network of Mayors and Governors for Peace, strongly reminiscent of the Peace Summit of Mayors and Governors, an initiative spearheaded by Petro in October 2012. (See my earlier post on the summit here.)  The launch took place in Santander de Quilichao, a city in the department of Cauca where there have been various FARC attacks in recent weeks.

And back in Washington…

Finally, after months without movement, the Senate floor approved this week by a unanimous vote of 99-0 the nomination of Kevin Whitaker as the new U.S. Ambassador to Colombia. (See his hearing at the subcommittee level last December here.)

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The Catholic Church and Peacebuilding in Colombia

A conversation with Cardinal Ruben Salazar, Archbishop of Bogota and President of Colombia’s Episcopal Conference, now livestreaming from the University of Notre Dame:

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Peace and Human Rights in Colombia: Report on a Conference

Tuesday, April 1, 2014
By:   Virginia M. Bouvier, Lisa Haugaard and Moira Birss

Peace is more than just silencing guns. That was the upshot when Colombian human rights defenders gathered at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, DC last week to discuss the ongoing peace process between the FARC guerrillas and Colombia’s government and how the talks can advance justice in the aftermath of a deal.  Days later, in a development unrelated to the gathering, the Colombian government took a step in that direction.

USIP hosted a panel discussion on human rights and the peace process in Colombia

USIP hosted a panel discussion on human rights and the peace process in Colombia

The event at USIP, the latest in a series called the Colombia Peace Forum, was co-sponsored by the Latin America Working Group Education Fund and Peace Brigades International. It convened some 50 policymakers from across the U.S. government and other interested parties to discuss the link between human rights and the peace process.

Five Colombian human rights defenders, who were in Washington, D.C. to testify in the annual hearings of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights at the Organization of American States, proposed a series of measures to advance truth about the violence Colombians have experienced during five decades of conflict and to provide a measure of justice for survivors. They suggested reforms that could help prevent a repetition of violations and forge a more sustainable peace.

A peace accord could help end a conflict in which some 220,000 people have been killed, more than 80 percent of them civilians, and nearly six million have been internally displaced, according to the government’s Center of Historical Memory.

Dealing with the past can be a thorny issue.  “The experience of many peace processes is that you have to seriously reckon with human rights issues at the table, or you can’t arrive at a successful peace,” said George Lopez, USIP’s vice president for the Academy of International Conflict Management and Peacebuilding.

All sides in Colombia’s conflict—which includes not only the parties at the peace table, but other insurgent groups such as the ELN as well as paramilitary or neo-paramilitary forces and criminal bands–have suffered losses, and all have inflicted violence on others.  As the peace talks have advanced in the past year, the government and the FARC rebels have become increasingly willing to accept responsibility for their actions, a transformative shift.  Although discussions at the table have yet to begin in earnest on the topic of victims and their rights to truth and reparations, human rights are woven into every part of the framework agreement that defines the terms of the negotiations.

Government Backs Truth Commission

On March 20, the FARC reiterated its call for a truth commission whose goal would be the “clarification of the origins and truth of the history of Colombia’s internal conflict.  On Sunday, March 30, lead government negotiator Humberto de la Calle announced that the authorities will support the establishment [of] a truth commission that looks at “all of the truths, without exception” as part of a final peace deal.

Jomary Ortegón of CCAJAR and Liliana Avila of the Inter-Church Commission on Justice and Peace

Jomary Ortegón of CCAJAR and Liliana Avila of the Inter-Church Commission on Justice and Peace

For Liliana Avila of the Inter-Church Commission on Justice and Peace, an organization that supports communities in conflict zones, such a truth commission that examines the violence of all of the armed actors–guerrillas, government forces, and paramilitaries–is essential.  Colombia needs “a collective narrative of the violence,” so that victims’ voices can be fully heard, Avila said during the forum at USIP.

Such a commission should include national and international members; operate throughout the country, not just in the capital city of Bogotá; and be established by national law, Avila said.  Most importantly, victims must have a lead role in the truth commission.  She stressed that the Colombian authorities and other governments that provided support during the conflict should declassify relevant documents.

Jomary Ortegón of the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective (CCAJAR) said structural and attitudinal changes are also necessary.  Human rights abuses will not stop with the signing of a peace accord, because many abuses did not happen on the battlefield but were committed by illegal armed forces or by government forces against civilians, she said.

Colombia’s armed forces have viewed opposition members, labor leaders, land claimants, journalist, and human rights defenders as the “internal enemy” that threatens the status quo.  This attitude has led to abuses against those non-violently seeking legitimate social and political change.

Ortegón advocates for remedial measures such as purging the armed forces of those who engaged in abuses; revising national security manuals to expunge the concept of internal enemies; purging military intelligence files of false documents used to stigmatize activists; and strengthening the rule of law.  In addition to a truth commission, some prosecutions will be necessary to prevent a recurrence of the violations.  The Lawyers’ Collective has proposed establishment of a tribunal to focus on those with the greatest responsibility for crimes against humanity and war crimes, and provide substantial penalties.

The solution must improve on the 2005 demobilization of paramilitary forces under the Justice and Peace Law, which provided “neither justice nor peace,” argued Ortegón. The law gave benefits in exchange for truth-telling to some 32,000 paramilitaries, but sentenced only 14 leaders. Victims received reparations in only 10 cases.  Furthermore, the failure to dismantle paramilitary structures has meant that these forces continue to exercise control and commit grave abuses in many parts of the country.

Alejandro Malambo of the Colombian Commission of Jurists emphasized challenges faced by the government’s land restitution process.  Only 277 sentences have been produced, he noted, and even within these sentences, many families have not been able to return to their lands, in part due to continuing threats against them.  The restitution process must be accelerated, but it must be accompanied by more effective protection for the returnees.

U.S. Support for the Peace Process

The U.S. can help by sending a clear message that it is fully behind the peace process, according to Franklin Castañeda, president of the Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners, and representative of the Colombia-Europa-United States, a coalition of 245 Colombian human rights and nongovernmental organizations.  Sectors of the Colombian military that do not support the peace process need to be told that they will lose U.S. backing in the event of any efforts to sabotage the talks, he said.

Franklin Castañeda, from the Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners and Moira Birss from Peace Brigades International.

Franklin Castañeda, from the Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners, Moira Birss from Peace Brigades International, and JoMary Ortegón from CCAJAR.

U.S. leaders also should encourage the Colombian government to open negotiations with the largest remaining guerrilla group, the Army of National Liberation (ELN), which has a presence in 20 percent of the Colombian national territory.  If the ELN is not brought into a peace process, it will be difficult to solidify peace on the ground.

“This is an opportunity that cannot be wasted,” Castañeda stated.  His recommendation echoes the findings of a recent International Crisis Group report, “Left in the Cold?  The ELN and Colombia’s Peace Talks,” which underscores that delay in engaging the ELN in a peace process serves no one’s interests.

The U.S. is considered a strategic partner in the transition to peace and democracy.  Castañeda urged the United States to “encourage a peace process that is transformative.”  Such a process should disassemble the structures that caused and perpetuate the violence and should strengthen democratic institutions including the justice system. “This is a historic opportunity to dismantle the mafias” that have caused such harm to Colombian society, “and to build a real democracy,” Castañeda concluded.  “If we fail to take advantage of this great opportunity that history has provided us, many Colombians will continue to be killed.”

Virginia M. Bouvier, who moderated the forum, is Senior Program Officer for Latin America at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP).  Lisa Haugaard is Executive Director of the Latin America Working Group Education Fund.  Moira Birss is the Representative in North America of Peace Brigades International – Colombia.  This post  has been cross-posted at USIP’s website.  See


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Historic Philippine Peace Accord Reached

With 150,000 Filipinos dead and millions displaced, and after more than a decade of negotiations, the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed a comprehensive peace accord yesterday that put an end to 40 years of war.  After 32 rounds of peace talks over nine years, the parties had signed a preliminary framework agreement on Oct. 12, 2012 that set the agenda and methodology for reaching yesterday’s final agreement.  The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, as it is called, grants greater political authority to Muslim areas in southern Mindanao in exchange for an end to armed rebellion.  It addresses the roots of the conflict and seeks to close the gap between this impoverished, largely Muslim area, and the rest of the predominantly Christian country.  As my colleague, Kristian Herbolzheimer, from Conciliation Resources, reminds us in the program below, the signing of the agreement is one important step in a longer process:

Al Jazeera attributed the breakthrough in the Philippines peace process to a meeting in Japan between the President Benigno Aquino III and Murad Ibrahim, the head of the MILF.  While such high-level meetings can be critically important, there is a thick web of individuals, relationships, and activities that underpin any peace process and are necessary to its success.  The Philippines agreement would not have come about without the persistent efforts of Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, lead negotiator for the government; Teresita Quintos-Deles, presidential advisor to the process from 2001-5 and 2010-14; and the government and MILF teams.  Women, with 9 of 12 spots on the  government negotiating team, played a key role, as did other civil society groups, including religious leaders who carried out inter-religious dialogues; communities that engaged in humanitarian activities; everyday citizens who generated resistance to the war and created local zones of peace; and individuals, organizations, and communities that delivered proposals to the peace table, and created peace infrastructures at the local, regional and national levels.  The Mindanao Human Rights Action Center, Mindanao People’s Caucus, Muslim Organization of Government Employees, and Nonviolent Peace Force have been essential to establishing and ensuring implementation of a ceasefire that was put in place in 1997.  The Mindanao Peoples Caucus, an all-women civilian protection team, has monitored abuses against civilians and reported ceasefire violations.  It was also critical in promoting dialogues with women Muslim leaders to reconcile sharia law and women’s rights.  Such initiatives are only a few of the many civil society initiatives that will provide the foundations for the implementation of the peace accord.

The international community supported the peace process in a number of ways and its continued support will be critical to effective implementation of the accord.  The government of Malaysia brokered the talks, and an International Contract Group (ICG), coordinated by the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (CHD), has accompanied the process.  The ICG is unique in that it includes four governments (Japan, United Kingdom, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia) and 4 non-governmental organizations (CHD, Conciliation Resources, Asia Foundation, and Muhammadiyah).  An International Monitoring Team, including internationals, locals, civil-military, government, and NGOs, has been supported by Malaysia, Brunei, Norway, and the European Union.  The framework agreement for the peace talks signed in 2012 acknowledges a role for continued international support.  It noted,”The Parties recognize the need to attract multi-­‐donor country support, assistance and pledges to the normalization process,” and agreed to establish a Trust Fund  for “capacity building, institutional strengthening, impact programs to address imbalances in development and infrastructures, and economic facilitation for return to normal life affecting combatant and non-­‐combatant elements of the MILF, indigenous peoples, women, children, and internally displaced persons.”

The comprehensive peace accord signed yesterday is an important milestone, but it is not the end of the process.  The key to implementation will be local ownership, inclusive participation across sectors, and strong international support.  Expectations for rapid change will need to be managed, as structural reforms will take time and resources.  But the course is now set and hope reigns.

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Colombian Peace Process and Human Rights Event

You are cordially invited to participate in a forum on “The Peace Process in Colombia: Challenges, Opportunities, and Strategies for the Protection of Human Rights.”  The event will take place on Thursday, March 27, 2014, from 10:00-11:30a.m. at the United States Institute of Peace headquarters located at 2301 Constitution Avenue, NW in Washington, D.C.

This event is part of the Colombia Peace Forum (CFP), a USIP forum established following the launch of Colombia’s peace process.  The CPF brings together government, non-governmental, and diplomatic sectors to discuss themes related to peace and the internal armed conflict in Colombia, as well as related U.S. foreign policy issues. This session on human rights will be held in coordination with the Latin America Working Group Education Fund and Peace Brigades International.

Thursday’s program will bring together many Colombian human rights advocates who are in Washington, D.C. for the meetings of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights at the Organization of American States.  We have asked our colleagues to reflect on the peace process and the challenges and opportunities it presents for human rights workers and human rights.  Confirmed speakers include:

Liliana Avila, Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz
Franklin Castañeda, Comité de Solidaridad con los Presos Políticos (CSPP)
Luz Marina Monzón, Reiniciar
Jomary Ortegón, Corporación Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo (CCAJAR)
Alejandro Malambo, Comisión Colombiana de Juristas

Welcoming remarks will be made by George Lopez, Vice President, Academy for International Conflict Management and Peacebuilding, U.S. Institute of Peace.  I will be moderating the discussion.

I hope you will be able to join us in person or virtually via the USIP website.  RSVP here for the event.

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Epistolary Exchanges: Intellectuals Offer Support for Peace Talks

March 18, 2014

One interesting mechanism for peace that has evolved in Colombia has been the use of epistolary exchanges and letters by armed and unarmed actors.  In a conflict environment, the exchange of ideas is not always easy, particularly across battle lines.  Furthermore, where the officially assigned roles of civil society are somewhat limited, this practice offers an innovative (if imperfect) mechanism for civil society to be heard and to contribute to policy discussions.  It allows the parties to float ideas, test for areas of common ground, generate specific ideas for peace gestures, build trust between the parties, and establish a relationship (at least on paper) based on respectful dialogue.  Likewise, it provides a space for all those who engage in the exchange to focus their thinking and to find and articulate their own priorities and areas of consensus.  This practice can be an important step in assisting each side to develop more effective strategies for moving forward and can strengthen alliances in pursuit of common goals.   The give-and-take of such dialogue processes will be critical in the transition from war to peace.

An incipient peace process with the ELN, heralded months ago, has appeared to stall out. Various parties, not least of which the head of the ELN, are resorting to the mechanism of epistolary exchanges as a way to reignite interest and generate momentum.  This week, the latest salvo in a chain of communications between ELN commander Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista and a group of distinguished academics was launched.  This particular sequence began in early February, with a letter from Rodríguez Bautista calling on a group of respected academics to find ways to support a peace process with the ELN.   (See letter here).  On Feb. 22, the academics replied directly to Rodríguez Bautista in support of government peace talks with the ELN (see their response here).  Yesterday, the academics followed up with a letter to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, offering their services in deepening the peace process and requesting a meeting to discuss their proposals.  This is a positive development and, hopefully, President Santos will look favorably on their offer and find a way to make good use of the tremendous intellectual capacities the signatories have to offer towards the pursuit of peace.  I quote the letter here in its entirety:    


President of the Republic

Mr. President:

On February 3rd this year, we received a public letter signed by Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista, first commander of the ELN.   In it, he invited us to initiate “… a productive interchange regarding … peace building in our country.”  We consider as positive the missive’s urgent tone:  “The year 2014 must be definitive for Peace,” Rodríguez Bautista affirmed.

In our response, we indicated, “we consider it necessary that negotiations between the Government and the ELN be opened.”  And we urged our interlocutor’s organization to demonstrate effective signs of peace to contribute to the prompt initiation of public talks.  In response to this communication, the ELN manifested its disposition to “give an accounting to the victims in terms of truth, justice and reparations,” as well as to “produce convincing gestures before society.”

This epistolary interchange with the guerrilla leader is animated by our conviction that a negotiated political solution is the most realistic and convenient path for society to put an end to the internal armed conflict.  In taking [this position], Mr. President, we are supported by the Political Constitution of Colombia, which in Article 22 establishes [that], “Peace is a right and a duty of obligatory compliance.”

In our ongoing attention to the acts and signals of peace and war, we did not miss your declaration on July 3, 2013, in which –- on signaling your interest in advancing talks with the ELN—you specified that the release of the Canadian geologist Gernot Wobert, then in the power of that organization, would be a gesture in that direction. When his release was produced on August 27, 2013, you emphasized the action as “a step in the right direction” and, in turn the insurgents noted that perhaps they were ad portas “of a fluid dialogue”, which regrettably still has not yet materialized.

There are many voices today that await the initiation of these talks, without which the definitive end of the armed conflict cannot be imagined.  In recalling these events and declarations, we do not find it imprudent now to note that, in the talks between the previous government and the ELN in Cuba, various formulas for a humanitarian solution and preparing the ambience for peace were circulated that would lead, among other consequences, to the release of the kidnapped and the elimination of this ignominious practice.  It would be appropriate to reexamine those propositions now.

Independently of the inevitable differences of interpretations that accompany the analysis of the electoral processes, we believe we are not wrong in affirming that the general results at the polls on March 9th reflected the advance of sectors and political formations that favor the process of talks in Havana and the opening of a new table of talks with the ELN.  The latter, in our understanding, is a new factor that works in favor of broadening the peace talks.

It is no secret to us, Mr. President, that there are political forces that are partial to a unilateral military victory and opposed to a negotiated political solution.  Likewise, there are rumblings originating in some economic corporations (gremios), especially those linked to agricultural sectors, that—while they may not openly express their rejection of the peace process—oppose it by linking the advances on certain social reforms, even if they are modest, to the negotiations that are advancing in Havana.  The procedure today is the same as always, in the sense of triggering alarming forecasts about supposed “juridical insecurity” or the rejection of private property that would be threatening to the business sector.

Given these political forces, we believe the peace debate needs to be filled with the oxygen that a national movement of public opinion favoring this desired end [of peace] can provide.  In relation to the corporations, we consider, Mr. President, that your government must deepen its efforts so that the policies that open the way for peace are enacted.  In this regard, we believe it is urgent to accelerate the effective devolution of lands to the displaced, [as is the] objective of the Victims and Land Restitution Law.  The contrast between the limited quantity of hectares that the displaced have received and the significant number of assassinations of those who decided to pursue their claims under said law is dramatic.

Mr. President, we respectfully request a meeting with you, in order to present our considerations and proposals to you in relation to the current realities of the peace process and alternatives for deepening it.


Adolfo Atehortúa, Alejo Vargas, Alfredo Gómez Muller, Alfredo Molano, Alpher Rojas, Alonso Ojeda, Álvaro Delgado, Armando Palau, Armando Silva, Antonio Morales, Ciro Roldán Jaramillo, Bernardo Alfredo Hernández, Carlos Álvarez N,  Carlos Guillermo Álvarez, Carlos Mario Perea, Carlos Medina G, Carlos Miguel Ortiz, Carlos Salgado, Carmen Eugenia Ruano, Consuelo Ahumada, Daniel Pecaut, Daniel Samper Pizano, Edgar Moncayo Jiménez, Eduardo Díaz Uribe, Eduardo Gómez B, Eduardo Sarmiento, Fabio López de la Roche, Fernán González, Francisco Leal, Gabriel Awad, Gabriel Izquierdo SJ, Galo Burbano, Gelasio Cardona S, Gustavo Páez Escobar, Héctor Tico Pineda, Hernando Calvo O, Hernando Gómez Buendía, Hernando Gómez S, Hollman Morris, Jaime Arocha, Jaime Zuluaga N,  Jahel Quiroga, Jairo Maya Betancourt, Jimmy Viera, Jorge O. Gantiva S, Jorge Guerra, Juan Carlos Célis, Julio Silva Colmenares, Leopoldo Múnera, Lilia Solano, Libardo Sarmiento, Luis Ignacio Sandoval, Luis Eduardo Célis, Luís Emiro Valencia, Luis Jairo Ramírez, Luís Jorge Garay, Manuel Guzmán H, Marco Palacios R, Marco Romero, María Elvira Samper, Mauricio Archila N, Mauricio Rojas R, Medófilo Medina, Mireya Ariza P, Oscar Mejía Quintana, Omar Gutiérrez, Pedro Santana, Rafael Ballén, Ricardo García D, Ricardo Pinzón, Rocío Londoño Botero, Rodrigo Uprimny, Rubén I. Sánchez David, Socorro Ramírez, Tila Uribe.

NOTE:  The original Spanish version of this letter was published at “Las 2 Orillas” and  can be found here

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Colombia’s Congressional Elections: What Do They Mean for the Peace Process?

Monday, March 10

Colombia’s Congressional results are in and the pundits are analyzing their implications for the peace talks and for the upcoming presidential elections on May 25.  In yesterday’s elections, some twenty-three hundred candidates ran for 166 seats in the House and 102 seats in the Senate.  Of 32,8 million Colombians eligible to vote, 58% abstained–an increase of 8% from the 2010 elections.  President Santos’s party, the party of the “U”, lost more than half of its seats, but still managed to win the most seats of any party overall.  (For fuller election results, click here.)

As expected, the Centro Democrático party, headed by former President Alvaro Uribe, secured a strong showing with more than two million votes.  Just shy of 15% of the total votes, the party garnered 19 seats in the Senate and 12 in the House.  While this will not be sufficient to block a peace agenda, it could make the pathway to peace a bit rougher.  Santos’s ruling National Unity coalition, which also includes the Liberal Party and the Cambio Radical, is nonetheless well positioned with 46 seats in the Senate and 92 in the House.  With 5 Senate seats each for the leftist Polo Democrático and the Green Alliance, both of which support the peace talks in Havana, Santos should find a favorable Congressional climate for moving ahead with negotiations in Havana, and for the ratification and implementation of any accords reached in Havana.  Still ahead are the presidential elections on May 25th, when, barring a majority vote for Santos in the first round, a second round in June is anticipated.

Peace on the Agenda

When the new Congress convenes on July 20, it will be debating critical issues for the country, including health care, education, judicial and political reforms, and a variety of topics that have already emerged on the peace agenda in Havana.  In regard to the latter, the Congress will need to approve the regulating legislation for the constitutional reforms approved in the Legal Framework for Peace which will dictate the terms for the demobilization and reintegration of ex-FARC combatants into Colombian political life.  Likewise, the upcoming Congressional docket includes other issues that have been under discussion in Havana–namely a statute for political opposition, land reform, and endorsement mechanisms for whatever is agreed to in Havana.  An Uribe-led minority opposition in the Congress could impact a number of these issues, but it is not yet clear how.  Recent polls have found that while a majority of Colombians support the peace talks, most do not support the FARC’s political reintegration into public office.  There is thus a danger that, absent a strong campaign from the Santos government to persuade the public otherwise, Uribe may be able to fan popular sentiment to make it more difficult to achieve a political solution that allows for the reintegration of FARC ex-combatants. 

Twenty-First Round of Talks Ends

The twenty-first round of talks in Havana between the government and the FARC-EP ended on Thursday, March 6th.  The latest cycle, largely superseded by the Congressional elections on Sunday, March 9, and preparations for the upcoming presidential elections,  got relatively little press attention, as there was no joint statement reported out, and no major agreement reached.  Talks will resume on March 20, when the parties will continue to seek agreement on the issue of drugs and illicit crop cultivation.  Initial drafts for a solution on the first sub-point on the drugs agenda were exchanged at the close of the twentieth round (see my earlier post here), and the FARC announced that it has now presented 50 proposals on ten topics related to the issue of illicit crops and drug trafficking. (For a summary of the topics, see here.)  Just before the last round of talks closed, Iván Márquez noted that the peace process is in a “good moment” and “on a good path,” and that the parties are “finding many coinciding positions.”  (See article here.)

Scandals at Home

Recent weeks have been filled with scandals of the sort that often seem to be revealed in the midst of political campaigns, and these, as well as the political pressures of the elections themselves, are having their ripple effects in Havana.  Bogota’s Semana magazine broke two major stories in recent weeks.  The first related to interceptions, presumably illegal, of the peace negotiators in Havana as well as other public officials, including more than 50 mayors.  According to Semana‘s 18-month investigation, on September 12, 2012 — just 8 days after Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos announced the opening of peace talks with the FARC– the Colombian Army set up an intelligence center known as “Andrómeda.”  From these offices, which were disguised as a combination restaurant-computer center in the Galerías neighborhood of Bogotá, active military officials and civilian hackers reportedly intercepted the communications and emails of the government and FARC negotiating teams in Havana, journalists covering the peace talks, and public officials including more than 50 mayors.  (Read Semana story here.)  Even President Santos’s own personal email account was hacked (read about it here).

The Andrómeda scandal cost two top intelligence chiefs their jobs off the bat and generated a few weeks of intense press coverage, during which time numerous committees and oversight bodies– in the Army, the Congress, the Inspector General’s office, and the Attorney General’s Office– were established or revived and investigations launched.  (See article here.)  The Ministries of Defense, Justice, and Technology were charged with establishing a special unit on cyber-attacks, and creating a new presidential advisory commission composed of international and national experts. (See article here.)  The Congressional Commission Monitoring Intelligence and Counterintelligence Activities on Feb. 12 cited the Minister of Defense, the commanders of the Armed Forces and of the Army, and the director of the National Intelligence Agency.   The commission had been set up in the wake of another scandal that broke in 2008 and led to the dissolution of the former intelligence agency–the Administrative Department of Security (DAS)–after the DAS was found guilty of carrying out illegal surveillance and persecution of Supreme Court justices and magistrates, labor leaders, journalists, and political opponents of then-President Alvaro Uribe.

The case raises questions about civilian control and regulation of the military, as well as  the potential of members of the military to play a spoiler role that could undermine the peace process.   Journalist and policy analyst Laura Gil attributed the problem to the lack of a thorough intelligence reform last time round and the failure to vet and remove those who were involved in the untoward activities at the DAS, instead of recycling them to new positions throughout the government.  (Read Gil’s article here.)   The scandal has led other Colombian intellectuals to call for greater controls to prevent future abuses.  (See Alejo Vargas’s view here).

No sooner had this scandal been dispatched to all of the appropriate committees, when another story broke that overshadowed this one.  The second major story related to a massive corruption scandal involving widespread kick-backs on military contracts and diversion of public funds.  (See article here.)  Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos moved quickly to take action—even before the results of the various investigations were in—and sacked the head of the Colombian armed forces and four generals.  (See here.)  It is widely thought that Santos maneuvered the issue to his advantage and used it to realign the military to be more favorable to the peace talks.  He appointed General Juan Pablo Rodríguez as the new head of the Armed Forces to replace outgoing General Leonardo Barrero.  As Commander of the Army’s Fifth Division, Rodríguez oversaw the operation that captured and killed the FARC’s top leader, Alfonso Cano–while secret peace talks were under way.  Rodríguez has nonetheless strongly supported the peace talks in public.

Echoes in Havana

If the wiretaps were an effort to discredit the negotiations, they seem not to have succeeded, at least in the short term.  “The good thing is that if they had found some irregularities, everyone would be talking about the content of what they found.  Instead, everyone is talking about the ‘chuzadas’,” one Colombian diplomat told me in a private conversation in Washington on Feb. 5.

From Havana, nonetheless, FARC negotiator Seuxis Paucias Hernández (“Jesús Santrich”) on Sunday, Feb. 9 said the scandal represents the “state of necrosis” of Colombia’s institutions, including the military forces themselves, and called for an urgent solution to the “chuzadas”.   He underscored that no one is exempt from the intervention of the “dark machinery” of military intelligence, and that the FARC have “nothing to hide.”  (See “Chuzadas“).

Likewise, the FARC have critiqued the corruption scandals of the Armed Forces and attributed responsibility to Minister of Defense Juan Carlos Pinzón.   “In a decent government, such an official would have already been removed from office,” FARC spokesman Iván Márquez noted at the March 6 press conference.  (See Farc statement here.)  Responding to an earlier exchange in which the Minister of Defense called on the newest member of the FARC negotiating team, José Benito Cabrera (aka Fabián Ramírez), to come clean about the FARC role in drug trafficking, Márquez maintained that it had already done so, and he proposed the creation of a truth commission “on the transnational capitalist drug trafficking enterprise.”  In a prepared statement, he called Pinzón, whose private agenda in Washington, D.C., had been leaked to the press, a “lackey of the CIA,” and insinuated that Pinzón was benefiting from corruption at the Defense Ministry, and receiving “benefits, gifts, bargains, apartments, and hair gel.”

A few minutes later, Humberto de la Calle, the government negotiator, made an uncharacteristically sharp statement of his own.  (See De la Calle’s  statement here.)  It is  unacceptable for the FARC to become the “the judges of the institutions and their employees,” noted De la Calle.  “Instead of creating a favorable environment for peace,” he said, “the FARC with its inflammatory (desmedido) language is undermining confidence and creating obstacles for the success and work of the Table of Conversations.”  De la Calle added, “These unfortunate declarations of the FARC are distancing us from the goal of peace and reconciliation that we seek in these dialogues,” and asserted that the table will not be converted in a “boxing ring.”

Even while recognizing that statements by negotiators have multiple audiences–including their own constituencies as well as the parties across the table–De la Calle’s message underscores the delicate balance of mutual respect that has been created at the table, and warns that a line was crossed.  It is incumbent when this happens, for each side to step back and take stock if they wish to restore the balance of the relationship.  This is not the first time a line has been crossed.  Recall the FARC’s insistence on a brief “pause” last year after the Colombian government, in what the FARC considered a clear violation of the framework agreement, presented a draft law to enable a referendum on the accords to take place as part of legislative or presidential elections.  In that case, the FARC harkened back to the agreement the parties had made to discuss the issue in Havana, the government negotiators navigated the crisis, and a resolution was found that restored the balance between the parties.  Last week, FARC leader Iván Márquez announced that, although the FARC still prefers a Constituent Assembly over a referendum, they have been discussing the possibility of combining the proposals, and believe they will be able to find a mechanism to endorse a peace agreement that would satisfy everyone.  This suggests that an approach that recognizes when lines have been crossed, and allows the parties to step back and reevaluate, can help to maintain an equilibrium that is more likely to produce mutually acceptable compromises.  It’s all part of the process, but it can be nerve-wracking…

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