November 12, 2013
In the joint accord signed on November 6, 2013, negotiators representing the government of Colombia and the FARC-EP laid out a framework for “deepening and strengthening our democracy, broadening the rights and guarantees for the exercise of opposition, as well as the spaces for political and citizen participation.” The accord “promotes pluralism and political inclusion, participation and transparency in electoral processes, and the strengthening of a democratic political culture.” It recognizes that new political movements that emerge in the aftermath of a final accord will need special guarantees and protection. With these general precepts in mind, the latest agreement addressed the three main sub-points on political participation laid out in the framework agreement:
- Rights and guarantees for the exercise of political opposition in general and in particular for those new movements that might emerge following the signing of a Final Agreement; access to media.
- Democratic mechanisms for citizen participation.
- Effective measures to promote greater participation by all sectors, including the most vulnerable populations on equal footing and with safety guarantees, in national, regional and local politics.
Many details have yet to be worked out and the accord on political participation will only go into effect once a comprehensive peace agreement is reached, as per the terms of the framework agreement. More particulars of the accord may be released in a report the parties have said they will release during the next round of talks beginning on November 18.
Democratization and Good Governance Key to Consolidating Peace
The Colombian government’s lead negotiator Humberto de la Calle has said that the latest agreement represents a “new democratic opening.” He noted that “in order to achieve a solid peace, it is necessary to broaden, deepen, modernize and fortify our democracy, in order to make it more vigorous, participatory, pluralist, and transparent.” He noted the need to “consolidate the rights of the opposition, to recognize and manage peacefully the irruption of social movements, to ensure that the right to protest does not impinge on the rights of those who do not participate in it, to open the door to new parties and introduce greater equity in their regulation, to generate a culture of co-existence, tolerance and respect, to offer security and dignity for the exercise of politics, to accentuate pluralism in the framework of respect for political opposition and to combat the vices that still persist in the electoral system.”
Democratization and good governance will provide the pillars for the sustainability of peace, and to the extent that the agreement is implemented it is likely to further all three. The November 6th accord on political participation sets out a number of interesting proposals and mechanisms for increasing and protecting citizen engagement and opening up the Colombian political system to new voices and ideas. If implemented, the political reforms it proposes will promote a transformation of Colombia’s elite-driven, exclusionary political system.
As President Juan Manuel Santos noted in his address announcing the latest accord on the evening of November 6th, “These are real, positive advances toward a final agreement and, in particular, toward a scenario that breaks forever the link between politics and arms.”
There is widespread satisfaction that the peace process appears to be delivering a joint vision that includes the rejection of the use of arms and promises political reforms that will guarantee greater participation and inclusivity. With the exception of former President Alvaro Uribe’s party, which has called the announcement a “farce,” all of the other political parties (Conservative, Liberal, Polo Democrático, Partido de la “U”, Cambio Radical) have expressed support for the accord. (See my last post on this topic.) Yesterday, the Central Command of the National Liberation Army (ELN), which is awaiting its own peace process, also came out in support of the accord between the FARC and the Colombian government.
The full accord on political participation in Spanish is available here; the following is a synthesis-commentary-translation into English of these proposals:
- The agreement calls for a national event to establish a Commission, made up spokespersons from political parties and movements, to define the guidelines for a statute that would provide guarantees for political participation and opposition politics. The Commission will convene a forum to elicit proposals for the statute from social movements and organizations, experts, and academics.
- A second national event would be held to generate proposals from spokespersons from social movements and organizations (including new groups that might emerge from the final peace accord). The event would provide inputs for legislation that will guarantee and promote democratic participation of the citizenry, and channel and protect citizen engagement, including through mobilization, protests, and pacific co-existence within a broader democratic framework.
- New additional, unspecified spaces will be opened to give voice to proposals and projects–particularly peace-building projects–in institutional and regional media. Community-based media will be strengthened to encourage citizen participation.
Citizen Engagement in Reconciliation and Good Governance
A number of additional agreements relate to the need to establish a climate of “reconciliation, coexistence, tolerance.” This includes not stereotyping people and employing a “language and behavior of respect for ideas.” To this end, the accord calls for the establishment of national and territorially-based Councils for Reconciliation and Coexistence (Consejos para la Reconciliación y la Convivencia) to assist authorities with the implementation of the agreement.
The plan also anticipates the need for citizen participation and engagement in good governance. The parties agreed on a plan to support citizen monitoring and accountability mechanisms, especially for implementing the Accord. The parties recognize that greater control by citizens will contribute to greater transparency and counter corruption in administration and public management. The parties agreed on a comprehensive participatory review and monitoring of development plans as a “fundamental instrument for the peace-building stage,” and agreed to strengthen the territorial planning councils (consejos territoriales de planeación”).
Support for Political Pluralism and Electoral Reform
In order to consolidate peace, the parties agreed to make institutional changes that support political pluralism by facilitating the constitution of political parties and providing particular support for the transition of social organizations and movements into political parties or movements. Special support would be given to new movements and political parties as a means of ensuring the political pluralism needed for the construction of peace.
The parties also approved a series of measures to assure transparency in electoral processes, particularly in the areas at greatest risk for fraud, and to promote greater participation of the citizenry living in the least accessible regions. These measures would further strengthen democracy and political pluralism. Once the Final Accord is signed, a Mission of Experts will perform a comprehensive review of the current electoral system and, in keeping with best national and international practices, make recommendations for normative and institutional adjustments.
Special Transitory Seats for Peace
The political participation agreement creates Special Transitory Congressional Districts (Circumscriptions) for Peace to promote territorial integration and political inclusion of those regions most affected by the conflict and by neglect. During a transition period, the particular interests of these constituencies would be represented in the House of Representatives through these transitory seats, which would supplement the existing ordinary seats. The seats would be accompanied by guarantees to ensure electoral transparency and to protect the electorate’s right to vote.
Creating extra representation for those who have been neglected by the state and have suffered the impact of the conflict seems to be a creative and appropriate form of reparation. After a briefing by President Santos and the government negotiating team last week, Juan Fernando Cristo, President of the Colombian Congress, remarked that “the idea of a special Congressional district for the House of Representatives struck us all as a bold, novel idea that will signify a fundamental advance in the question of political representation for the inhabitants of those conflict zones.” The particular regions to be granted these transitory seats have not yet been defined.
Areas suffering state neglect have tended be FARC strongholds, but interestingly, at this stage, the accord does not guarantee seats for direct FARC representation–a topic which has been the source of much press attention and debate. Humberto de la Calle has noted that the conditions under which the FARC might transition into the political system or attain seats in the Congress will be dealt with when the third item on the Agenda related to disarmament and reintegration is taken up.
Security for Political Participation
The parties agreed on a comprehensive security system for the exercise of politics. This system is envisaged within a framework of guarantees for the rights, duties, and freedoms of those who exercise politics. It seeks to protect those who engage in politics on the basis of the respect for life and freedom of thought and opinion (particularly the new movement that might emerge from the FARC-EP into legal political activity) in order to strengthen and deepen democracy and contribute to a climate of coexistence and tolerance. (The particular conditions of this transition will be discussed in Item 3 of the Agenda.)
The signing and implementation of the Final Accord will contribute to the broadening and deepening of democracy, in so far as it involves the setting aside of arms and the proscription of violence as a method of political action for all Colombians, for the purpose of transiting to a scenario where democracy prevails, with full guarantees for those who participate in politics, and in this way new spaces for participation will be opened.
Finally, it was agreed that everything referring to the point of political participation including its implementation would be carried out taking into account a gender approach and assuring the participation of women. This issue has been the point of much international advocacy. While the FARC have made some concerted efforts to ensure that women’s voices are heard–both through their new webpage, Mujer Fariana (launched on October 11, 2013), and the high profile it has given to women writers and guerrilla leaders on the FARC’s English page (farc-epeace.org) launched last August), it was still somewhat unfathomable to see the absence of women at the table when the negotiating teams announced the new accord.
There are currently no special provisions laid out in the political participation agreement that consider the relationship of Colombia’s ethnically diverse populations to the theme of political participation or that recognize explicitly the special political needs of Colombia’s indigenous and Afro communities. There are, however, pending requests by organizations representing these communities to present proposals to the table in Havana. (This is also the case with victims and women). Consultation with these groups could well assist the negotiators in refining and operationalizing their framework so that it clearly addresses the particular security needs of these groups, recognizes the contributions of an ethnically diverse population to the consolidation of democracy, and promotes respect for the cultural, territorial, and political rights of its diverse populations.
The parties noted in their joint communiqué (read by Rodolfo Benitez and Dag Nylander, the guarantors from Cuba and Norway, respectively) that the agreement on political participation is part of a broader comprehensive peace agreement of six points that they “hope to achieve soon.” The fourth point on the Agenda, “Solution to the Problem of Illicit Drugs,” will be the subject of the next round of conversations when they reconvene on November 18.
The communiqué noted, furthermore, that the delegates have created an office for displaying the objects and materials sent by the victims of the conflict to “show their respect for all of the victims of the conflict without distinction,” a theme to be taken up as the fifth point of the Agenda. The delegations acknowledged the support of the UN office in Colombia, the Center for Reflection for Peace of the National University, the Peace Commissions of the Colombian Senate and House of Representatives, the Colombian citizens and organizations who have submitted proposals through the forums, webpage, and surveys; and the four member nations of the Group of Friends constituted by Cuba, Norway, Chile and Venezuela; and the support from other nations, organizations, and leaders “who strengthen confidence in the path we are traveling.”
In a separate statement, Humberto de la Calle also acknowledged the hard work of both his own and the FARC’s negotiating teams. (“Tengo que decir que la delegación de las Farc igualmente ha puesto empeño y disciplina. Debo reconocer que ha trabajado con gran seriedad”, noted de la Calle.)
Another Hurdle Cleared
The accord is just what President Juan Manuel Santos needed to show progress and defend the continued pursuit of a peace accord. Most here in Colombia think this will bolster his bid for re-election and ensure that the peace issue will be a major theme of the upcoming electoral season. Polls following the announcement of the agreement showed an immediate surge in the President’s popularity from 41% last month to 55% in the days following the announcement of the political participation agreement. President Santos is widely expected to throw his hat into the presidential ring within the next week or two.