Vistas from Norway on the Colombian Peace Process

October 14-16, 2014

Oslo, Norway

The scenery flying past my window on the fast train from the Central Station in downtown Oslo to the Oslo Gardermoen Airport about 30 miles to the north is spectacular in an understated kind of way. From modern urban vistas of industrial glass and steel, the land opens gradually to rolling hills punctuated by barns of red or brown, surrounded by well-cultivated, if mostly barren, fields. Autumn yellows of a narrow palette glisten as they catch a ray of sun, defying the overcast silver skies. Thick,  billowing clouds menace a deeper gray in the distance. Inside the train, which is sleek, smooth, and surprisingly quiet, passengers talk in whispered conversations. A silent monitor at the front of each car provides brief headlines of world news–the advances of ISIL, the refugee crisis in Syria, the Russian-Ukraine conflict, and the latest figures from the stock market.

I arrived in Norway on Sunday, October 12, at the invitation of the Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Center (NOREF), the Norwegian foreign ministry’s think-tank, to participate in a seminar on the challenges of implementing a peace accord in Colombia. The seminar took place the next morning in Norway’s House of Literature, just behind the Royal Palace in Oslo. The House of Literature is financed by the Norwegian State to provide support and workspace to artists, writers, and culture practitioners in residence, and to promote public debates around current issues.  (Read about this forward-thinking initiative here.)

Monday’s event attracted an audience of about 70-80 people, largely drawn from the Norwegian foreign ministry, the international (especially Latin American) diplomatic community, area universities, residents of the Literature House, and the Norwegian public-at-large.

Dag Nylander, Norwegian representative at the peace talks in Havana, and I in front of the Norwegian Royal Palace.

Dag Nylander, Norwegian representative at the peace talks in Havana, and I in front of the Norwegian Royal Palace.

Mariano Aguirre, Director of NOREF, opened the event, noting that in the same way that “waves of interconnected violence” have swept over Colombia, so too society must come together to ensure that peace takes over the country. He underscored the need to anticipate and prepare for the implementation challenges that a peace accord might present.

State Secretary Bard Pedersen

Norway’s Foreign Minister Børge Brende was to have provided the keynote address, but flew to Cairo to co-officiate what appears to have been a successful international donors’ conference to garner pledges for supporting the reconstruction of Gaza. In his stead, Norwegian State Secretary Bard Pedersen (akin to the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State) spoke. Mr. Pedersen laid out the state of the peace talks in Cuba and described the promising progress that has been made by the representatives of the Colombian government and the FARC at the peace table in Havana. “Never before have negotiations come this far,” he told the audience. “The possibility of peace” in Colombia is no longer “unlikely or impossible.”  He noted that it is not too early to begin thinking about implementation of future peace accords.

Mr. Pedersen described Norway’s long-term commitment to peace in Colombia, and its long track record supporting a political solution with both the FARC and ELN over time. It was interesting to hear the Norwegian government’s views on the process, given its unique role in the talks. Norway, along with Cuba, was named “guarantor” of the talks by the Colombian government and the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC-EP). Along with Venezuela and Chile, who were asked to “accompany” the process, these four nations have formed a group of friends that has played a quiet yet important role in keeping the parties on track. The closed nature of the talks has made it difficult to learn much about what these specific roles entail and how they are being carried out.  Pedersen shed some light on how Norway sees its role.  He explained that Norway’s role in the current talks is highly flexible. Norway has sought “to create the conditions and environment for talks”, to protect their confidentiality, and to exercise balance and impartiality toward the parties. Norway has served as a witness and a facilitator of the talks, and has also engaged in discreet, mediation-like initiatives. The State Secretary noted that Norway has worked closely with Cuba, the host of the talks, and praised the “close coordination” Norway has enjoyed with that country.

State Secretary Pedersen spoke briefly about the National Liberation Army (ELN) process as well. Since exploratory talks between the Colombian government and the ELN began early this year, there has been little forward movement. Pedersen noted that Norway is trying to help the Colombian government and the ELN get formal talks launched. “The peace agreement will be not be complete without the ELN,” noted Mr. Pedersen.

The State Secretary shared a few lessons that the Norwegians have learned from other processes. First, an inclusive peace is key to a lasting peace. In South Sudan, the parties returned to war late last year after the new government failed to provide a mechanism for all parties to compete fairly. In the case of Mozambique, the peace also broke down last year–21 years after the peace accords were signed–because the revived rebel group Renamo was sidelined from politics and felt it had failed to receive a fair share of the country’s economic benefits.

Second, peace talks can provide a chance to reunite a society with deep rifts. Participation and social inclusion, particularly of women, will be crucial to this process. Pedersen praised the initiative of creating a new sub-commission on gender as a “positive” step toward healing and reconciliation.

Third, the signing of a peace accord does not automatically translate into peace.  In Guatemala, there was unprecedented social and economic change contemplated for the post-accord period, and a vision for change that included democracy, equity, and inclusion, but the implementation of the agreements could not be fully realized due to the lack of political will and capacity to ensure compliance.

Finally, Pedersen underscored that while Colombia is at the steering wheel of its own peace process, when it is time for implementation, Colombia will need international support. He pledged Norwegian support toward this end.

Panel Highlights

Professor Benedicte Bull, director of the Norwegian Latin America Research Network at the University of Oslo, opened and moderated the subsequent panel discussion. Joining me on the panel were Knut Andreas Lid, head of the International Department of Caritas-Norway; Jared Kotler, Peace and Development Adviser in the Office of the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Colombia; and Christian Visnes, Country Director for Colombia at the Norwegian Refugee Council.

There was clear consensus among all of the panelists that the prospects for a peace agreement are good—the parties have constructed a methodology and agenda that have enabled them to reach three provisional agreements on rural development, political participation, and drug-trafficking. Both sides have expressed their willingness to put victims’ rights to truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-repetition at the center of the talks and have opened the talks to the unprecedented direct participation of the victims at the table in Havana. They have agreed not to “exchange impunities.”  What these pledges will mean in practice is being defined at the peace table.

The international community is especially interested in a successful conclusion to the Colombian peace process, as it will provide an important example of a successful effort to turn chronic violence around through mediation and non-violent conflict resolution strategies.

When pressed by the moderator for speculation on when the final agreement might be signed, the panelists were understandably reluctant to be pinned down on dates. This may represent our own lessons learned.  When President Juan Manuel Santos announced the peace talks in late 2012, he promised that the process would be a matter of “months, not years.” We have learned that the process cannot be rushed, and the panelists seemed to agree that progress has been steady and serious.  Some panelists said they hoped 2015 would be the year that agreement is reached, but Christian Visnes reminded the audience that the Guatemala talks took 8 years of negotiations on and off to produce an accord.  Other successful examples–Guatemala, Philippines, and even Colombia’s own past negotiating efforts–have required long years of negotiations.

I noted that direct engagement of the victims at the peace table may delay the process but is nonetheless important as it is opening new terrain for reconciliation, in which the victims are playing an important, if underappreciated, role. This direct engagement is key to the formation of acceptable agreements and to longer-term public legitimacy of the talks.  These discussions are also helping restore dignity to the victims and laying the groundwork for an environment where reconciliation will be possible. To the extent the victims feel they have been heard by the parties and the public and to the extent victims’ ideas and proposals are embraced in the formation of the peace agreements, their direct participation constitutes a form of symbolic reparations in and of itself.  Such exercises should not be rushed, and they will be strengthened by ongoing initiatives at the local, regional, national, and even international levels in truth and historical memory.

On a related note, yesterday’s “Semana en Vivo” includes interviews with four of the victims’ who participated in the delegations to Cuba–General Luis Mendieta, José Antequera, Soraya Bayuelo and Consuelo González de Perdomo. The moderator, María Jimena Duzán, asks them about the significance of the trip and what they hope to achieve from their participation. It is powerful program and well worth watching—the interviewees are full of ideas, courage, integrity, and hope for the future of peace in Colombia: click here.

Challenges to the Peace Process and to Implementation

All of the panelists agreed that there will be continued challenges at the table as the parties seek to define the appropriate mechanisms that will respond to victims’ rights, provide security guarantees for ex-guerrillas entering civilian life, and ensure a stable and durable transition to peace.  We discussed spoilers (particularly from the landed rural elites and the Democratic Center party, spearheaded by ex-President Alvaro Uribe, as well as within the ranks of the military), recent scandals involving wiretapping and intervention of the peace teams’ communications, publicity spins around the authorized visits of the FARC’s top commander “Timochenko” to the island for consultations, and other attempts to undermine the talks.  Those benefitting from corruption, money laundering, and drug trafficking will have much to lose if the peace agreements are fully implemented.

The panel discussed also the state of public opinion around the peace talks and the need for a rigorous peace pedagogy to prepare the public for the required approval process that will ensue following the signing of any agreements.  Each panelist had stories of skeptical or resistant publics in different territories of Colombia. Knut Andreas noted that reconciliation in a country where more than 10% of the Colombian population has been directly victimized by the conflict and 250 municipalities lack a State presence is a daunting task.

“Communities have great hope and great uncertainty about the peace process,” noted Christian Visnes. The information flow in many regions is poor and in places like Putumayo many are not even aware of the peace talks, he added. Jared Kotler noted that public opinion polls show general support for peace, but reluctance to create political space for the FARC or their associated social and political organizations.

Thought must also be given to anticipating and preventing the next cycle of violence, the panelists noted.   In many regions where mining and energy concessions and extractive industries are displacing local populations, communities are seeking dialogue about development models.  I spoke about the Citizens’ Commissions for Peace and Reconciliation in Arauca and their efforts to advance dialogues with the private sector, local authorities, and communities around the nexus of peace, development, and reconciliation. Such dialogue initiatives can help to ensure that these issues don’t give way to new violence in the aftermath of a peace accord.

The panel discussed some of the security issues facing Colombia today. Christian Visnes spoke of Catatumbo, where the conflict continues to worsen, the border areas near Venezuela, rife with violence and criminality, and mentioned the permanent stream of Colombians seeking refuge in Ecuador. The biggest challenge, Christian noted, was the protection of victims, including many community leaders and those demobilizing. Such security has proven impossible in the past, as the decimation of the Patriotic Union (UP) well demonstrates. I noted that in September 2014 alone, human rights defenders reported more than 150 death threats by a variety of neo-paramilitary groups. Eight journalists in Valle del Cauca were under threat. (See my earlier posts on these topics.) Last week the National Federation of Ombudsmen reported that 220 of 1102 municipal ombudsmen were under death threat.

Jared Kotler addressed the drug issue, which is part of the Colombian peace accord drafts.  He noted that in the cases of the Salvador and Guatemala peace agreements, a weak state, the fragmentation of institutions, and their geographic locations left those countries ripe for organized crime in the aftermath of the peace accords. In the Colombian case, however, drugs have fueled the conflict for decades, and all of the armed actors have exercised violence to protect drugtrafficking and criminal interests. The Colombian accords anticipate these issues and hold out the promise that the State, the FARC, and local communities will work together to engage in massive voluntary eradication of coca crops and de-mining of these zones.

Multiple exclusions continue to be at the root of the Colombian conflict and will need to be addressed in a future peace accord and its implementation.  Peasants, women, Afro-Colombian populations, indigenous communities, and youth have all experienced historic discrimination, exclusion, and victimization.  I noted that the lack of opportunities for youth in Central America left young people few options, eroded self-esteem, and made them vulnerable to engaging in illicit activities. Colombia can learn from this experience. Colombian universities initiated a “firmatón” and gathered more than 100,000 signatures in early September to demand youth participation at the table in Havana. Such participation could help young people gain a sense of ownership and ensure that the next generation is vested in peace in Colombia.

Other challenges discussed by the panelists included questions of paramilitarism, criminal bands, security for demobilizing as well as for community leaders, returning populations, the culture of peace, the need to deepen a pedagogy of peace, and the many different roles and potential roles of the international community. (On options for U.S. policymakers, see a new brief just put out by the Latin America Working Group Education Fund—click here; for a Spanish version, click here.)

An International Pedagogy of Peace

It will be important for the international community to support Colombia as it seeks to implement any agreements the parties in Havana might sign. President Santos has already been engaged in his own global diplomacy, which looks like it is going into high gear. In late September, Santos met with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, and they discussed the role of the international community in a post-accord period. He has been in touch with high-level U.S. authorities. He spoke by phone with President Obama and last week received the visit of U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. Next month, Santos will travel to Madrid, Paris, Brussels, Lisbon, London and Berlin to meet with the heads-of-state in those counties and to seek their support for the creation of an European Union fund to help finance the costs for the post-accord period. (See here.)

Mariano Aguirre, the director of NOREF, told me that the event in Oslo is designed to invigorate public knowledge about the Colombian peace process.  The Oslo seminar is the first in a planned series of similar international events to help rally support for the peace process abroad. (For information on the Oct. 16 seminar at the Universidad Torcuato Di Tella in Buenos Aires, Argentina, click here; for information on the Oct. 20 seminar to be co-hosted by Fundación Chile 21 in Santiago, Chile, click here.)  Future seminars are anticipated elsewhere.  An international peace pedagogy will complement Colombian efforts in this regard, help ensure the ratification of the accords, and contribute to ensuring the support that will be needed to translate any approved accords into meaningful practice.

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29th Cycle Ends; FARC Launches News Show on the Peace Talks

Oct. 5, 2014

The peace delegations of the Colombian government and the FARC ended their 29th cycle of talks on Friday, Oct. 3, and announced that they would initiate the 30th cycle on October 20.  During the 29th cycle, as part of the discussions about how to address the issue of victims, the peace table received testimonies and proposals from a third delegation of victims.  In a press statement on Oct. 3,  Humberto de la Calle, the head of the Colombian government’s negotiating team, noted, “With yesterday’s visit, 36 men and women have now come to Havana.  We want their stories to transcend drama and pain to be transformed into a vital element of the discussion of this point on the agenda.  They are the center of gravity for this process.”  (Read his statement here.)

The victims on the third delegation–Ximena Ochoa, Nancy Galárraga, Camilo Umaña, Victoria Liu, Luis Fernando Arias, Soraya Bayuelo, general Luis Mendieta, Aída Avella, Martha Amorocho, Emilce Hernández, Érika Paola Jiménez and Alan Jara–represented a wide range of experiences.  (See my previous blog post here.)  In the latest round of talks, according to De la Calle, the peace delegations heard from girls “whose childhood was stolen from them; mothers who never saw their children grow up or saw them grow up struggling with the grave consequences of an attack; women who saw how their sisters were subjected to the most atrocious acts of violence; children who today carry the pain caused by the kidnapping of their fathers.”

In his press statement, De la Calle noted that, “The disposition to assume responsibility is the basic condition for advancing in the construction of a legitimate model of transitional justice that satisfies the rights of the victims.  Only this disposition will send society clear and honest indications that it is possible to put an end to the conflict.  … The Government has done this…. The FARC must do it as well in the most categoric way.  They should go beyond what we said when we approved the ten points for developing point 5 on Victims.  They should make a clear pronouncement, without excuses.”  (Read the full statement here.)

The Colombian press highlighted the polemic that emerged over the presence of general (r) Luis Herlindo Mendieta at the table, who was held in the jungle by the FARC for nearly a dozen year.  (See “Así vivieron Mendieta y Alan Jara el cara a cara con las Farc.”) FARC negotiator “Andrés París” said he listened to the retired officer with respect, but insisted that Mendieta, because of his condition as a member of the Armed Forces, was a prisoner of war, rather than a victim.  “We do not want to veto anyone.  What we are asking for is a balance in participation.  If a member of the Armed Forces, who was a prisoner of war, comes [to Havana], then we ask for a prisoner of war who is in the jails of Colombia [to come],” said “París”.  (Read the discussion here.)  Mendieta rejected the FARC’s position, noting that his treatment by the FARC violated international humanitarian law, and he called on the FARC to clarify the whereabouts of 120 police who have gone missing.

The victims were united by their pain and were unanimous in calling on the parties to hasten the end to the conflict, to declare a bilateral ceasefire and other “gestures of peace,” and to stay at the table until a final peace accord has been reached.  Ex-presidential candidate Aída Avella spoke about the extermination of the Patriotic Union leaders, the threats they continue to face, and the need to create safer conditions for political participation.  Alan Jara, governor of Meta, held for years by the FARC, called on the parties to open the process to greater participation from the regions where the conflict has been most intense.  Luis Fernando Arias, senior advisor of the national indigenous organization, ONIC, called on the government and the FARC to receive a delegation at the peace table that represents indigenous communities.

View the Oct. 3 press conference given by the third delegation of victims at the conclusion of their meetings at the peace talks in Havana:

With the ongoing technical support and accompaniment of the National University, United Nations, and the Colombian Bishops Conference, a fourth delegation of victims will travel to Cuba at the end of the upcoming cycle, on Oct. 29th.

New Program Launched

On Sept. 30, the FARC-EP peace delegation announced the launch of a new video news program on the peace talks that will be aired every three days and will show the FARC’s vision of events in Havana.  (View more about the initiative here.)  “We hope this space for information will help break the grip on the press that the regime has imposed on Colombians because we need to know the truth,” noted Boris Guevara, co-host with Tanya Neimeyer (aka Alejandra Nariño), both of whom are members of the FARC-EP peace delegation.  The show looks to be smart, professional, and well designed.  Two programs have now been released.  View the debut program here:

Uribe’s Efforts to Engage the FARC Revealed

Finally, in what may help to undercut Uribe’s criticisms of the peace talks or at least soften the sting, the Colombian press revealed that exPresident Alvaro Uribe had sought repeatedly to launch peace talks with the FARC-EP, had lined up options for the talks to take place in Brazil, and had engaged in direct talks with the ELN in Havana. (See “Los contactos secretos de Uribe con las FARC.”)  Current Colombian government negotiator Frank Pearl, who was a peace commissioner under Uribe, confirmed that Uribe had authorized him to seek talks with the FARC.  None of these are surprising revelations and most have long been in the public domain (see Maria Jimena Duzan’s piece back in April 2013).  On Monday, President Juan Manuel Santos called on Uribe and his allies to join in the search for an end to the armed conflict in Colombia.  “Instead of sabotaging and putting sticks in the wheels of the process, I invite them to sit together to see how we might work together.  How good it would be that the entire country, regardless of party, would see to seek that peace.” (Read his statement here.)  Giving Uribe credit for helping to establish the basis for the talks may be a smart move that could help bring the country together around the peace talks and ensure that a peace agreement is approved by the populace once the mechanisms for ratification are decided.  

Clearly, President Santos is also seeking to firm up his support internationally as well, in anticipation of post-accord needs.  Yesterday, Santos and President Barak Obama had a phone conversation in which Santos briefed Obama on the peace process and anticipated challenges.  Obama “underscored continued strong U.S. support for the work done so far by the Colombian government to bring an end to the longest running conflict in the Americas and expressed U.S. readiness to work closely with Colombia during the post-conflict period.” (Read the full statement here.)  Next month, Santos will travel to Madrid, Paris, Brussels, Lisbon and Berlin to meet with heads of state and to seek their support for the creation of a post-conflict fund that would be administered through the European Union.


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Efforts to Subvert the Peace Process Denounced; Third Delegation of Victims to Havana

October 1, 2014

On Saturday, Sept. 27, Colombia’s lead government negotiator Humberto de la Calle  announced that he had been the target of a hacking operation that he classified as  “sabotage of the peace process.”  (Read his statement here.)   He charged that unknown parties on at least 17 occasions sought to hack into his computer and emails, and that emails and communications to social media may have been sent out under his signature.  De la Calle also charged that his cell phone might be intervened.

Minister of the Interior Juan Fernando Cristo called the interceptions a demonstration of what the “enemies of peace” might do to end the Havana peace process.  Minister of Defense Juan Carlos Pinzón called the actions “unacceptable”.  From Havana, on Sept. 28, members of the FARC-EP peace delegation issued a statement that rejected the action and expressed their solidarity with De la Calle.  “We interpret the fact that the head of the Government delegation himself chose the peace table in Havana as the place to reveal the illicit [operation] as his desire to make it known that the enemies of peace continue to torpedo the process of talks without considering methods or persons.” (Read the full statement here.) FARC leaders underscored that “various months after learning about the scandalous Andromeda episode, the Attorney General of the Nation still hasn’t produced the results expected by the public, and new events of the same sort continue to occur.”

On Tuesday, Sept. 30, an investigation was opened by the Cuerpo Técnico de Investigación, the investigative arm of the Attorney General’s office, and on Oct. 1, the head of the National Police confirmed the interceptions and noted that they had not yet ascertained who was responsible.

3rd Victims’ Delegation to Havana

cq5dam.web.540.390On Oct. 1, members of the third delegation of victims set off for Havana, and the UN Resident Coordinator Fabrizio Hochschild denounced that three of the victims who have traveled to Cuba and two of the coordinators of the delgation had received death threats; others have been attacked in social media. (Read more here.)   This third delegation, to be received tomorrow at the peace table, includes 8 women and four men.  Once again, it is a highly mixed group.  Four of its members are victims of FARC violence, one is a victim of State violence, five were victimized by paramilitary groups, one by a joint operation of the state and paramilitaries, and another suffered violence at the hands of both the FARC and the paramilitary.  (See General Mendieta, Aida Avella y Alan Jara integran la nueva comisión de víctimas.) This group also includes a number of conflict zones that have not been previously represented by the first two groups of victims, namely the departments of Vaupés, Bolívar, Cesar, Putumayo and Norte de Santander, and a number of new sectors, including ranchers, and military officials who were held for years by the FARC, and Colombians who were forced into exile by the war.    Included in the group are also victims of the violence against the Patriotic Union, the bombing of the Club Nogal in Bogota, and the massacre of La Gabarra in Norte de Santander.  (For a list of the victims and their profiles, click here.)

Threats Continue

The climate for victims, human rights defenders, and journalists seems to be quickly worsening as the peace process advances.  A series of death threats in recent weeks have been sent to email accounts of dozens of  human rights and peace activists, some signed by the Rastrojos, others signed by the Aguilas Negras.  (See Colombia Reports and earlier post.)  On Monday, Sept. 29, death threats by the Urabeños against 8 journalists in Cali and Buenaventura were announced. (Read more here.) Just yesterday, Colombia was pronounced the second most dangerous place (after Mexico) in Latin America to be a journalist.  (See article here.) The targets of the recent death threats have expressed concern that these threats are somewhat different from the usual threats they receive in their specificity and in that they name the individuals as “military targets.”  The lists include respected organizations such as CODHES (Consultancy for Displacement and Human Rights), the New Rainbow Foundation, and the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation.

Campaign for 100 Days of Peace

In the meantime, civil society efforts for peace continue with boundless energy and creativity.  A new campaign with a strong social media element has been launched that seeks to register all of the peace initiatives in Colombia that occur between September 2 and December 10 (international human rights day).  Among other things, the campaign seeks to strengthen the cohesion of the peace movement and give visibility to peace efforts during that time. Likewise, the campaign is calling for a bilateral ceasefire for the subsequent 100 days, between Dec. 10-April 17, 2015.  For more information about the campaign or to add your initiatives, tweet @100diasporlapaz or check out the Face Book at ciendiasporlapaz.

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Preliminary Accords Released to the Public as 29th Round Begins

23 September 2014

The 29th round of talks began on Tuesday, Sept. 23, and in a joint communiqué on Sept. 24, the Colombian government and FARC-EP negotiators in Havana announced their decision to make public the preliminary draft agreements reached in the peace process thus far. (See the joint statement here.)  The parties noted that “all sorts of speculations exist about what has been agreed–speculations that are sometimes the result of ignorance of the communiqués and reports and others with the clear intent to disinform public opinion.  For this reason, and as a measure of transparency, we decided to make public the texts of the joint drafts.”

In a separate statement,  lead government negotiator Humberto de la Calle recognized that the parties had released more than 40 joint communiqués to the public, but acknowledged that “those efforts at transparency have not been sufficient and have left too wide a margin for speculation, including ill-intentioned speculation.”  (See his statement here.)

The drafts, which total some 65 pages, pertain to the three preliminary agreements reached thus far:

  • “Toward a New Colombian Countryside:  Comprehensive Rural Reform”/“Hacia un Nuevo Campo Colombiano: Reforma Rural Integral”
  • “Political Participation: A Democratic Opening for Building Peace”/“Participación política: Apertura democrática para construir la paz”
  • “Solution to the Problem of Illicit Drugs”/ “Solución al Problema de las drogas ilícitas”

Read the agreements here.

Recap of Last Round

The 28th round of talks between the Government of Colombia and the FARC-EP finished  on Thursday, September 11, 2014 with a joint statement that underscored the two main accomplishments of the cycle–the visit of a second delegation of victims to Havana, and the formalization of the gender subcommission.

“Like the testimony of the first twelve victims who came a few weeks ago, this second visit was fundamental for enriching the discussions of the fifth item on the Agenda [Victims], strengthening this process and the related accords that we might reach,” the statement read.  (See the full statement here.)  At a press conference on Sept. 11, the delegation of victims called on the parties to stay at the table until agreement was reached, urged them to accelerate the process and enact a bilateral ceasefire, and called on the parties to fulfill and guarantee the rights of the victims.  Read their press statement here and watch it below:

In the 28th cycle, which began on Sept. 1, the delegations also discussed among themselves the issue of victims and heard from experts on truth commissions.  A third delegation of victims will be received on Oct. 2.

Likewise, the gender sub commission began functioning in the last cycle, and the parties noted that it would meet at least once per cycle.  The subcommission will be accompanied by external advisors.  “The inclusion of a gender focus in a peace process like this has no precedent in the world, and is a milestone in the construction of agreements reached and forthcoming,” the parties noted in their joint statement of Sept. 11.

The delegations also acknowledged receipt of the reports on victims from the UN-National University forums in Barrancabermeja, Barranquilla, Villavicencio and Cali, and thanked Cuba, Norway, Chile and Venezuela for their support for the peace talks.



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28th Cycle of Talks in Havana in Full Swing

September 10, 2014

On Monday, September 1, the government of Colombia and the FARC-EP reconvened in Havana to initiate the 28th cycle of peace talks.  In this cycle, negotiators are working simultaneously on several different fronts.


The parties at the table continue to grapple with the issue of satisfying victims’ rights to truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-repetition.  They have now received proposals from the numerous forums on the topic organized by the United Nations and the National University, as well as earlier regional consultations organized by the Peace Commissions of the Congress and the United Nations and the visit on August 16th of the first of at least five delegations of victims. (See my earlier posts on this topic.)

A second delegation of victims join the parties in Havana today (Wed., September 10) and tomorrow.  Nine of the twelve delegation members are women, reflecting what UN Resident Coordinator Fabrizio Hochschild called “the harsh reality that in this armed conflict, women and girls have paid the highest costs.”  Delegation members again are a diverse group, representing victims of displacement, forced disappearance and recruitment, kidnapping, killings, and land mines. (For more on the members of the delegation, click here.)

Finally, a Historical Commission on the Conflict and its Victims (CHCV) named at the end of the last cycle is hard at work producing a series of reports and inputs for consideration in the discussions on victims.  (See my recent post on this topic here.)

For the most part, Colombian society and the press appear be rallying around the victims.  Nonetheless, some of the participants in the first delegation have suffered hostile attacks of various sorts.  Luz Marina Bernal (the mother of a youth who was killed extrajudicially) and Jaime Peña (whose son was assassinated in a massacre in Barrancabermeja in 1998) received death threats on their return from Havana.  Angela Giraldo (brother of a Congressman kidnapped and killed by the FARC) was the target of a twitter campaign launched by María Fernanda Cabal, a Congresswoman of the Center Democratic party, who cast aspersions on Angela’s participation in the first victims’ delegation to Havana and her relationship with the FARC; Angela has filed libel charges with the Prosecutor’s office.

Likewise, a FARC commander published an article on the FARC website that maligned Rep. Clara Rojas and downplayed her status as a victim. (Read “¿Es Clara Rojas una víctima de las FARC?” here, with a version in English here.)  Rep. Rojas was the running mate in Ingrid Betancourt’s bid for the presidency in 2002; both were captured on the campaign trail and held captive by the FARC for six years.  The FARC article prompted a strong reaction from both the government’s negotiating team (view Declaración de la Delegación del Gobierno Nacional) and the FARC peace delegation (view FARC Comunicado Respuesta a Humberto de la Calle), and caused Rep. Rojas to withdraw in protest on Monday from her position as co-chair of the Congress’s Peace Commission.

Human rights leaders, organizations that have defended victims, peace organizations, and Afro-Colombian organizations have come under increased attack.  Yesterday, a paramilitary group, Black Eagles (Aguilas Negras), issued death threats via email accounts to 91 human rights defenders, the latest in this worrisome trend of attacks against human rights defenders. While many civil society groups are rallying to defend those being threatened, the situation is made worse by recent announcements by Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo that the National Protection Unit will be reducing funds that have offered a number of these leaders protection.  (Read Senator Fernando Cristo’s remarks here.) In the first half of 2014, 30 human rights defenders were assassinated.  (Read more here.)

Ending the Conflict

In addition to addressing the peace agenda item on victims, the parties in Havana are also beginning work on the last substantive item on the agenda–ending the conflict.  On August 22, a delegation of high-level active Colombian military officers joined the parties at the peace table to participate in the launch of a technical sub commission on this topic.  The sub-commission is studying the options and logistics of a bilateral cease-fire and cessation of hostilities, the laying aside of arms (dejación de armas), and national and international models and practices that have been used for integrating excombatants into civilian life.  (See Comunicado Conjunto 42 and statement by lead government negotiator Humberto de la Calle here.)  Each of the delegations was to appoint 10 members to the sub commission.  For the government side, Army General (ret.) Jorge Enrique Mora Rangel and Police General (ret.) Óscar Naranjo Trujillo, already members of the peace delegation, will lead the team.  Read more here about the active-duty participants on the subcommittee, who include:

  • Army General Javier Alberto Flórez Aristizábal, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces;
  • Army Colonel Vicente Sarmiento Vargas;
  • Army Colonel Saúl Rojas Huertas;
  • Commander of the Navy Ómar Cortes Reyes;
  • Lieutenant Colonel of the National Police Edwin Chavarro Rojas;
  • Air Force Major Rodrigo Mezú Mina;
  • Navy Lieutenant Juanita Millán Fernández.
  • Mónica Cifuentes Osorio, legal director of the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace;
  • César Restrepo Flórez, director of Strategic Studies for the Defense Ministry;
  • Alejandro Reyes Lozano, advisor of the Office of the High Oficina Alto Comisionado para la Paz.

Increasingly, President Santos is seeking to reassure the military about their future, to address their concerns, and to engage them as allies.  Shortly after the launch of the technical sub commission, on August 29, President Santos announced the establishment of a high-level military Transitional Command for the Post-Conflict (Comando de Transición), to be headed by General Javier Flórez.  This week, Santos initiated a tour to military bases throughout the country to inform them of the role of the military in relation to the peace process and to assure their support.  The tour was in part a response to the loud criticism from the Democratic Center party, particularly ex-President Alvaro Uribe, regarding the participation of active-duty military in the peace talks, which Uribe suggested was unconstitutional.  (See “Presencia de los militaries“. )

President Santos responded to his critics at a meeting in Cartagena:  “I don’t really understand the criticism.  That the military are going to be humiliated for confronting the enemy at a table and agreeing on how the enemy will put aside their weapons?… Who better than them [the military,] who have been the ones to fight during all this time, can give advice, opinions on how to achieve an effective, controllable ceasefire, and how to guarantee that the setting aside of arms might be successful and real if not the military themselves?”  Santos continued, “[T]his should not surprise anyone, rather just the opposite.  It should be seen as a guarantee for the entire society and for the Armed Forces themselves.”

The presence of active-duty officers in Havana and the establishment of a transitional command in the heart of the Armed Forces reflects the seriousness and advanced stage of the peace process.  The issue of military engagement in the peace process and post-accord phase is being discussed in other fora as well.  In an historic, closed door session of 3 hours on Aug. 20, Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón and the heads of the Armed Forces and police met with the Peace Commissions of the House and Senate to discuss future scenarios generated by the peace accords in Havana.  According to press reports in Semana, the military presented a list of 15 concerns, of which one–mechanisms for applying justice for members of the military forces and police–received the most attention.  The report noted that one of the generals suggested that it “would not be right to have guerrillas sitting in the congressional seats while [military officials] sit in jail.”   Many of the Congressional leaders agreed that there would be a need to think through what kind of justice would be needed for the members of the armed forces.  Roy Barreras, one of the co-presidents of the Senate Peace Commission, assured those present that “Pardoning guerrillas while condemning military is not going to happen.”

Guerrilla Command for Normalization

Meanwhile, the government’s new Transition Command appears to have produced some consternation among the FARC.  In a September 2 communiqué (read it here), the FARC proposed a parallel guerrilla command (Comando Guerrillero de Normalización), to be headed by one of the top FARC military commanders, Joaquín Gómez, head of the Southern Bloc, to implement “mechanisms of normalization of the Armed Forces in order to secure their prompt return to their constitutional role of defending the borders.” (Read more here.)  FARC delegate “Pablo Catatumbo” noted on Tuesday, Sept. 2, “If the Transition Command has the purpose of undertaking the study of the ‘demobilization and disarmament of the guerrilla’, the Guerrilla Command for Normalization must “study the return of the military forces to their constitutional role [and] the dismantling of the counterinsurgency battalions in pursuit of such normalization.”

There are some basic tensions in the framing of what the international community has called DDR (demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration) for Colombia.  The language used is key and is highly sensitive.  In their Sept. 2 statement, the FARC noted that “concepts like ‘transition,’ ‘demobilization’ or ‘disarmament’ do not exist in the grammar of the accord in Havana, much less in the language of the guerrilla.”  In relation to the government’s creation of the Command for the Transition, the FARC statement clarified furthermore that “there is no way that the FARC would accept a military hierarchy to resolve matters that are by definition of a political nature,” and that “aspects as important as the laying down of arms also imply the demilitarization of the society and the State.”  The FARC have always resisted the notion that they would turn their arms over to anyone, and are likely to continue to insist that this process is not about unilateral disarmament.  In turn, President Santos has held firmly that military reforms will not be negotiated at the peace table in Havana, though he has also acknowledged that he does not envision the FARC turning over their arms to the Army.  A creative solution will need to be found that respects the red lines of both parties but also contributes to a real transition to peace.

Gender Subcommission

Another important development in this round of talks has been the installation on Sunday, September 7, of the subcommision on gender that had been announced three months earlier.  The commission’s mandate is to integrate the voices of women and gender perspectives in all of the accords reached at the table.  In a press statement on Sept. 7, Colombian government negotiator Nigería Rentería noted that the commission “seeks to guarantee inclusion, social equity, and bring us closer to an accord that represents the interests of men and women.” (Read her full statement here.)  The sub commission will include 5 members elected by the government delegation and five elected by the FARC.

FARC delegates to the gender sub commission have already been announced and include FARC-EP peace delegation members Yira Castro, Diana Grajales, Victoria Sandino, Alexandra Nariño and Camila Cienfuegos.  Government participants in the sub commission have not yet been officially announced, though press reports suggest that it includes both men and women, including government negotiators Nigeria Rentería, María Paulina Riveros, Elena Ambrosi, as well as Magaly Arocha D., Cuban gender advisor to the delegation. (Click here to read “Por un enfoque de género en los acuerdos parciales.”)

In a Sept. 7 press conference, the five FARC sub commission members held a press conference  in which they released their platform, “For a New Colombia without Gender Discrimination.” The statement noted that some 40% of the FARC are women, and underscored the FARC’s ideological commitment to equality and justice, including women’s rights, and women’s “irreplaceable contribution” to the creation of a “New Colombia.”  The women recognized that prejudices and patriarchal attitudes exist within the FARC-EP, but that mistreatment of women is “severely punished” and “not tolerated.”

The FARC delegation complemented the platform with its own statement of support for the work of the gender sub-commission.  It expressed disappointment that the commission’s mandate did not include a more explicit commitment to women’s rights, as expressed in many of the international instruments and advocated for by women and gender organizations in Colombia and around the world.  It also expressed the hope that the commission would produce real change for women and members of the lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender (LBGT) communities.  “It will be up to us then, to try to include, beginning with [the gender subcommission's] limited mandate, the best initiatives that the peace accord will allow, not only suggestions, but real proposals for change that grant full rights to women and to the LBGTI sectors that have been segregated for so long,” the delegation observed.  (See their statement here.)

The government’s position has yet to be developed–or at least shared with the public.  Meanwhile, however, women in the Colombian Congress, lead by Senator Claudia López Hernández, have begun to demand that political reforms include measures to achieve gender equality.  In particular, she and others are backing a proposal to require 50-50 representation of men and women in the political party lists of candidates for public office. (See “Exigen incluir equidad de género en reforma política“.)

The Final Phase?

In his inauguration speech on August 7, President Juan Manuel Santos announced his Administration’s priorities for his second term–peace, equity, and education.  (View his speech here.)  Since then, Santos has shuffled and reorganized his Cabinet to support these priorities.  He noted the need to finish negotiating the agreements in order to enter the post-conflict phase, something that will require “great skill and knowledge,” and announced that his Administration is already beginning to plan for the post-conflict phase, as that phase is “perhaps even more difficult than the peace process itself.”


Convening of the Ministers’ Council. (Photo by Juan Pablo Bello, courtesy of SIG.)

On September 3, President Santos swore in a new team of minister-counselors and his Private Secretary.  In the ceremony, Santos confirmed General Óscar Naranjo, former head of the National Police, as the Minister-Counselor for Post-Conflict, Human Rights, and Security, a newly created position, and charged him with “formulating, structuring, and coordinating the policies and programs related to the post conflict, advising me on how to modernize the models for security, demobilization, and reintegration.” (Read the Santos interview on Cabinet changes and anticipated challenges for the second term here.)

Each of these developments in Havana and in Bogota is bringing the conflict closer to its conclusion.  As President Juan Manuel Santos announced, “We are already talking about the last phase of this process, about the last phase of the agenda.”  Lead government negotiator Humberto de la Calle echoed this perspective.  At the end of the last round of talks he noted, “We have entered decision-making moments in the process.  There are serious possibilities for ending the conflict.”

Major differences remain, and, as one FARC leader noted, “We are not yet in the final stretch.”

This is a critical phase.  The new commissions and sub commissions are just beginning their work, the victims’ delegations over the coming cycles will continue to play an important role in bringing the country to healing, and education of the public on the peace process and its role in a transition is in its early stages.  This week’s annual peace education week, Semana por la Paz, initiated on Sunday, will offer important contributions toward this process.   The momentum for peace is growing and the process is on a good track forward.

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Historical Commission on the Conflict and Its Victims (CHCV)

September 3, 2014

In another Colombian innovation at the peace tables, on Thursday, August 21, the Colombian government and FARC negotiators installed a new Historical Commission on the Conflict and its Victims (CHCV).  Shortly thereafter, the Commission issued its first communiqué (see Comunicado 1 de la comisión histórica CHCV), announcing that it had held its first meeting and organized a work plan and schedule in accordance with the mandate it had been given.  The communiqué notes that the commission has been jointly designed by the Colombian national government and the FARC-EP to contribute to ending the armed conflict.  Although each delegation nominated half of the members, the Commission would serve at the behest of the entire peace delegation.  The CHCV’s communiqué calls on the press, state agencies, and the public to “abstain from any commentary not supported by fact that might be inclined to stigmatize or delegitimize” Commission members.  It notes further that the Commission “will abstain from all media exposure and work with total discretion,” suggesting that we will be hearing little from this Commission until its work is complete.

The FARC delegation had long called for an historical clarification commission as part of the peace process, and both parties announced their agreement in a joint communiqué on June 7th to establish such a commission.  (See the communiqué here).  The CHCV is intended to provide inputs for discussions on the topic of victims, point 5 on the peace agenda, and would address three specific topics:

  • the origins and multiple causes of the conflict,
  • the principle factors that have facilitated or contributed to the persistence of the conflict, and
  • the effects and most notable impacts of the conflict on the population.

By early August, the parties had further developed the proposal for the CHCV.  In a joint communiqué on August 5th, they laid out their vision for the Commission’s mandate, and the principles and methodology that would guide its work.  They announced that the  CHCV would produce a final report within four months which would serve as “a fundamental ingredient for the comprehension of the complexity of the conflict and the responsibilities of those who have participated and had an impact in it, and for the clarification of the truth.  To that extent, it will be a basic component for a future truth commission and will contribute to reconciliation.”  It remained to identify the commissioners, half of whom would be named by the Colombian government and the remainder by the FARC-EP.

On August 21, the Historical Commission on the Conflict and its Victims was installed and in a joint communiqué on August 22, the peace delegations released the names of the commissioners.  The body includes 12 respected academics and experts from across the political spectrum:

  1. Daniel Pécaut: French sociologist and expert on Colombia.
  2. Francisco Gutiérrez Sanín: Researcher and professor at IEPRI (Instituto de Estudios Políticos y Relaciones Internacionales), Universidad Nacional.
  3. Gustavo Duncan: Researcher at the Universidad de los Andes.
  4. Jorge Giraldo: Dean of the School of Sciences and Humanities at EAFIT (Escuela de Administración Finanzas e Instituto Tecnológico).
  5. Vicente Torrijos: Professor of political science and international relations at the Universidad del Rosario.
  6. María Emma Wills: Researcher for the National Historical Memory Center.
  7. Renán Vega: Professor titular of the Universidad Pedagógica Nacional of Bogotá.
  8. Alfredo Molano: Sociologist, writer, and columnist.
  9. Darío Fajardo: Professor of the Universidad Externado and promoter (gestor) of the Zonas de Reserva Campesina.
  10. Jairo Hernando Estrada Álvarez: Professor of the Department of Political Science of the Universidad Nacional.
  11. Javier Giraldo, S.J., Interecclesiastic Commission on Justice and Peace. (Earlier press reports had listed Malcolm Deas, Britsh historian specializing in Colombia.)
  12. Sergio de Zubiría: Philosopher, researcher and associate professor of the Universidad de los Andes.

The commissioners, which include only one women and mostly hail from Colombia’s capital city, will produce individual or joint reports in response to the three aforementioned points on its mandate, and will determine the time period to be considered in the reports.  (For more on the academic profiles of the CHCV, click here.)  They will then turn their reports over to two rapporteurs — Víctor Manuel Moncayo (exrector of the Universidad Nacional) and Eduardo Pizarro Leongómez (ex-President of the National Commission for Reparation and Reconciliation).  The rapporteurs are tasked with synthesizing the expert reports, identifying the areas of “consensus, dissent, and plurality of visions” among the experts, and producing a final report to be turned over to the negotiating teams.  The work of the commission is expected to be completed within four months.

The FARC delegation welcomed the installation of the CHCV, noting that, with its establishment, “the peace process is making a qualitative leap on the path toward reconciliation.”  It called the new commission a “key scenario for the clarification of the truth, based on the auscultation of the origins, causes, effects and responsibilities that provide the context for the development of the political, economic, social and armed conflict arising from poverty, inequality and the lack of democracy that have characterized our national life for over half a century.” (Click here to read the FARC communiqué.)

I think the most innovative and interesting part of the commission’s work is likely to be the identification of areas of consensus and disagreement in the telling of the historical narrative of the war.  Just as the peace table in Havana has been a model for laying out differences and then finding common ground, so too the CMCV will need to engage in an exercise of discernment–one that represents the best academic practice of critical thinking.   While beginning with the reports of the Historical Memory Commission as a starting point for the critiques might have proven more expeditious, peace talks are all about process, so there are likely numerous purposes served in the approach that is currently playing out that respond to the particular political needs of the parties  at the table.


CHCV Will Not Replace Truth Commission

All of the parties at the table have been clear that the CHCV will not replace a truth commission.  The CHCV “does not substitute as a mechanism for the complete clarification of the truth, which would need to rely on the participation of everyone, especially the victims,” the parties declared in their June 7th statement. (See the joint declaration here in Spanish and here in English.)

Humberto de la Calle elaborated on some of the differences between the CHCV and a Truth Commission in his August 22 statement: “The work of this Commission neither substitutes for nor predetermines any element of a future Truth Commission.  This is not about establishing who did what on the basis of evidence and testimonies, as usually occurs with a Truth Commission.  This group of experts will not rely on the participation of the victims or of the society more generally …  Nor will this group formulate recommendations, as would a Truth Commission.”

De la Calle noted furthermore that the major difference between the CHCV and a truth commission is that a legitimate truth commission functions after the conflict has ended, while the CHCV was established to provide inputs to the peace talks themselves.  The CHCV will not establish individual responsibilities, free anyone of responsibilities, or engage in original new research.  It is instead an academic body that will use academic methods.  Its mandated goal is to contribute to a broader understanding of the historical context of the conflict in order to generate conclusions that can help establish remedies to end the conflict and produce a an accord that will contribute to a durable peace.  The work of the CHCV is expected to provide inputs for a truth commission when it is established, however.

Establishing a clarification commission during the negotiations to help inform the negotiators is unprecedented.  While truth commissions are often established within the context of a final peace accord, the usual pattern is to sign a peace agreement that ends the war and signals the intent to establish such a commission.  In the Colombian process, however, the parties have determined that identifying the range of interpretations of the conflict is a necessary pre-condition to forging agreements on how to satisfy the victims’ rights to truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-repetition.

Unlike in many other conflicts where a government is negotiating with an insurgent group, Colombia’s internal armed conflict is not simply between the two parties at the peace table.  The Colombian conflict includes a broad range of social, political, and economic actors and issues, as well as other armed actors who are not present at the peace table in Havana.  An agreement between the FARC and the Colombian government that does not address this broader context is likely to prove inadequate to the long-term task of ending the cycle of violence in Colombia.  The CMCV therefore may be an important mechanism in helping ensure that the deeper causes of the conflict are addressed in a way to ensure that peace is sustainable.


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Mediation Perspectives: Innovative Approaches in the Colombian Peace Process

August 28, 2014

See my post published yesterday for the International Relations and Security Network of ETH Zurich/Swiss Federal Institute of Technology:

Mediation Perspectives: Innovative Approaches in the Colombian Peace Process.


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