Highlights of the 39th Cycle of Peace Talks in Havana

August 19, 2015

As the Colombian government and the FARC prepare to return to the peace table in Havana tomorrow, August 20th, for the 40th cycle of talks, I offer here a brief recap and analysis of the flurry of activities since my last post on the peace process in mid-July.

The Interlude between Sessions

When the 38th cycle closed on July 12, following the most violent period seen since the beginning of peace talks in 2012, the Colombian government and the FARC peace delegations issued a joint statement committing themselves to a new dual strategy that would hasten a final peace accord in Havana on the one hand,  and de-escalate the conflict in Colombia on the other.  (See joint statement here.)

The first part of the strategy includes “technical, continuous and simultaneous work on the key points of the Agenda while the accords are being crafted at the table.”  In particular, the parties agreed to move forward on establishing the terms for a bilateral ceasefire and the setting aside of arms.  To this effect, they invited the UN Secretary General and the UNASUR president (currently Uruguay) to delegate representatives to serve on the Technical Subcommission on Ending the Conflict in Havana in order to help them design relevant systems for monitoring and verification.

Complementing this intensification of technical work, In relation to the second part of the strategy, the FARC extended the unilateral ceasefire it had announced on July 8 from one month to four months, and the government said it would undertake de-escalation and confidence-building measures, as yet to be defined, in tandem with the FARC’s ability to maintain the unilateral suspension of “all offensive actions.”  (See Santos’s statement here.)

Humberto de la Calle, lead negotiator for the government, emphasized the relationship between what happens in Havana and at home.  He noted, “These are inseparable commitments.  That is to say, the speeding up of the talks and the de-escalation measures that might be taken by the Government must advance at the same time.  As the talks take on a new dynamic, so too will the de-escalation measures.”  (See De la Calle statement here.)

President Santos has linked consideration of a bilateral definitive ceasefire specifically to progress at the table on the issue of justice. In an interview on August 8th, he said, “If we solidify the accord on justice, we might be able to agree on the bilateral, definitive ceasefire and cessation of hostilities.  … We are approaching the end of the conflict.”  (See his interview here.)

Ceasefire vs. De-escalation

The government has been clear that the de-escalation measures do not constitute a  bilateral ceasefire. (See De la Calle’s statement here.)  De la Calle explained, “The ceasefire should be studied and it is a part of the expediting process, but that is a later stage, with its own characteristics. The purpose of de-escalation is to reduce the intensity of the confrontation, create an environment of trust between the parties, and seek greater support from the Colombian people in the sense that peace is actually possible”. (See his statement here.)

Peace Commissioner and government negotiator Sergio Jaramillo noted that “the final and bilateral ceasefire and end of the hostilities, as stated in the General Agreement, implies much more formality, clear rules, and a verification implying that it is final”. (See his statement here.)  Jaramillo clarified that “de-escalation is a series of steps and progressive gestures, according to the FARC’s behavior, to reduce the level of the confrontation in order for the people in the territories to feel that peace is getting closer and thus acclimate the end of the conflict.”

In their joint statement on July 12, the government and FARC negotiators agreed to take stock of the results of their de-escalation measures and advances at the table in four months’ time. (See their statement here.)  President Santos announced that, at that time, “depending on whether the FARC fulfills [its promises], I will make the decision as to whether or not we continue with the process.” (See Santos’s statement here.)

Given that the FARC has long been pushing for a bilateral ceasefire and that the government is anxious to finalize agreements on the transitional justice issues currently on the agenda, the linking of these two issues is a creative way to accelerate  progress at the peace table.  Some of the same challenges however remain in terms of the lack of verification mechanisms for the ceasefire and the need to establish transitional protocols for dealing with actions that might be interpreted as the FARC violating its unilateral ceasefire or military or extra military forces provoking FARC troops in the field.

Mood Shifts for 39th Cycle of Talks 

During the 39th round of talks that began on July 23 and ended on August 2, there seemed to be a renewal of confidence in the peace process, spawned by the parties’  expressed willingness to accelerate the pace in Havana and to de-escalate the violence in Colombia.  The unilateral ceasefire and the suspension of the bombings, FARC lead negotiator Iván Márquez noted, “unleashed this new ambience of confidence that has allowed the talks to speed up and to advance new consensuses.” (See Márquez’s statement here.)

There were a number of additional advances during the 39th round:

  • The parties produced a report on the joint de-mining project underway in Antioquia with the Colombian Army and the FARC (View the report here.);
  • Peace delegation members in Havana were reinforced with new team members and advisors;
  • Discussions moved forward on preliminary agreements for an integrated approach to truth, justice, reparations and non-repetition; and
  • Work of the technical subcommission for ending the conflict continued to refine strategies for a final bilateral ceasefire and cessation of hostilities.

Pilot Project on De-Mining Advances

On July 28th, the parties issued a report on the progress of the third phase of the decontamination of explosives and clearing of land mines under way in El Orejón in Antioquia. (View joint communiqué here.)  In early July, 48 members of the Colombian Army’s Humanitarian De-Mining Battalion (BIDES), and three FARC leaders and explosive experts–accompanied by the International Committee of the Red Cross; representatives of guarantor nations Norway and Cuba; Colombian government representatives from the Foreign Ministry, the Governor’s Office of Antioquia and the Mayor’s Office of Briceño; and a verification team from the NGO Norwegian Popular Aid.  Under the Army’s direction, the team had begun a laborious two-three month joint pilot program for humanitarian de-mining that included an unprecedented collaboration between insurgents and the government to locate, map, and clear explosive devices and mines from an area of 12,000 square meters of the village of El Orejón de Briceño in the department of Antioquia–an area with one of the highest concentrations of land mines in Colombia.

The project has also included a consultation  process with the local community to formulate plans for their collective reparation.  According to the recent report, in July, 70 members of the community met with the de-mining commission to prioritize projects related to “economic development, health, education, sports, governability and citizen participation.”   (See more here.)

In their report on the status of the joint de-mining program, the authors reported that, following the accidental death of Colombian Army soldier Wilson de Jesús Martinez by a land mine as he was engaged in the de-mining on the third day of operations, the commission interrupted its work to make some methodological revisions.  Among other things, they reviewed security protocols and established new techniques for clearing explosives that depended on more dogs.   If, Jesús Martinez’s death notwithstanding, the Antioqueño project continues to be successful, the plan is to implement a second stage with a different team in Meta.

Changes in the FARC Delegation 

A total of 17 new FARC delegation members have joined the peace table in recent weeks.  In exchange, 17 FARC delegation members returned to Colombia to “conduct peace pedagogy in the guerrilla camps,” according to delegation member Tanja Nijmeijer (aka Alejandra Nariño). (See more here.)  Of the new arrivals, the eight members who arrived on July 27 include mostly mid-level commanders of regional fronts and blocks who will replace their departing counterparts on the technical submissions.  

Victims and Transitional Justice

During the 39th cycle, the parties continued to work on the issue of victims, including the related issues of truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-repetition.  According to lead negotiator Iván Márquez, the parties are designing an “unprecedented and innovative” integrated system to put these different aspects of victims’ rights at the center of the process.  (See more here.)

Civil Society Demands Inclusion 

While Havana negotiators have debated the details of the agenda in relative isolation, civil society has continued to make known its desire to be more regularly engaged in the process, including at the peace tables themselves.  On August 12, Todd Howland, Colombia representative of the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, called on the parties to invite authorities of the indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities to the peace table in order to guarantee the vision and collective rights of these communities. (See more here.)

Inputs in the form of letters, conferences, publications, recommendations continue to be generated and express the particular interests and concerns of different sectors and regions of Colombia.  Victims’ groups, obviously, are particularly interested in ensuring that their rights are not slighted at the table.  On July 30, family members of victims of disappearance and kidnapping that form part of the NGO Fundación País Libre sent a letter to the government and FARC negotiators with some new inputs and a caution that if their needs are not met, they will not hesitate to seek remedies in international arenas.  (Read their letter here.)  The victims called for a transitional justice process that guarantees victims’ rights and called on the parties to strengthen the institutional structures that provide human rights protections.  Specifically, on the right to truth, they wrote:

1. “We demand that the armed actors make known where the victims [of … kidnapping, disappearance and force disappearance] can be found.  How did it happen, and why?”

2. “We request greater involvement of all of the victims in the constitution and execution of the Truth Commission; likewise we demand the clarification of the cases without prejudice as to which particular armed group [committed them]”.

3.”We demand the creation of public spaces so that the victims can be listened to, and where we can give evidence of what has happened as a guarantee of non-repetition.”

On the right to justice:

4. “We demand timely information on the status of investigations, and agility in judicial processes.”

5. “We demand a transitional justice whose goal is the guarantee of the rights of victims, and not the rights of the victimizers, as happened in the framework of the Justice and Peace Law.”

6.“If you do not guarantee the rights of the victims, we express our intent to take our cases to international authorities.”

 Church Goes to Havana, Explores Potential Role at the Peace Table

In early August, Msr. Luis Augusto Castro, the head of the Colombian Bishops’ Conference, announced that members of the church leadership would travel to Havana to assess the support that the Pope and the Vatican might provide to the peace process.  The upcoming visit of Pope Francisco to Cuba on September 19-22 on his way to the United States offers a potential opportunity for direct engagement with the parties at the peace table.  Pope Francis will be the third pope to visit Cuba and his trip is a primarily seen as a way to  recognize the improved U.S. – Cuba relationship–and the role that the Vatican and the pope played in the 18 months of secret negotiations that contributed to that improvement.  (See the phenomenal story by Peter Kornbluh and William LeoGrande here.)  Nonetheless, many Colombians are hoping that the Pope’s visit to Cuba will also offer an opportunity for the Pope to give support to the peace process.  In this regard, members of the Colombian church, lead by the head of the Colombian Bishops’ Conference  Msr. Augusto Castro, traveled to Havana in mid-August to meet with the parties and discuss whether it would be advantageous for the Pope to meet with the parties or to send a delegate to participate in the peace talks. (Read more here.)

New Legal Advisory Team on Justice Issues

To facilitate the technical aspects of the emerging agreements on justice, each of the negotiating teams named three new judicial advisors to come work with the peace table in  Havana.  The two legal teams include:

For the Government:

  • Juan Carlos Henao, ex-President of the Constitutional Court and rector of the Externado University in Colombia
  • Manuel José Cepeda, ex-President of the Constitutional Court and advisor for the 1991 Constitution
  • Douglas Cassel, international human rights professor at the University of Notre Dame.

For the FARC:

  • Alvaro Leyva, Conservative Party politician and long-time advocate and facilitator of Colombian peace processes
  • Diego Martínez Castillo, human rights lawyer and Exec. Director of the Comité Permanente Por la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos
  • Enrique Santiago, Spanish Communist Party and United Left leader and human rights lawyer.

The advisors will join a team of judicial advisors in Havana already in place since last year and provide technical assistance to each of the teams at the peace table as they continue to refine their agreements on the subject of victims and transitional justice.  The new advisors have already held several working sessions and are expected to ensure that whatever solutions are designed will meet both international human rights standards and victims’ rights to truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-repetition.  The eventual formula is expected to be an integrated solution that includes restorative justice approaches.

UNSG Names Jean Arnault as Delegate to the Talks

On August 14, President Santos announced that the seasoned mediator Jean Arnault would serve as the United Nations Secretary General’s delegate at the peace table in Havana in response to an earlier request by the parties for technical support from the UNSG and UNASUR. (View Santos’s statement here.)  Arnault will participate in the upcoming technical meetings of the Commission on Ending the Conflict, which is  deliberating on the mechanisms related to a definitive, bilateral ceasefire and cessation of hostilities.  Arnault brings deep experience from the peace process in Guatemala, where he was a facilitator in  the peace process before being named as head of the UN MINUGUA delegation to verify the Guatemalan peace accords.   Arnold has also served as a special advisor for the group of friends for a democratic Pakistan, and as UN special representative in Afghanistan, Georgia and Burundi. (See more here.)

International Support for the Peace Talks

Just before the 39th round ended, on July 29, the Chairwoman and Whip of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus of the U.S. Congress wrote to President Santos of behalf of the Caucus to congratulate him and his Administration for “the vision and leadership you have demonstrated in seeking a negotiated settlement to end Colombia’s decades-long struggle with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).” (Read letter here.)  They urged President Santos to “ensure that the final accords satisfy the needs of victims of all armed actors to truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees that the violence of the past will not return.”

A few days later, 65 Democratic legislators wrote to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, underscoring how important it is that the Colombians reach an agreement to end the last internal armed conflict in Latin America.  They welcomed the July 12 agreement to speed up the schedule and conclude negotiations, and urged support for a just solution, reparations for the victims, and an “inclusive” agreement that considers the needs of the marginalized sectors most affected by the decades-long conflict–women, Afro and indigenous populations, campesino organizations, and the millions of internally displaced Colombians. (See the letter here.)

Opportunities for international support continue to be forthcoming.  Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguín, who joined the Colombian government’s negotiating team last May 28, announced recently that she would be seeking some 170 international agreements for the peace and the post-conflict on themes such as de-mining, land restitution, economic development, agriculture and fishing projects, reconciliation and peace education.  (See statement here.)


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Event on Women and Reconciliation in Colombia

July 13, 2015


You are cordially invited to join a discussion on women working for reconciliation in Colombia, transitional justice, and psycho-social support for victims of the Colombian conflict. The program will be part of the Colombia Peace Forum at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) and will take place this Wednesday, July 15, from 2-4:30 pm EST/ 1:00-3:30 pm, Colombian time at USIP headquarters (2301 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC).  The program will be webcast live in Spanish with simultaneous translation available on-site and after the event on the web.  The program will include the participation of three members of GemPaz, the Ecumenical Group of Women Peace Builders.

To participate in the event via Twitter, the hashtag is: #ColombiaPeaceForum.


Speakers will include:

  • Virginia M. Bouvier, Senior Advisor for Latin American Programs, U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP)
  • Mónica Guerrero, Steering Committee, GemPaz
  • Norma Inés Bernal, Steering Committee, GemPaz
  • Mónica Velásquez,  Project Coordinator, GemPaz

Commentators will include:

  • Kathleen Kuehnast, Senior Advisor for Gender and Peacebuilding, Center for Governance, Law and Society, USIP
  • Susan Hayward, Director, Center for Religion and Peacebuilding, USIP
  • James Patton, Executive Vice Presidente, International Center for Religion and Diplomacy (ICRD)
  • Elizabeth “Lili” Cole, Senior Advisor, Jennings Randolph Fellowship, Center for Applied Conflict Research, USIP
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Evento sobre reconciliación en Colombia


13 de julio de 2015

Se les invita a acompañar una discusión sobre las mujeres trabajando para la reconciliación en Colombia.  Los temas incluirán también la justicia transicional y los acercamientos psico-sociales con las víctimas del conflicto colombiano.El programa será parte del Foro sobre la Paz en Colombia del Instituto de Paz de los Estados Unidos (USIP) y tomará lugar este miércoles 15 de julio de las 2:00 pm – 4:30pm (EST) / 1:00-3:30pm, hora colombiana en la sede de USIP (2301 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC).  Se dará en vivo por internet en español con traducción simultánea al inglés en el sitio.  Contará con la participación de tres miembros del Grupo Ecuménico de Mujeres Constructoras de Paz (GemPaz).

Si quieren participar por Twitter, el hashtag para el evento es: #ColombiaPeaceForum.

Para más información, para inscribirse, y para ver el webcast en vivo, haga click aquí .


En el programa hablarán:

  • Virginia M. Bouvier, Alta consejera para América Latina, U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP)
  • Mónica Guerrero, Miembro, Comité administrativo y de Impulso, GemPaz
  • Norma Inés Bernal, Miembro, Comité Operativo Nacional y de Impulso, GemPaz
  • Mónica Velásquez, Coordinadora de Proyecto, GemPaz


  • Kathleen Kuehnast, Alta Consejera Para Género y Construcción de Paz, Centro de Gobernanza, Derecho y Sociedad, USIP
  • Susan Hayward, Directora, Centro de Religión y Construcción de Paz, USIP
  • James Patton, Vicepresidente Ejecutivo, Centro Internacional por Religión y Diplomacia (ICRD)
  • Elizabeth “Lili” Cole, Alta Consejera, Jennings Randolph Fellowship, Centro de Investigación Aplicada sobre Conflictos, USIP




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More Good News from Havana as Round 38 Closes

July 12, 2015

On Sunday, July 12, the Colombian government and the FARC-EP ended their 38th round of talks in Havana and issued a joint communiqué announcing that they had reached an agreement to speed up the peace process and to de-escalate the conflict.  The specific de-escalation measures have yet to be defined.  (Read it here or view it below.)  Sunday’s joint statement asserts that in order to create conditions to put in place a bilateral, definitive ceasefire, the delegations will do everything possible to reach a final agreement, including shifting their methodology to a more technical approach.  The parties will continue to craft agreements at the peace table.  They have defined a plan with pre-established goals, including the establishment of the terms for a definitive, bilateral ceasefire and the cessation of hostilities, and the setting aside of arms.

Pressures have been building in recent months for movement from Havana in the context of growing violence and environmental devastation since the FARC suspended their earlier ceasefire in late April.  Last week, the FARC declared a one-month suspension of offensive actions to begin on July 20th as a confidence-building measure and a step toward reducing the violence. (See my earlier post here.)  Today, the FARC reaffirmed its commitment to the unilateral ceasefire beginning on July 20.  This will be the sixth unilateral ceasefire by the FARC since peace talks began in November 2012.  The Colombian government, for its part, announced that it would de-escalate its military actions in keeping with the FARC’s compliance with their promise to suspend offensive actions.  These new measures, and a plan for confidence-building measures should help re-kindle a sense of hope in the peace process.

Role of the International Community 

The joint statement of the parties announced the establishment of a system of monitoring and verification that will bring new international actors to the table.  Specifically, the Technical Subcommission for Ending the Conflict will be expanded to include a delegate named by the United Nations Secretary General and a delegate from the president pro tempore of UNASUR (currently held by Uruguay).  The parties did not discount the possibility that there might be other organizations or countries invited to join the monitoring and verification effort.

The guarantor countries, Cuba and Norway, and the accompanying nations, Venezuela and Chile, were critical in generating this new dynamic at the table. (See previous post here.)

Evaluation in Four Months

The parties agreed to evaluate in four months’ time compliance of de-escalation measures and advances at the table.  They also agreed to establish a schedule for the implementation of confidence-building measures.

President Juan Manuel Santos, for his part, addressed the nation on Sunday evening, and noted, “We will be vigilant on what has been agreed to today.  And four months from now, depending on whether the FARC comply, I will make the decision whether we will continue with the process or not.”  (Read his statement here.)

A Breath of Fresh Air

Lead government negotiator Humberto de la Calle called the agreement “good news that will help Colombians recover hope in moments where skepticism has grown.” (See his statement here.) He underscored that the government’s de-escalation measures will be linked to advances at the table.  The parties will work simultaneously on the issues of justice, the bilateral, definitive ceasefire, setting aside of arms, and security guarantees.

Likewise, the FARC noted that today’s agreement is, “without a doubt, a vigorous, promising, and hopeful  relaunching of the dialogue process.”  (See the delegation statement here.)  They also presented an initiative for a commission for the clarification of paramilitarism in Colombia, and underscored some of their security concerns.  (Read their proposal here.)

Challenges Ahead

The path ahead is a difficult one, but the parties are working together in apparent positive spirit and common purpose.  There are still many details to be ironed out and difficult compromises to be reached, particularly on the issues of transitional justice.  Likewise, ceasefires are complicated and are often used to undermine a process.  Colombians will need to be patient and to recognize that most ceasefires are not 100% fulfilled, but that the 85% compliance registered in Colombia during recent unilateral ceasefires is still far superior to no ceasefire at all.  (See some of the pitfalls of ceasefires outlined in the Semana article here.)  Good verification mechanisms are essential and the UN and UNASUR will bring a history of expertise and know-how to bear on this process.

Today, the process appears to be back on track, another storm weathered.  As President Santos said in his speech to the nation on Sunday night, “With these new advances, I finally see the light at the end of the tunnel clearly.  And this fills me with confidence and hope.  We will achieve this peace that has been so elusive.”  (Read his statement here.)  Hope is in the air again.



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FARC Declares Unilateral Ceasefire Beginning July 20th

July 8, 2015

On July 7th, Norway, Cuba, Venezuela, and Chile–the countries that serve as guarantors and are accompanying the Colombian peace process–called on the parties at the peace table in Havana to “restrict to the maximum extent all actions that cause victims and suffering in Colombia, and to intensify the implementation of confidence building measures.”  The countries urged the parties to de-escalate the conflict and to adopt a bilateral ceasefire and a definitive cessation of hostilities.  (See their statement here.)  Their call echoed a similar call by Cuba and Norway in late May. (See post here.)

This morning, Iván Márquez, lead negotiator of the FARC at the peace talks in Havana,  declared that the FARC would enact a one-month unilateral ceasefire beginning on July 20th, bringing to at least a temporary reprieve what had become a growing crisis. (See Márquez’s statement here.)  “With this [declaration],” the leader noted, “we seek to generate favorable conditions for … a bilateral, definitive ceasefire.”  The FARC delegation  called on the Broad Front for Peace, the churches, and members of the peace movement to provide their good offices to monitor the ceasefire.

President Juan Manuel Santos responded favorably to the FARC’s announcement, noting that, “If the ceasefire is accompanied by concrete commitments on advances in the theme of justice and the bilateral and definitive ceasefire, then we would be speaking about a very serious and important advance in obtaining peace.”  (See here.)  Santos urged the parties to accelerate their timetable. (See here.)

The United Nations called the FARC’s move “significant.” (See its statement.)

38th Round of Talks

The Colombian government and the FARC have been in the middle of their 38th round of peace talks since June 17, with a short break from June 27 to July 3rd.  They have continued to discuss the theme of victims and mechanisms for de-escalating the conflict.   According to President Santos, there have been advances on the issue of truth, with the creation of a truth commission last month, and the parties are close to reaching agreement on reparations.  (See here.)  The FARC has suggested beginning to implement some of the measures the parties had agreed to regarding drug trafficking. (See “Comencemos a implementar los acuerdos.”)

In this extended session, which has been marked by renewed violence and heightened public impatience with the peace talks, the parties continue to seek agreements on the agenda item dealing with victims’ rights to truth, justice, reparations and guarantees of non-repetition, as well as measures for de-escalating the conflict.

While the media have made much of the lack of movement on the issue of victims, this interpretation simply does not hold.  In the past year, there has been steady progress in working through this difficult issue. The table has received numerous inputs from the numerous delegations that gave testimony in Havana and many sectors that have submitted proposals for review, as well as the systematization of the forums and regional consultations on victims conducted last year throughout the country.  Likewise, the parties have been working through the perspectives provided by the fourteen reports produced by the Historic Commission on the Conflict and its Victims.

An agreement reached in June by the parties established the mechanism for moving ahead with a truth commission (Comisión de Esclarecimiento de la Verdad, la Convivencia y la No Repetición). (See post here.)  The parties are developing a broader integrated system for truth, justice, reparations, and non-repetition–of which the truth commission will be only one component. (See a particularly good article on this topic by Sergio Jaramillo–“No hay que tenerle miedo a la verdad final“.)

June has proven itself to be the most violent month since the peace talks began. (See report by CERAC.)  In April, the FARC lifted their unilateral ceasefire and renewed attacks on public forces and economic infrastructure. (See my previous posts here.)   The Colombian government responded with renewed bombings of FARC camps.  In recent weeks, explosions in Bogotá, which the government has attributed to the ELN, have rekindled security concerns.

Talks in a Critical Phase

This week, it became apparent that the peace talks had entered a tipping point.  Polls show a growing public impatience with the peace talks and accumulating support for a military solution.   (See last week’s polls here.)  Yesterday another poll indicated that 75 percent of those surveyed did not think that there would be a peace deal with the FARC.  (See results here.”)

The crisis in public support comes at a time when the negotiators are tackling the difficult issues relating to transitional justice.  Colombian government negotiators acknowledged that the process had entered what Sergio Jaramillo, High Commissioner for Peace, called “the most difficult moment of the process.”  (See his remarks before a national meeting of community radio broadcasters here.)

On July 5, 2015, government negotiator Humberto de la Calle gave an extensive interview with journalist Juan Gossain, in which he warned that the peace process “is in its worst moment since we began.”  The interview was stark in its candor.  “For better or worse,” said De la Calle, “the peace process is coming to an end… It is possible that one of these days the FARC will not find us at the table in Havana.”  In the interview, De la Calle revealed that the government is rethinking its strategy about a bilateral ceasefire before a final agreement–“if it is serious, definitive, and verifiable.”  (See the interview below and a transcript in Spanish here.)

Support for Peace

Despite the polls, important segments of the population continue to support a peaceful solution to the conflict.  On July 5th, 26 leaders representing a wide spectrum of faith communities urged the parties to stay at the table until they have reached agreement.  They offered their prayers and talents toward the transformation of Colombia, asserting that the use of arms represents the “failure of words.”  (See their letter here and interviews here.) Church leaders are calling for an inter-faith service on July 14th to urge the government to make official the talks with the ELN, and to de-escalate the conflict with the FARC. (See here.)

Likewise, other peace organizations are preparing for a major mobilization on July 22-23.  (For details, see ENCUENTRO NACIONAL DE PAZ.)  A steady stream of communiqués supporting the peace process are being issued from many sectors of Colombian society and the international community.  (See the recent call by the 260 human rights organizations grouped together in the  Colombia-Europe-United States coalition here and the latest report by the International Crisis Group urging a bilateral ceasefire.)

De-Mining Programs To Be Scaled Up

While the parties have been talking in Havana, some 900 Army personnel were training at the center for de-mining in Tolemaida to (See article here.).  A pilot humanitarian de-mining project conducted jointly by the Colombian Army and the FARC in collaboration with the community in the municipality of Briceño has shown success in clearing land mines, and will be replicated in other regions.  (See more here and here.)  Such gestures are important confidence-building measures that are movement in the right direction.

In sum, the process seems to have weathered the latest storm, though there is clearly a need for continued confidence-building measures and efforts to ensure public support for the process.  A reduction in violence and measures to de-escalate the conflict and lay the ground for a bilateral ceasefire with adequate monitoring mechanisms is a step in the right direction.


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Tunes to Launch the Long Weekend/Canciones para celebrar

July 3, 2015

In celebration of the progressive thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations, following are selections from the “Buenos Días, América” album by Pablo Milanés.  I recall listening endlessly to this 1987 album on my new “Sony Walkman” (remember those?) as I travelled by bus south from Santiago, Chile to Chiloé.  The lead song takes on new meanings in the context of “normalizing” relations with Cuba.  On Wednesday, June 30, following discussions that have been underway since last December, President Barack Obama announced that, as of July 20, 2015, the United States and Cuba will once again host Embassies in each other’s capitals. Welcome news, indeed, after 54 years of rupture!   Already we can anticipate much healthier relationships in the hemisphere.  Check it out:

Next, we turn to Colombian musician, César López, renowned for inventing the escopetarra, a guitar made out of a gun.  (See more here.)  He performs here with the inimitable Marta Gómez.   With thanks to Vicenz Fisas for sending these pieces just recorded on López’s  recent visit to Barcelona:

Una mañana



El árbol y el huracán

In the spirit of renewed PanAmericanism, here is a festive mix from Dominican Juan Luis Guerra:

Finally, this tune sets the tone for the long 4th of July Independence Day weekend from U.S. musical legend Nina Simone, whose unforgettable “Feelin’ Good” will have you humming for hours.  (Special thanks to my daughter, Maya, for cluing me in to Nina!):

Happy 4th of July weekend to all. 

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Recap of the 37th Round of Peace Talks

June 26, 2015

I have been traveling in recent weeks and without internet access, so, before the 38th round of talks which has been underway since June 17th comes to a close, let me do a brief recap of the prior cycle of talks, the escalation of the war that marked them, and some of the efforts to keep the process on track.

At dawn on the morning of Thursday, May 21, just hours before the 37th round of peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC was to resume in Havana, the Colombian Air Force, Army and police carried out a joint, coordinated attack on FARC Front 29 in Guapi (Cauca) and killed 26 FARC insurgents.  “This operation is an important blow from our public forces, who I congratulate for their commitment and bravery,” declared President Juan Manuel Santos.  (See his statement here.)

The coordinated operation reportedly responded to a FARC assault one week earlier that left 11 Army soldiers dead in the same region, and prompted public debates about whether the FARC had violated its own ceasefire, which had been in effect since last December.  An investigative mission by the Broad Front for Peace found numerous irregularities and called for further investigation. (See more here and here.) In subsequent days and weeks, the military intensified offensive operations, and Santos renewed the bombing of FARC camps, which he had suspended for one month in recognition of advances in the talks and de-escalation measures that were moving forward regarding de-mining and recruitment of youths. (See my earlier post here.)

Suspension of Ceasefire

The FARC responded to the renewed military offensive by suspending their unilateral ceasefire.  (See their statement here.)  The FARC had reiterated for months that they could not hold the ceasefire indefinitely in the midst of an ongoing government military offensive, and it has undoubtedly proven challenging for the leadership in Havana to explain to their troops why they should maintain the ceasefire when they were under consistent attack.

Just days before the joint attack in Cauca, FARC peace negotiator Pastor Alape gave an interview that was cited in El Colombiano and outlined the FARC position: “The situation is complicated,” he said.  “There are offensive operations throughout the country, shootings and aerial bombings, and mortar fire.  The unilateral ceasefire decreed by the FARC is becoming unsustainable on the ground, because the intensity of the military operations has reduced the capacity for defensive maneuvers to avoid armed confrontations.  … We hope that the government will understand the need to advance in the de-escalation of the conflict, and not encourage its acceleration.”

Unilateral ceasefires are by nature highly unstable and difficult to sustain over time.  Of 37 ceasefire agreements reached globally in 2014, only 3 were unilateral and the remainder, constituting 91.9% of the ceasefires worldwide, were bilateral.  The unilateral ceasefires–called by the TTP in southern Thailand, the PKK in Turkey, and the FARC in Colombia–were short-lived.  (On this theme, see Vicenc Fisas, Anuario 2015 sobre procesos de pazhere.)

Many, particularly in the Bogota elite, failed to appreciate the impact of the unilateral ceasefire, declared Dec. 20, 2014, while it was in effect.  Attorney General Alejandro Ordóñez called the FARC’s ceasefire a “caricature.”  In practice, he said, citing violent attacks in recent months, “it was not being carried out.” (See article here.)

On the other hand, the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation, an independent Colombian NGO, credited the ceasefire with saving 614 soldiers from casualties or injuries since it was announced last December–a 85% decline in attacks.  Likewise, the research center CERAC recognized that with the unilateral ceasefire, civilian deaths declined by 73 percent and the deaths of public security forces declined by 64%.  (See references here.)

Nonetheless, independent monitoring of the unilateral ceasefire proved difficult.  Differentiating between offensive and defensive actions in an unfolding context of war was next to impossible, and each charge of rupture seemed to contribute to greater skepticism about the peace process more generally.  When independent reports on the violations were issued, they had little echo in the media, and little capacity to alter an already hardened public opinion.  The lack of a bilateral ceasefire in Colombia, widely and increasingly demanded by many sectors of civil society, continues to foster public skepticism about the peace process and the insurgents’ commitment to a political solution. Ironically, government actions on the battlefield don’t seem to generate the same level of skepticism, but rather are viewed widely as efforts to maintain pressure on the FARC to reach agreement in Havana.

Acceleration of War

The violence in Cauca beginning in April launched an intensification of hostilities, a hardening of media coverage toward the peace process and the guerrillas, increased skepticism among the public, and a (hopefully temporary) reversal of the de-escalation measures that had been slowly taking place in prior weeks.  The military bombings during the last cycle of talks from May 21-June 4 also initiated a new displacement crisis in Cauca, where military operations have continued.  Mauricio Redondo, the regional public defender (defensor del pueblo) from Cauca, reported that hundreds of Afro-Colombians had fled the region of Guapi (see more here and here.)

Fighting and military attacks since then have accelerated.  A second Air Force bombing in Segovia (Antioquia) killed 10 more guerrillas shortly after the Cauca attack.  (See article here.)  At the end of May, Joint Air Force, Army and Police intelligence carried out a military operation in the municipality of Riosucio in the department of Chocó against the FARC’s 18th front, leaving 4 guerrillas dead, including long-time commander Alfredo Alarcón Machado, alias Román Ruíz.  Dozens of guerrillas were killed in the attacks including two FARC peace delegation members who had been authorized to leave Havana to educate their troops about the peace process.

With the suspension of the unilateral ceasefire, the FARC has escalated its military operations in many parts of the country.  They have carried out attacks on security forces, police stations and patrols.  They have attacked electric-supply lines, oil pipelines and mining and energy infrastructure.  Their activities have hit civilian populations hard, and are causing extensive environmental damage.  In June, FARC attacks on energy towers left 200,000 people in four municipalities of Nariño without power. (See here.)  In Putumayo, alleged FARC members attacked 19 oil trucks, each carrying some 15-20,000 gallons of crude oil, forcing massive oil spills. (See more on Putumayo here.) On June 29, insurgents attacked the Trans-Andino pipeline, causing a spill of some 410,000 gallons of crude oil near the port city of Tumaco, in the department of Nariño. (See more here.) They launched other attacks in Norte de Santander, Valle del Cauca, and Arauca, among other places. (See, for example, reports on damage to the Caño Limón-Coveñas oil pipeline.)

Violence and the Peace Process

The acceleration of violence should come as no real surprise in a context of ongoing war, but the consequences are tragic and may accelerate support for the peace process to do what it is meant to do–end the war.  The decision to negotiate in the midst of the conflict was a condition imposed by the Colombian government and accepted by the FARC.  It has proven a difficult strategy in that each bellicose action feeds the public’s skepticism about the peace process.  This skepticism makes it increasingly hard to isolate the peace table from events on the battle field.

Ironically, each violent act by the insurgents is seen as a sign that their desire for peace is less than it should be.  Acts of war by the government, on the other hand, are not viewed in the same way.  The FARC continue to call for a bilateral ceasefire, a call which echoes the demands of many sectors of civil society and the international community for the same. President Santos has consistently posited that there will be no bilateral ceasefire until a final agreement has been reached.

It is unusual for peace talks to  produce reductions in violence while a peace process is underway, particularly in the absence of a concerted bilateral ceasefire.  The more common pattern during a peace process is that violence will spike when negotiations are hitting their most sensitive topics or when they are closest to achieving  success.  But these norms are often lost on populations that feel the heat of the conflict most directly, and violence can be used by spoilers to fan discontent and shut down a peace process.

Responses to the Escalation Vary

The intensification of the war has generated reactions from a wide range of politicians and civil society actors.  It has provoked renewed calls for setting deadlines on the negotiating teams (including from within President Juan Manuel Santos’s own coalition), and debates about whether this is the best path forward. (For arguments as to why it might be best to avoid forced deadlines, see the article by Alejo Vargas on this topic here.)  Former President Alvaro Uribe, who has been perhaps the staunchest opponent of the talks in Havana, has launched a new call for peace (see his proposal here) that is under review by the Santos government. With elections in October, his Center Democratic Party may be looking to soften its image as an anti-peace party or, as other more cynical analysts suggest may want to ensure that the failure of the talks will not be put at their door.  Comptroller General Alejandro Ordóñez, another critic of the process, has also called for a broad political pact for peace (see more here).  Green Alliance leaders Claudia Lopez and Antonio Navarro called on the Santos government to cut talks off on April 9 if an agreement was not signed by then.  Their proposal created some waves, however, as it had not been fully vetted by the party leadership. (See more here.)

The hardening of the conflict has also prompted numerous actions and letters on the part of international organizations like the United Nations, the guarantor countries (Norway and Cuba), and a wide spectrum of civil society urging a political solution that includes de-escalation measures and a bilateral ceasefire.  Fabrizio Hochschild underscored the impact of the escalation of violence, noting on June 3, that in the previous 50 days, 70 military and guerrilla insurgents had been killed, at least 400 people newly displaced, and 2,000 persons confined without access to health, education or work.  He called on the parties to re-evaluate the rules of the process and the continuation of the war during the peace talks. (See his statement here.)  The European Union called on the parties to reaffirm their commitment to “continue talks” and insisted on the adoption of “concrete measures for the de-escalation of the conflict.”  In a rare intervention on May 27, 2015, Cuba and Norway called on the parties to advance in the construction of a bilateral, definitive ceasefire. (See their statement here.)


Photo courtesy of Bogota Humana

The Office of the Mayor of Bogota echoed the call of the Bogota citizenry calling for a bilateral ceasefire, noting that every Thursday since January 15 of this year and until a peace accord is signed, citizens will continue to light a Flame of Peace and hold a permanent vigil to support the peace process. (View the announcement here.)

Civil society organizations are also rising to the new challenges.  The newly configured Afro-Colombian National Peace Council (CONPA) has demanded a bilateral ceasefire and the adoption of humanitarian accords and protective measures for Afro-Colombian leaders that are threatened or at risk. (See CONPA statement.)  They announced that they would form a humanitarian mission to Tumaco and other communities and called for international support for their endeavor.

Dozens of women’s organizations and leaders called on the negotiators and their leaders to make a pact for a bilateral ceasefire.  “War is the failure of politics, the death of democracy, the defeat of reason, and meaningless for us.  We do not share its logics or its strategies, but we suffer its consecuencess and we cry for its victims, many of whom are members of our families, friends, and neighbors.”   (See their letter here).

In the international community, dozens of faith leaders wrote to President Barack Obama and Members of the U.S. Congress, recognizing and applauding their bipartisan support for the peace process, as well as the February 2015 appointment of Bernie Aronson as U.S. Special Envoy for the Colombian Peace Process.  (Read Aronson’s remarks at a recent Congressional hearing here or view them here— You may need to scroll to the bottom of the page.)  The faith leaders urged the U.S. political leadership to support citizen initiatives to implement “peace with truth and justice,” and called on it to foster peace negotiations with the National Liberation Army (ELN). “Peace will only be fully achieved when all the actors on the battlefield seek to put an end to the conflict,” they wrote.  (Read their full statement in Spanish or English.)

Additional Signs of Hope

In addition to the above samples of initiatives of support for the peace talks, the negotiation in Havana of specific measures to de-escalate the conflict–human rights agreements, de-mining initiatives such as that currently under way in Antioquia, agreements about the use of child soldiers or the disappeared–can sometimes help to build confidence in the process.

Throughout the 37th round and again in the 38th round of talks, which is just ending, the parties have sought measures to address reparations for victims and to de-escalate the conflict. (See article here.) Following the suspension of the unilateral ceasefire in May, the parties in Havana worked separately on Saturday, May 23, and resumed discussions on Monday.  Their persistence at the table, under increasing pressures from each of their constituencies, is promising.  In early March, the Army and the FARC embarked on a landmark joint de-mining initiative in Antioquia that has been put into practice with some success. (See my earlier post here.) Such measures are exactly what is needed to win back the faith of the public that the peace talks are making a difference.  Furthermore, by the end of the 37th round (which was extended by four days to end on June 4), the parties were able to announce a major advance related to the theme of victims.  In a joint declaration on June 4, they announced an agreement to establish a Commission for the Clarification of Truth, Co-Existence (Convivencia), and Non-Repetition, which would be initiated as an independent, impartial, extra-judicial body once a final peace accord is signed. (See the joint communique here.)  This too is a huge step forward and reason to believe that the continued hard work of the negotiators will come to a positive conclusion.

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